Welcome to Behind the Bar(tender), a series in which Long Island Pulse, thirsty for great conversation and even better cocktails, meets with the island’s most talented bartenders.
Head Bartender, Blackbird Kitchen and Cocktails in Wantagh
Officially since 2005, but I started making martinis for my dad at home a few years earlier than that. Since I didn’t know the ingredients, I followed a recipe etched on the side of a kitschy household cocktail shaker we had. I dumped in some vodka, vermouth and ice, shook until it was opaque, dropped in a pimento-stuffed olive and proudly served it. It tasted terrible, but all I wanted to do was make another.
Favorite thing about working behind a bar:
Making new friends.
Least favorite thing working behind a bar:
Not being able to visit my friends who also bartend and work similar schedules.
Define the perfect cocktail:
I’ve always used this axiom as a quick mnemonic device for creating a balanced drink: “Something sour, something sweet, something strong and something weak, then a little spice to make it nice.” The layout is mostly used for creating punches, but it works equally as well for short drinks and long drinks.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
“Can you make me a Cosmo, but not a Cosmo?” I could see Toby Cecchini rolling his eyes about that one. Anyway, I mixed some Dolin Blanc and saline and I think it came out nice.
You find inspiration in:
For drinks? A lot of it comes from asking myself “what if?” But what normally solidifies ideas are conversations with my girlfriend, who is the real genius behind naming my drinks and helping me edit my recipes. And if all else fails I’ve luckily accumulated a library of cocktail and food books that I can also rely on.
Describe where you bartend:
In many ways Blackbird is a home for misfits, but misfits who are very ambitious, a collective of hospitality pros who trust one another’s talents and skills. The food menu isn’t what you’d normally expect from a South Shore establishment; it’s designed with the market in mind. Each day our chef changes the menu to reflect what he’s purchased at the market in the morning or what the farmer is showcasing. It might be a small edit, but it reflects an attention to detail that I try to use when designing my recipes. The kitchen and the bar are on the same page.
As far as my focus, I’m focused on the foundations of classic cocktails. I design the menu to be a balance between the inventive, the cheesy and the classic. I would say more, but some things are best discovered by pulling up a seat to the bar.
Signature Cocktail | Amen… Send Money
I’m a huge fan of the daiquiri. It’s the perfect sour drink for summer and it’s even better when married with a little overproof rum. I’m also a huge fan of the piña colada. In my opinion it’s the unsung hero of summer, the “sort of” tiki drink that has been mostly overlooked in the recent tiki-drink revival. Now one of my favorite kitschy cocktails is the Miami Vice, which layers a frozen piña colada and a frozen strawberry daiquiri in one glass. And with summer coming I figured why not riff on the campy classic and add a little bit more Don Johnson flair, and that’s why it’s named for an episode of the 80s show.
Though from first view not much has changed from the classic Miami Vice to my version, what I wanted to bring out more of is balance, as the original is delicious but can be somewhat saccharine. Here the sweet and refreshing flavors of strawberries and coconut mingle with the rums, and I add pineapple syrup to pump up the tropical spirit as well as a light grating of nutmeg to tame everything. Now all you need is a Ferrari Daytona Spyder and a pastel shirt and you’re ready for summer.
2oz overproof rum, preferably Cockspur 130
1 1/2 oz coconut cream
1oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz pineapple syrup (see below)
2 cups crushed ice
2oz white rum, preferably Denizen Aged
1 3/4 oz strawberry syrup (see below)
3/4 oz lime juice
2 cups crushed ice
Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg, lime, pineapple fronds, brandied cherries
1) Combine piña colada ingredients in a blender pitcher.
2) Blend on high speed until smooth, and pour into a Collins or hurricane glass.
3) Clean the blender pitcher, and combine strawberry-daiquiri ingredients.
4) Blend on high speed until smooth, and pour into the Collins or hurricane glass.
5) Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg, a lime, pineapple fronds and brandied cherries.
1 pineapple, peeled and cut into cubes
12 oz simple syrup (1:1, sugar:water)
1) Combine ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for at least four hours (but no longer than 24 hours), lightly stirring or mashing the pineapple every two hours.
2) Fine strain into a jar or bottle. Be sure to press all of the liquid from the pineapple cubes. Once all of the liquid has been pressed from the pineapple, discard the fruit and strain the syrup again. Bottle and keep refrigerated. Will last up to three weeks.
1 cup strawberries, quartered
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1) Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir until sugar is dissolved.
2) Add strawberries, and stir until the berries form a pulp.
3) Let cool, and fine strain into a jar or bottle. Cover and keep refrigerated. Will last up to one week.
Favorite drink to mix:
Mojito. I know it’s annoying for some bartenders but I’m a fan. So yes, you can ask me for a mojito when I’m three deep.
One thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Anything with -tini as a suffix.
The best piece of bartending advice you’ve ever received:
Work smart, not hard.
If you could mix a drink for one person, dead or alive:
Benjamin Franklin. Apparently he used to drink hard cider for breakfast. My kind of dude.
Favorite thing to do when you’re not drinking or drink-making:
Collecting ideas for tattoos and hanging out at the park with my rescue dog, Lola. She’s also a big inspiration for a lot of my cocktails.
Your favorite bar, and why:
It’s a tie between BlackTail and Holiday Cocktail Lounge. BlackTail is brilliant and refined with the right amount of attention to detail. Holiday is just perfect in the sense that it doesn’t require any amount of overthought.
Best thing you ever drank:
When you walk into BlackTail, there’s a server going around the room with a tray of tiny glowing frozen daiquiris. They call it a “Snaquiri” and I think a cocktail amuse-bouche is just genius. I still have dreams about it.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Old-Fashioned with muddled spoiled cherries and “boutique” bitters.
If your bar shifts had a theme song:
“Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. And no, no one calls me Al behind the bar. I just love the song.
After a shift, you drink:
Chartreuse or a PBR, depending on how it went.