Bartender Hunter Orahood Talks Spicy Cocktails and Big City Bars vs Montauk

How did you start bartending?
I’ve always been into nerdy history stuff, and I started reading about classic cocktails and the different stories behind them. Then I went out, bought tools and booze and started bartending around California. When I moved to New York six years ago, I came right to Montauk to work at The Crow’s Nest. I’ve also worked and consulted at different bars in [New York City] along the way; I’m at Attaboy right now, and before that I was lead bartender at The Musket Room in Nolita this past winter.

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Do you approach bartending differently between New York City and Montauk?
The crowd in Montauk is here for the beach, the sun, the fun. So the cocktail menu and our staff’s vibe is tailored for that. At a place like Attaboy, it’s smaller, the environment is more controlled, there are more tools to use. But the way we have it set up [at The Crow’s Nest], we still make great cocktails. We use fresh ingredients, and we use spirits you might not normally see out here: cachaça, different light rums; we have a banana-pineapple tiki drink, and we use pisco in that. I think the quality can be consistent in both areas, which is a win-win for the drinker.

How have you built The Crow’s Nest’s cocktail program?
We try to match the drinks to what Montauk in the summer embodies, so everything we serve is light, refreshing and quaffable. Even our stirred whiskey drink—Morgan 40, named for a buddy’s sailboat that’s parked on the water by us—that has apricot and curaçao; the fruit notes lighten it up. As for the actual menu, since I’ve been out here we’ve always built it around our two best-selling drinks. But even those seem to reinvent themselves every year.

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image: matt furman

What are those?
The Ruse is the first, and that’s a spicy tequila drink. When I came here six years ago, it was a jalapeño margarita. Then it changed into more of a spicy paloma. Now it’s a nice mix of Cabeza tequila, grapefruit juice, chili-infused Aperol and lime. We make five gallons at a time and pour it on draft, so we can serve it to a lot of people and still have consistency.

The other is our Watermelon Cooler, that’s a tasty crowd-pleaser out here. We’ve refined our watermelon mix over the years—one year it just had basil; one just mint; one year we even added cantaloupe and honeydew. But the goal is to always make it taste full-bodied and balanced, instead of just juicing watermelons and mixing it with vodka.

Hunter’s Insider Tip: We like to take Cabeza tequila or Avuá cachaça to our outdoor beach bar and put it in the Watermelon Cooler upon request. It’s an off-menu drink, but it’s really popular.

THE RUSE

1 1/2 oz silver tequila
1/2 oz Aperol
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz lime
1/2 oz cayenne syrup
Chili salt

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled, chili-salt rimmed glass. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.

CAYENNE SYRUP

Place equal parts water and super-fine sugar together with cayenne pepper to taste and stir until dissolved.

CHILI SALT MIX

Blend kosher salt with smoked paprika and a touch of cayenne. To salt the glass, rub a lime wedge over the rim and lightly dip it into the mix.