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.
Bar Manager, Radio Radio
If you weren’t a bartender you’d be:
If I wasn’t a rock star behind the bar, I’d be a literal rock star: fronting my own punk band, playing sporadic shows to eight people in VFW halls along the East Coast.
Favorite thing about working behind a bar:
The challenge and execution involved in making someone a cocktail tailored to their particular tastes and palate.
Least favorite thing about working behind a bar:
Define the perfect cocktail:
The perfect cocktail is ever-changing, but it always has to start with a bartender who is listening to his or her guest and understands what they’re asking for. Be an active listener and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
This didn’t happen to me, but one of my bartenders was recently asked, “Can you make me a virgin old-fashioned?” So, sugar and an orange peel? Even our bar cherries have alcohol.
You find inspiration in:
A lot of things, but it always involves pulling up old punk playlists on Spotify and looking at song titles.
Describe where you bartend:
The owners of Vauxhall, where I also work as bar manager, opened Radio Radio right next door earlier this year. Whereas Vauxhall is a burger bar, Radio is a relaxed Southern bistro with a barbecue menu. The influence is the Nashville food scene, and the Memphis barbecue and music scene, and we try to stay within those parameters for the drinks. We have a bourbon sweet tea with fresh peach; a tequila cocktail with strawberry, lemon and amaretto honey;
and we’ve offered a Bloody Mary with a baby back rib and charred baby corn for brunch. There’s also a build-your-own julep bar, a variety of infused pickleback shots that fly out the door at an unbelievable rate and a bunch of canned beers to crush. But we also try different stuff for fun and constantly experiment. I wanted to have a Fernet-Branca cocktail on the menu, so we used it in a house Cherry Coke riff with a Coke reduction, brandied cherry syrup and vodka.
Signature Cocktail | Autumn Calling
I wanted to create a simple drink that’s fall in a glass. You get a cooling flavor from the cucumber-infused vodka, a little bite from the green apple syrup and herbal notes from the chartreuse. Everything plays really well together.
1 1/2 oz cucumber-infused vodka (see below)
3/4 oz green apple syrup (see below)
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz lemon juice
3 dashes orange bitters
Garnish: cucumber slice, green apple wedge
1) Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
2) Shake vigorously until chilled and strain into a rocks glass over ice.
3) Garnish with a cucumber slice and a wedge of green apple.
1 seedless cucumber, diced
750ml bottle vodka
Add one diced seedless cucumber for every 750ml bottle of vodka and allow to infuse for a minimum of five hours.
Green Apple Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 green apple, cored and diced
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off heat and bring to room temperature. Strain out apple slices, bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.
Favorite drink to mix:
An old-fashioned is simple and elegant, and I finish mine with a flaming orange. Whenever I get to light things on fire at work, it’s a good day.
One thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Anything solely being pushed by a liquor rep.
The best piece of bartending advice you’ve ever received:
Make sure your guests leave happy.
If you could mix a drink for one person, dead or alive:
Joe Strummer! The Clash!
Favorite thing to do when you’re not drinking or drink making:
Cooking. My risotto is to die for.
Your favorite bar and why:
Maison Premiere in Williamsburg. The drinks are always unreal, the food is on point and the bartenders are serious service professionals who take their craft seriously. Everything about Maison inspires me.
Best thing you ever drank:
The La Louissiane at Maison. It’s a classic cocktail built on rye whiskey, vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe. They nail it every time. Perfection in a glass.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Jeppson’s Malört. It’s like drinking floral garbage water.
First time you got drunk:
Fourteen years old, drinking a 40 of Olde English on my bike while trying to make it down the steepest hill in town. I learned to walk after drinking from that one.
If your bar shifts had a theme song:
Anything from Iron Chic, a punk band based here on Long Island. Pure adrenaline.
After a shift, you drink:
Lagavulin or Ardbeg on the rocks. That’s following plenty of shots of Jameson during the shift, of course.
Step into the kitchen with chef Michael Meehan in the September issue of Pulse, online and on newstands now.