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.
Owner and head bartender, Brix & Rye in Greenport
2002, in one form or another.
Favorite thing about working behind a bar:
You meet a lot of interesting people on both sides of the bar. There’s a genuine camaraderie with the people you work with. And the people you wait on, there are the positive and varied interactions.
Least favorite thing about working behind a bar:
Not enough sleep.
Define the perfect cocktail:
It’s all about context. Where am I? Who am I with? Why am I drinking this? I always consider those types of things. I’d say the perfect drink is any one that can be forever married to the moment in which you drink it.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
“Make me something that tastes like my grandpa’s belt” was definitely one of the weirdest, but that actually turned out quite well. There was no saving a White Russian with Sprite, though.
You find inspiration in:
Music; movies; books; creeping around the Internet, reading lists and blogs and posts and reviews. But probably most consistently, in friends and colleagues.
Describe where you bartend:
My goal with Brix & Rye was to create a place that’s both a destination for serious drinks in the classic sense and a neighborhood joint. [People] can feel comfortable ordering an obscure 19th century cocktail or a shot and a beer. Physically the bar is two spaces. The entrance and upstairs is open and sparse; basically it’s a storefront with just a shuffleboard table in the corner. Then downstairs is the bar proper, a hidden narrow spot of dark wood and low light. I love the contrast of the two spaces. It’s a great way to have the bar be a little mysterious and disguised but still welcoming and inclusive. Another thing that sets us apart is that we serve a full menu of pizzas from our sister restaurant, 1943 Pizza Bar. We’re attached by and share a prep kitchen, but don’t expect any pizza cocktails anytime soon.
Signature Cocktail | Crushed Butler
This is my summer riff on the Sherry Cobbler, which is a real beautiful drink in itself. Like the original, Butler is refreshing and low in alcohol, but also layered in complexity. Combining two different sherries, amontillado and fino, gives the drink a base that’s at once bright and bracing and also almost nutty with just a bit of salinity. Both the Amer and the bitters add to the depth of flavor, while the citrus peels lend their essential oils, giving balance against the light sweetness of the cane sugar.
The Sherry Cobbler is highly adaptable to the seasonal fruit at hand. For me, early summer on Long Island has always screamed strawberries. That’s when they grow on the North Fork and there are none better than the ones we use for this drink and several others during summer from Sep’s Farm in East Marion.
2oz amontillado sherry
1 1/2 oz fino sherry
3/4 oz Bigallet China-China Amer
1/4 oz cane syrup
2 strawberries, halved and hulled
1 lemon twist
1 orange twist
1 dash Angostura bitters
Garnish: mint bouquet, orange peel and a half strawberry
1) In a cocktail shaker, muddle strawberries with cane syrup.
2) Add remaining ingredients, including twists, and dry shake.
3) Add ice and shake well, but briefly.
3) Double-strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice.
4) Garnish lavishly with mint bouquet, orange peel and a half strawberry.
Favorite drink to mix:
The right drink for the person sitting across from me. Getting them into something new if that’s what they want, or making something they already love as well as I possibly can. Also, Sazeracs; I like to make Sazeracs.
One thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Lists that have a literal “for the ladies” or “for the fellas” section. I know ladies that throw back whiskey and guys who can enjoy a pink cocktail served in a coup. The idea of a girl or guy drink is ridiculous and limiting.
The best piece of bartending advice you’ve ever received:
Cocktails are an important part of what we do, but a small part of what we do. How you deal with people is everything.
If you could mix a drink for one person, dead or alive:
Right now, the president’s accountant. I’d get him loaded and try to get a look at those taxes.
Favorite thing to do when you’re not drinking or drink-making:
Hanging out with my wife and two daughters. We spend a lot of time at the beach, at the park or in our yard.
Your favorite bar and why:
I have two favorites, actually, and both are in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where I lived and bartended before coming back to Long Island. Fort Defiance is my favorite example of a neighborhood bar combined with proper cocktail destination. I was lucky enough to work there for a number of years and learned so much about cocktails, people and the role of a good bar as an important part of a community. And right down the street from there—just look for the vintage truck parked out front—is Sunny’s Bar, an old-school “shot and a beer” bar with a magical feel to it. It’s an institution for great music and just a weird and wonderful place that I hope stays open forever.
Best thing you ever drank:
Champagne at my wedding. Again, context is everything.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Pretty much everything I drank in my late teens. This includes but isn’t limited to a cup of beer consisting of several leftover cups of beer mixed together at a party, beer that my friends and I buried to save for the next summer and whiskey hidden in lazily rinsed hot-sauce bottles. Desperate times, desperate measures.
If your bar shifts had a theme song:
“Be Thankful,” William DeVaughn.
After a shift, you drink:
Water when I’m being smart. Mezcal when I’m not.