Thomas Crawford of The Brixton is as close to an overnight sensation as you can get in the bartending world. After working in the front of house for more than a decade, he transitioned to behind the bar. He quickly made a name for himself for his creative-yet-classic cocktails at Salt & Barrel and Flight. And his following not only came with him to his new spot in Babylon, they made him a finalist in Pulse’s Cocktail Rumble sponsored by Ravo Vodka. The first annual competition, which will take place Nov. 9 at Island Tasting to benefit Island Harvest, will see Crawford, Dave Ebbert (Copperhill) and Doug Brickel (Cork & Kerry) try to shake and muddle their way to Long Island mixologist supremacy. I spoke with him about his rise to fame, bar etiquette and the importance of supporting Island Harvest.
How does it feel to be nominated for the Cocktail Rumble?
Being recognized by Pulse after such a short period of time brings me a sense of pride and reassures me the direction I’ve taken bartending on Long Island is the right one. It feels good.
What got you into bartending?
I lived in New York City prior to working at Mirabelle and I was a big fan of what was going on there, this cocktail Renaissance. I think about who was doing it first on Long Island and I was so close to the magic David Marzano of Pentimento was creating.
How were you able to become this instant success?
I’ve worked with some really great people. David Marzano from Pentimento is probably the biggest. Morgan Flynn from Salt & Barrel and Chef Guy Reuge from Mirabelle. Guy showed me how to use my palette and that was huge. I also dived into cool modern cocktail books. I started with a foundation of the classics and built from there.
What is the coolest conversation you’ve had behind the bar?
When I was working at Salt & Barrel this woman became a good regular of mine. She was dating someone in Islip and she fell in love with the place but she was actually on the board of Rioja. She flew to Spain often. Her mindset on food and beverage was fascinating. I heard about the different way of eating in Spain. She talked a lot about tapas and Rioja, the Tempranillo as a great varietal. I romanticize about big red wines so she was speaking my language <laughs>.
Scenario: The bar is crowded and a customer wants a drink. What dos and don’ts should the customer follow?
The unprofessional part of me wants to say put money in your hand <laughs>. But the professional in me wants to say stand patient with a smile on your face and keep eye contact. Don’t push your way through a crowd or shout at the bartender.
We hear a lot about wine and beer and food pairings. What are some tips on pairing food and cocktails?
You have to be very careful about the amount of sugar and citrus you’re putting into the cocktail. You don’t want to aggravate your guests’ tastebuds. You don’t want your cocktail to be better than the entrée.
What will your strategy be Nov. 9?
Try to find a unique angle. Use a vodka-based cocktail. Keep it fun…and showcase my creativity and enjoying it with great people of the local industry.
Have you ever done something like this before?
Not a competition, no.
A little bit. I have to be honest.
Island Tasting gives back to Island Harvest. Why is this such a worthy cause?
No man is an Island. We should always take care of each other. Eating isn’t a privilege. It’s something we all should be able to do.