31 October 2014

RIP, Tom Menino, the Boston food nerd’s friend

Mayor Menino at a charity event
(Photo courtesy of Hubbub)
I can’t add much to the countless heartfelt remembrances of Boston’s late, beloved, longest-tenured mayor, Thomas M. Menino. Myself, I ran into him personally three times, always when browsing the way-marked-down suit racks at the original Filene’s Basement in Downtown Crossing, looking for bargains on my lunch hour. The third time, we exchanged more than pleasantries: I told him I was proud as a Bostonian that he had upped his sartorial game lately with better suits and ties and tailoring. He seemed genuinely pleased. I meant it: I thought he looked more dignified and statesmanlike with his newly-smart dress sense, bringing a much-needed, high-profile dash to our famously schlubby burg.

That’s my only anecdote, one of tens of thousands among a citizenry that, according to one famous survey, more than half of had met Menino personally, an astonishing statistic, and doubtless a big part of the reason he endured and thrived as a popular and effective change agent in Boston for so long.

My real point here is to encourage you to check out these two pieces by Corby Kummer, the longtime restaurant critic of Boston Magazine whom I’ve long admired for his food journalism and estimable books on the history of food. One is a video interview with The Mayor at Esperia Grill (one of my very favorite Greek restaurants in town, in part for its phenomenal pork gyros). It’s part of a promised series by Boston Univerity's BU Today that trailed Menino as he visited local, family-run restaurants out in the neighborhoods. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of those.

The other is a piece Kummer wrote for The Atlantic that makes a convincing case for Menino’s stunning, positive influence on our food scene. I was a longtime Menino supporter, especially appreciated his pioneering advocacy of our food-truck movement, but I had scant idea of how broadly and pervasively he improved our access to quality food, benefiting Bostonians of every age and stripe.

Thanks, Corby, for shining some light on that. And thanks, Mr. Mayor, for being a fellow food nerd, but also one with an aggressive social conscience and political dedication to making good, healthy food available to every one of the citizens about whom you so obviously, deeply cared over a lifetime of public service. That ought to humble every one of us who merely writes about the pleasure in good eating. You left an indelible mark. We owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

22 October 2014

Vanna White Rules the Food World

Vanna White, courtesy of Flickr
Don't ask me how the Facebook comments on a photo I uploaded of my lunch at Gene's Chinese Flatbread, a terrific Boston purveyor of Shaanxi cuisine, somehow morphed into a discussion of so-called food hacks, then devolved into an extended "Chuck Norris Facts"-style riff centered on Vanna White, "Wheel of Fortune" star. But it happened. For my part, I blame a few Guinnesses at a failed night of pub trivia earlier in the evening. But I had enough fun with it to want to reproduce it here. I have since learned that Ms. White, like many people in the entertainment business, has had a troubled relationship with food in her day, no joking matter, so I hope readers take it purely in the affectionate spirit it was intended.

-----

Marc Hurwitz [esteemed food writer and author of the Hidden Boston collection of blogs, which you should really read if you care about the Boston dining scene]: Vanna White is doing the garlic thing [shaking garlic cloves vigorously between two bowls to quickly peel them, a famous food hack] on Wheel of Fortune right now. I promise this will be on half a dozen food blogs tomorrow at minimum.

MC Slim JB: It's not really a thing until Vanna does it.

Marc: Who cares about Vanna White?

MC: She was way ahead on kale, on food trucks, on poutine. She's an oracle in a spangly evening gown.

Drew Starr [another well-known Boston food writer you should follow]: She taught Jean-Georges how to not finish baking a chocolate cake.

MC: She rearranged her food vertically on opening night at Gotham.

Marc: Wheel of Wow! Who knew? Consider me a convert.

MC: Vanna taught Ferran how to spherify.

MC: Sous-vide was based on Vanna's bathtub regimen.

MC: Vanna put a fried egg on everything when she was in grammar school.

Drew: And told Robuchon to add more butter to his potatoes.

MC: Vanna shames all her bartenders into measuring.

MC: Vanna gently suggested in an early Chowhound post that Danny Meyer should focus on hospitality.

Drew: But she can free pour.

MC: Vanna stabbed James Beard in the heart for being a cold, fish-eyed bastard.

MC: Vanna knows that they're called jimmies, not sprinkles.

MC: Vanna's soufflés rise on the better angels of her nature.

MC: Vanna out-eats Chuck Norris at churrascaria rodizio.

MC: Vanna once drank Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Peter O'Toole under the table.

Drew: When she was running the OSS, Vanna tasked Julia and Paul Child to France, knowing it would result in the reawakening of the American palate.

MC: When Vanna orders dancing shrimp, the shrimp aren't drowned in booze, but voluntarily dance for her before jumping into her mouth to die happy.

Marc: I heard that Vanna has never waited 15 minutes after finishing a meal before returning to the pool.

MC: Vanna eats ortolan without a linen napkin over her head. What does she have to be ashamed of?

MC: Vanna thinks ghost chilies are wimpy, but is too polite to say so.

Drew: If Vanna accidentally puts ketchup on a hot dog, it turns to mustard.

MC: Vanna White forgives Pat Sajak over 4am scrambled eggs.

MC: Vanna White saved David Chang's failing ramen shop by showing him how it's done.

MC: Vanna checked Anthony Bourdain into rehab, but has mixed feelings about it now.

MC: Vanna nearly broke up Bowie and Imam's marriage when he couldn't stop talking about her carnitas tamales.

Drew: Vanna doesn't have to hand-pull noodles; when they see her, they pull themselves

MC: Vladimir Putin fears no man and no thing, but he quakes in hope that Vanna will like his beluga and vodka service.

MC: Vanna was the only one of Keller's friends with the guts to tell him his ratatouille dish in "Ratatouille" was the least appetizing thing in the movie, and as she tartly put it, "That film has a lot of scenes of rats eating garbage."

Drew: I'm sad. Only 5 results on twitter when I searched "vanna garlic"

MC: Vanna once told a young Rene Redzepi, "You know, your food's pretty good, but you know what would make it great? Put a bunch of twigs and stuff on it."

MC: The finest Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture comes from Wagyu steers who get daily massages, dine on rice straw, drink sake, and watch an endless looped video of Vanna turning over the letter "K".

MC: The most prized copy of Playboy among collectors features a lingerie shoot of Vanna in which she confesses her favorite dish is "sashimi made from the flesh of my enemies."

MC: As heir to the fortune of a great-grandfather who invented the orange powder essential to Kraft Macaroni n' Cheese, Vanna was expected to go into the industrial food business. Her entertainment career was her way of breaking from the soulless path laid out for her by familial obligations. She has no regrets.

MC: If, after a night of passion with Vanna White, she serves you grilled Fluffernutters in bed the next morning, you did well. If it's Fage with fresh strawberries, don't expect her to return your subsequent calls.

MC: Vanna White gets a nickel royalty for every hamburger served in the US. Yep: everybody serving a hamburger was her idea.

MC: Vanna White likes to tilt at windmills. She's the secret mastermind behind a SuperPAC whose goal is to legislate public-school teaching of European-style dining with the fork in the left hand, knife in the right. Its secondary goal is the US adoption of the metric system.

MC: Vanna White's favorite beauty secret is a good night's sleep. She just texted me to remind me of my early alarm tomorrow.

-----

I know, I know: food nerds.

31 July 2014

"Pouring Reign (The Director's Cut)", Part VI: Moira Costello Horan of The Franklin Southie

Moira Costello Horan of The Franklin Southie
Photo courtesy of Moira Costello Horan
In April 2014, I wrote a cover feature for The Improper Bostonian entitled “Pouring Reign”, in which I interviewed twelve Boston bartenders I admire. Six are veteran talents I felt had been overlooked by local media; six are newcomers promising enough to get themselves situated in some of our top bar programs. All had many more interesting things to say than I could fit in the space allowed.

How many more? My initial draft ran to 10,000 words, but the feature was allotted 2500; I begged my editors for more room, and they generously let it swell to 3500, a very long feature for the publication.

As happy as I was with the piece (and especially the gorgeous accompanying portrait photography by Adam DeTour), a lot of great material got left on the cutting-room floor. I got permission to run the unexpurgated interviews here.

Here’s number six, my unedited interview with Moira Costello Horan, whom I first ran into at Union Bar & Grille in the South End, later at Local 149 in Southie’s City Point neighborhood, and later still at The Franklin Southie, where she is currently the bar manager. Here are Moira’s original, unvarnished words.

======

MC SLIM JB: The life of a professional bartender is a vampiric existence, in the sense that you don’t see a lot of daylight. Plus there’s that pesky requirement to work weekends and holidays, times that many professions enjoy as time off. How do you manage to work a social life, let alone a romantic life, around these constraints? Aside from the professional compensations, are there other advantages to the night owl’s existence that civilians aren’t aware of?

MOIRA COSTELLO HORAN: It is a vampiric existence, but there are many advantages to it. I'm never stuck in traffic, there's never a line at the supermarket, the days I have off are slow ones at bars and restaurants. Restaurants become your family, so holidays are spent with the people you love and care about. I honestly don't have a lot of friends who aren't in the industry because it just doesn't make sense. My boyfriend is a fellow bartender, so we understand each other's schedules. Being so social as a profession makes me want to just stay home on my time off. There is no better place than my couch and being quiet. 

MCSJB: Measure or free-pour?

MCH: Measure cocktails, free-pour mixed drinks.

MCSJB: Drink that you wish more customers would order?

MCH: Gin martinis with a twist. They're delicious. 

MCSJB: Drink you wish customers would forget existed?

MCH: Dirty vodka martinis. They're disgusting.

MCSJB: What is your most prized bartending accoutrement, e.g., spoon, ice tool, ice mold, shaker, mixing glass, knife, Lewis bag, cocktail book, serving glass, other piece of barware or glassware?

MCH: I have lots of tools, but don't particularly feel like the tools make the bartender. 

MCSJB: Most annoying customer behavior?

MCH: Don't wave in my face, don't interrupt me when I'm talking to someone else, don't give me a drink order when I ask you how you're doing.

MCSJB: Spirit that more customers should be trying, and your favorite cocktail or bottling to introduce a newbie to it?

MCH: Gin is one of my favorite spirits because it’s so versatile. People have so many negative thoughts about gin because of one bad experience in their youth. Screw vodka: I like to get every vodka drinker to at least try gin because essentially it's just flavored vodka. Start with something simple like a Tom Collins, because who doesn't like a Tom Collins? 

MCSJB: What’s the best day of the week and time of day for a customer to engage you in a leisurely, educational five-minute conversation about drinks?

MCH: On a quiet night when it’s slow. Ask if I have the time first. I will always try to find the time to talk cocktails.

MCSJB: You may have seen this NY Times article on the in-house lingo of certain NYC bars. What’s one of your house’s code words/phrases for intra-staff communication in front of customers?

MCH: Two words: “bar meeting”.

MCSJB: What’s your typical end-of-shift drink?

MCH: Beer and a shot: Rittenhouse straight American rye and a Notch Pils, please.

MCSJB: Do you have a guilty-pleasure drink, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your peers or customers to catch you drinking?

MCH: A piña colada. That love came from when I used to live and bartend in Puerto Rico. The difference is now I can use quality ingredients, none of that frozen nonsense. 

MCSJB: What’s the last astonishing restaurant meal you had other than at your place?

MCH: Sarma. Delicious. Great staff. I can't wait to go back.

MCSJB: What are a couple of dives you favor on your own time?

MCH: Tom English's on Dot Ave. Whitey's. Delux Cafe before it closed. 

MC, aside: Happily, the Delux Café has since reopened under new ownership.

MCSJB: Dr. Bartender, what’s the best cure for my hangover?

MCH: Hair of the dog. Pedialyte and Green Chartreuse.

MCSJB, aside: I assume that’s a sequence, not a cocktail.

MCSJB: Most interesting current trend in cocktails?

MCH: Amaro-based cocktails are the jam right now. 

MCSJB: Most ridiculous / overhyped / bullshit trend?

MCH: Yeungling. Who cares?

MCSJB: As a bar customer yourself, what’s one aspect of Boston’s bars that you wish more operators would do a better job of?

MCH: Vermouth in the well.

MCSJB: What Greater Boston bar is absolutely killing it right now? Of all their qualities, what’s the single standout attribute that makes you want to drink there?

MCH: Tavern Road, because every bartender there is amazingly talented. They make you feel like family as soon as you walk in the door. That's my kind of bar. 

MCSJB: What bartender or bar manager, currently working or retired, is your first-ballot lock for entry into Boston’s Bartending Hall of Fame?

MCH: Peter Cipriani [currently at The Franklin Southie]. He is the whole package. 

MCSJB, aside: I'm a big fan of Mr. Cipriani, too.

MCSJB: Offer a sentence or two of advice to aspiring bartenders.

MCH: Try and find the balance between hospitality and knowledge. 

MCSJB: Say a few words about your most influential bartending mentor.

MCH: Tom Mastricola [most recently of Commonwealth Cambridge, currently preparing to open Café Artscience]. I met him over three years ago and he's been my go-to guy since. He's legendary and has helped me become the bartender I am today. 

MCSJB: What’s the most surprisingly useful life skill that bartending has taught you?

MCH: Patience. 

MCSJB: Compose the question you think I should have asked, and answer it.

MCH: “What do you love the most about bartending?” Giving the best possible guest experience, making people smile, and learning.

28 July 2014

"Pouring Reign (The Director's Cut)", Part V: Tyler Jay Wang of Audubon Boston

Tyler Jay Want of Audubon Boston, Boston, MA
Photo courtesy of onthebar.com
In April 2014, I wrote a cover feature for The Improper Bostonian entitled “Pouring Reign”, in which I interviewed twelve Boston bartenders I admire. Six are veteran talents I felt had been overlooked by local media; six are newcomers promising enough to get themselves situated in some of our top bar programs. All had many more interesting things to say than I could fit in the space allowed.

How many more? My initial draft ran to 10,000 words, but the feature was allotted 2500; I begged my editors for more room, and they generously let it swell to 3500, a very long feature for the publication.

As happy as I was with the piece (and especially the gorgeous accompanying portrait photography by Adam DeTour), a lot of great material got left on the cutting-room floor. I got permission to run the unexpurgated interviews here. Here’s number five, my unedited interview with Tyler Jay Wang, whose bartending talents I’ve enjoyed for quite a while at places like Drink, the bar at No. 9 Park (particularly when I had an office nearby), and the Kirkland Tap & Trotter, but about whom I hadn’t seen much written. At the time of the interview, Wang was still at the Kirkland, though he would leave shortly to help launch the bar program at the just-rebooted Audubon Boston. I’m happy to present his unedited responses to my interview questions here.

======

MC SLIM JB:  I’ve long praised [Kirkland Tap & Trotter chef/owner Tony Maws's other restaurant] Craigie on Main for its somewhat overlooked bar program, and think Kirkland has much the same thing going on, including my preference for dining and drinking at the bar. What does a KT&T customer get dining at your bar that she might miss sitting in the dining room? Are you a bar or a dining room customer on your own time? Does anyone ever come in for drinks and not get anything to eat? (Maws does some pretty alright food, after all.)

TYLER JAY WANG: The bar at Craigie is a staple for any thoughtful bar patron in the city. Their bar, like No. 9’s, is both elegant and enthralling. While the environment at the Craigie bar is more casual, Tony’s philosophies towards perfection in the kitchen are reflected in the bar program. The bar at Kirkland works the same way. And to cap it off, Tony is generally about three feet away from the service bartender, so his influence is always felt. At Craigie, the bar almost feels like another restaurant. It’s somewhat secluded from the hustle and bustle of the noisy kitchen. In the bar room at KT&T, and especially in the first few seats next to service bar, you can feel the heat from the grill. It becomes a much more interactive experience to sit at the bar.

Frankly, working the service bar at KT&T is the only time I’ve ever felt like no one is watching the bartender. The grill cooks over our shoulders are captivating, and Tony’s open kitchens are always a great show. So a bar patron gets that, but like most bars what really sets the experience apart is the interaction with my ‘tenders. The relationships forged between guest and bartender are always more interactive and personal than those at a table. That’s why I always choose to sit at the bar and one of the reasons I became a bartender.

Yes, we definitely get bar guests who just want to have a couple drinks and hang out with us. They are neighborhood folks and I honestly take their visits as a greatest compliment. To choose our humble bar as the place for your late night tipple against all the other great bars in the area means we really must be doing something right!

MC: Measure or free-pour?

TJW: Measure.

MC: Drink that you wish more customers would order?

TJW: Stirred gin cocktails, and shaken ones, and gin neat. Really any gin.

MC: Drink you wish customers would forget existed?

TJW: Dirty Martinis. I can eschew judgment on virtually any other beverage, but why do you want the leftover waste from old olives in your cocktail?

MC, aside: This!

MC: What is your most prized bartending accoutrement, e.g., spoon, ice tool, ice mold, shaker, mixing glass, knife, Lewis bag, cocktail book, serving glass, other piece of barware or glassware?

TJW: My muddler. My dad made it for me from Osage orange wood. It’s modeled after [Drink GM John] Gertsen’s.

MC: Most annoying customer behavior?

TJW: “Can I have [insert house cocktail] but with vodka, and just a little bit of citrus, and not too sweet, but also like a splash of grenadine?”

MC: Spirit that more customers should be trying?

TJW:  GIN! The “New World gin” category is vast and ever-expanding. People get hung up on Hendrick’s and then never get to try all of the wonderful new gins the craft spirit move is producing. Drink more gin!

MC: Your favorite cocktail or bottling to introduce a newbie to it?

TJW: Tom Collins. It’s a familiar name, but when made right, a Tom Collins really stands out.

MC: What’s the best day of the week and time of day for a customer to engage you in a leisurely, educational five-minute conversation about drinks?

TJW: Wednesday from 5:30-6:30, and then 10 to midnight.

MC: You may have seen this New York Times article on the in-house lingo of certain NYC bars. What’s one of your house’s code words/phrases for intra-staff communication in front of customers? 

TJW: We’re too new for any of those.

MC: What’s your typical end-of-shift drink?

TJW: Stout and a shot Monday to Saturday, a Sazerac on Sunday.

MC: What’s a great book / film / record / play / TV show you’ve consumed recently and recommend?

TJW: [Broadway musical] In the Heights. What can I say? I went to school for musical theater.

MC: Do you have a guilty-pleasure drink, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your peers or customers to catch you drinking?

TJW: No. I’m not a bashful drinker.

MC: What’s the last astonishing restaurant meal you had (what and where) other than at your place?

TJW: Astonishing? Shit, probably Per Se last year. But astonishing has like a wow factor to it I wouldn’t attach to Per Se. Per Se was just perfect. Everything was perfect. Astonishing has like, a magical quality to it. On second thought, Ribelle.

MC: What are a couple of dives you favor on your own time?

TJW: I make it to Brick & Mortar once a month or so. That place is pretty divey.

MC: Dr. Bartender, what’s the best cure for my hangover?

TJW: Don’t drink so much, dummy.

MC: Most interesting current trend in cocktails (or beer or wine)?

TJW: Can’t say I’ve ever been trendy.

MC: Most ridiculous / overhyped / bullshit trend?

TJW: Having every whiskey or amaro that has ever been produced. Curate those lists a little!

MC: As a bar customer yourself, what’s one aspect of Boston’s bars that you wish more operators would do a better job of?

TJW: Standing up for what they believe in! Don’t just buy shit spirits for no reason. Advocate for better products. Advocacy for our guests and our craft is the most important part of our job. Be excited about something behind the bar and then sell it to me with enthusiasm.

MC: What Greater Boston bar (besides your own) is absolutely killing it right now? Of all their qualities, what’s the single standout attribute that makes you want to drink there?

TJW: Visiting Katie at Hawthorne is one of life’s great joys.

MC, aside: Amen to that.

MC: What are the top destinations on your Bars of the World Bucket List?

TJW: Bar High Five - Tokyo, Polite Provisions - San Diego, Wherever Scott Marshall is working.

MC, aside: For the curious, the brilliant Scott Marshall is now at 22 Square in Savannah, GA.

MC: What’s the most ridiculous thing a Yelper has ever said about you or the place you work?

TJW: Plead the 5th

MC: What bartender or bar manager, currently working or retired, is your first-ballot lock for entry into Boston’s Bartending Hall of Fame?

TJW: Misty [Kalkofen]. Scotty [Marshall]. Josey [Packard]. John [Gertsen].

MC: Offer a sentence or two of advice to aspiring bartenders.

TJW: Slow down! If you want to be good at what you do, slow down. You can’t call yourself a craft bartender if you don’t take the time to learn about the craft.

MC: Say a few words about your most influential bartending mentor.

TJW: I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best bartenders in the world, let alone our little town. I would not be who I am today without the patience of Ted Kilpatrick.

MC, aside: For the curious, No. 9 alum Ted Kilpatrick now runs Manhattan's Roof at Park South bar for Boston restaurateurs Tim and Nancy Cushman of O Ya

MC: What’s the most surprisingly useful life skill that bartending has taught you?

TJW: Sweat the small stuff, make it perfect, and then say fuck it and take it like a shot.

MC: Compose the question you think I should have asked, and answer it.

TJW: Boston needs a small bar that focuses on rum, agave and Latin food. That’s the answer. I’ll take half credit.

25 July 2014

"Pouring Reign (The Director's Cut)", Part IV: Frederic Yarm of Russell House Tavern

Frederic Yarm of Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, MA
Photo courtesy of  Maggie Campbell of Privateer Rum
In April 2014, I wrote a cover feature for The Improper Bostonian entitled “Pouring Reign”, in which I interviewed twelve Boston bartenders I admire. Six are veteran talents I felt had been overlooked by local media; six are newcomers promising enough to get themselves situated in some of our top bar programs. All had many more interesting things to say than I could fit in the space allowed.

How many more? My initial draft ran to 10,000 words, but the feature was allotted 2500; I begged my editors for more room, and they generously let it swell to 3500, a very long feature for the publication.

As happy as I was with the piece (and especially the gorgeous accompanying portrait photography by Adam DeTour), a lot of great material got left on the cutting-room floor. I got permission to run the unexpurgated interviews here. Here’s the fourth one, my unedited interview with Frederick Yarm, a relative newcomer to the bartending scene whose work as a cocktail writer I’ve been reading for years, both for his blog and his 2012 book Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book, a historical tour of Boston's cocktail scene. His was another interview that space constraints forced me to slash drastically, so I’m glad to be able to offer the unwhittled version here.

======

MC SLIM JB: Improper readers may not know about your Cocktail Virgin blog, or how it has found you sampling and documenting thousands of cocktails from Greater Boston bars for over six and a half years. Russell House Tavern is your first professional bartending gig. How has being a prolific cocktail blogger shaped your experience and outlook as a bartender? And vice versa: how has manning the stick professionally changed your perspective as a cocktail blogger?

FREDERIC YARM: Tasting and writing about a lot about drinks has not shaped my outlook as a bartender so much as the experience of sitting at lots of bars in the process; observing both the good and bad of hospitality, techniques, recipes, and interactions has been an invaluable learning experience. My work with the blog has given me a lot of exposure to a wide variety of styles out there and the pros and cons of each. Discussing my knowledge about cocktails, techniques, and local establishments does help with guest rapport and has helped to solidify some regulars.

Manning the stick professionally has encouraged me to be a more easy going guest, and this has caused me lighten up a bit both in my attitude and the posting rate. If I do not see something on the cocktail menu that I wish to write about, I often will order a beer. If it is a slower night, I will see if the bartender has some off menu items that they wish to make, but I will not push the issue. I definitely want to keep the blog going, but it has become one of my cocktail outlets instead of the main one.

MC: Measure or free-pour?

FY: I originally thought I was only going to jigger everything, but after working a few busy brunches, I got tired of the amount of washing it took to get all traces of serrano pepper-infused mezcal that we use in our Mezcal Mary out of a jigger. I tested out my free pour, and my count is pretty solid for a 2 ounce pour. I will not free pour for anything other than simple drinks like Highballs and Bloody Marys though.

MC: Drink that you wish more customers would order?

FY: Drinks with vermouth. For some reason, the Manhattan drinker does not shy away from vermouth nor specify the proportions, but the Martini drinker does. Fresh vermouth is delightful, and I often opt for a 2:1 or equal parts Martini at home. And many guests look confused when you tell them that vermouth and other aromatized wines are a delight to drink on the rocks with an orange twist.

MC, aside: Right on!

MC: Drink you wish customers would forget existed?

FY: I have a section in my bar notebook dedicated to “those 70s drinks.” I cannot (or choose not to) remember the difference between a Bay Breeze and a Sea Breeze, and most of them are just fruit mixtures to hide the flavor of vodka.

MC: What is your most prized bartending accoutrement, e.g., spoon, ice tool, ice mold, shaker, mixing glass, knife, Lewis bag, cocktail book, serving glass, other piece of barware or glassware?

FY: A beautiful inlaid three-wood ice crushing mallet made by CME Handworks that I have at home. Actually, it’s a furniture wood carving mallet and they were surprised and amused by my application. I also bought one for Ryan Lotz when he was at Lineage for I felt that he deserved better than the camping mallet he was using to crush ice at the time. At work, I have access to crushed ice from our Kold-Draft machine, so the mallet stays at home.

MC: Most annoying customer behavior?

FY: Impatience, feelings of entitlement, and lack of sense of humor when things get busy. If guests want a more perfect experience, they should go on the off hours and slower nights. Then again, that suggestion would fall on deaf ears to those types.

MC: Every bartender has a collection of Fiasco Moments, e.g., the tray of glasses smashed into the ice bin, the flyaway tin that resulted in a guest wearing a shakerful of cocktails, the strangers you introduced at your bar that ended up in a murder/suicide, your proud original creation that customers hated, etc. What’s a particularly egregious / entertaining one of yours?

FY: So far there has been little that has gone too wrong bartending-wise save for a few customers who have gotten a little splash of water from our glass washer or other minor mishaps. Therefore, I’d have to say go with not refusing service to disruptive customers. There was one guest who kept harassing customers more so with each return to the bar during the day, and had to be ejected after the third return. Or the two townie drunks who made such a mess of the place. Besides sucking up a lot of my time, it can make the other guests rather uncomfortable to the point that they transfer from the bar to the table or leave the establishment completely.  I am getting better at dealing with these characters but it is sometimes difficult to switch from a hospitality mode to a more authoritarian state. And this discomfort to guests is probably far -worse than splashing a customer or spilling some drinks.

MC: What’s the best day of the week and time of day for a customer to engage you in a leisurely, educational five-minute conversation about drinks?

FY: Lately, I work mostly day shifts during the week that only can get busy during the lunch burst and the pre-dinner rush. Still, I can generally find time to talk to guests at length save for some Fridays, holidays, and brunch shifts, especially if they are fine with interruptions as I attend to drink tickets and other guests.

MC: You may have seen this New York Times article on the in-house lingo of certain NYC bars. What’s one of your house’s code words/phrases for intra-staff communication in front of customers?

FY: Yes, we have them, but they are usually tied to a bartender’s, bar back’s, or regular’s name (making it into a verb), so no I don’t feel at ease mentioning them.

MC: What’s your typical end-of-shift drink?

FY: When I have worked nights, it has been Fernet Branca and/or a shift beer from our bottle and cans collection. During the day, my shift drinks have to be done elsewhere. Often, I just wait until I get home, but on a bad day, it’s often stopping in somewhere close by or on the way home for a beer unless I can think of an out of the way place that has a new cocktail on their menu to check out for the blog.

MC: Do you have a guilty-pleasure drink, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your peers or customers to catch you drinking?

FY: Not sure I have guilty pleasures like that save for drinking High Lifes although I do that without shame. And when lowbrow things like Fireball or blackberry brandy shots are consumed, I am often with my peers. I do remember when Josh Childs interviewed me for Boston.com after Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book came out, he forced the question and I answered a Rusty Nail, although that’s a legitimate enough drink that I am not embarrassed about consuming.

MC: What are a couple of dives you favor on your own time?

FY: Last dive I went to was Paddy’s Lunch for one of the Russell House Tavern bartenders does a few shifts there. But that falls into the realm of why I go out drinking which includes being in front of a specific bartender.  Luke O’Neil included Charlie’s Kitchen in his dive bar book [Boston's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown], so I’ll add that, but I generally go there with co-workers instead of choosing it on my own.

MC: Dr. Bartender, what’s the best cure for my hangover?

FY: For settling the stomach, ginger beer or Angostura bitters works well, as does dried candied ginger. For the headache, Advil and coffee will be your friend. Getting fluids is key, but water alone will not provide the lost electrolytes. I am a fan of toughing it out, but if the malaise cannot be shaken by mid-afternoon, sometimes a single drink can even things out.

MC: Most ridiculous / overhyped / bullshit trend?

FY: I deleted my response – I don’t want to speak negatively about anyone’s bar program or things they include in their bar program, at least publicly.

MC: As a bar customer yourself, what’s one aspect of Boston’s bars that you wish more operators would do a better job of?

FY: Turning over bar menus. It has become rather common at many establishments that cocktail menus stay static for great lengths of time indicating a lack of focus on the program.

MC: What’s the most ridiculous thing a Yelper (or other amateur reviewer) has ever said about you or the place you work?

FY: I have only made it into one Yelp review; it was more praising the brunch food and it happened to mention that the bartender was great. Between the food order and the party size, I was able to deduce it to the crew of eight who showed up to my ten seat bar on New Year’s Day a few minutes before open.

MC: What bartender or bar manager, currently working or retired, is your first-ballot lock for entry into Boston’s Bartending Hall of Fame?

FY: John Gertsen for having a vision and enacting on it to elevate Boston’s stature in the cocktail world, and Josh Childs for showing that keeping it simple and focusing on warmth and hospitality is just as important as what is in the glass if not more so.

MC: Offer a sentence or two of advice to aspiring bartenders.

FY: Two sayings that stick in my head are Sam Treadway’s “Bartending is about watering down spirits and babysitting adults” and John Gertsen’s “If you know where everything lives and know how to smile, you’ll be a great bartender.” Both of those sayings remove the ego-driven ideals that plague a lot of bartenders, for a great bartender is one that makes the guests feel special and not one that reinforces the idea that the bartender is the star. And lastly, always keep learning. Read, taste, discuss. And know when guests just want a drink instead of even a hint of pleasantries much less a lecture.

MC: Say a few words about your most influential bartending mentor.

FY: I would be remiss if I did not name Sam Gabrielli who helped shape me from a restaurant industry newbie into a bartender. I am also thankful for fellow bartender Adam Hockman; when I have complained about certain situations, instead of just giving me a “that sucks” reply, he offers solid advice gathered from his years of experience behind the stick.

MC: What’s the most surprisingly useful life skill that bartending has taught you?

FY: Always be closing. Bartending is a job that relies on salesmanship, and less about glorified ideals.  Success at previous jobs meant completing projects by a deadline, but that was not tied to my salary which was pretty much fixed. One of the bar backs agreed that learning to close is an important life skill, whether for money or for romance, that should be learned as early in life as possible. Indeed, the movie GlengarryGlen Ross has taught me that coffee’s for closers.

21 July 2014

"Pouring Reign (The Director's Cut)", Part III: Dan Valachovic of Vee Vee

Dan Valachovic of Vee Vee, Jamaica Plain, MA
Photo courtesy of Dan Valachovic
In April 2014, I wrote a cover feature for The Improper Bostonian entitled “Pouring Reign”, in which I interviewed twelve Boston bartenders I admire. Six are veteran talents I felt had been overlooked by local media; six are newcomers promising enough to get themselves situated in some of our top bar programs. All had many more interesting things to say than I could fit in the space allowed.

How many more? My initial draft ran to 10,000 words, but the feature was allotted 2500; I begged my editors for more room, and they generously let it swell to 3500, a very long feature for the publication.

As happy as I was with the piece (and especially the gorgeous accompanying portrait photography by Adam DeTour), a lot of great material got left on the cutting-room floor. I got permission to run the unexpurgated interviews here. Here’s the third one, my unedited interview with Dan Valachovic, co-owner of Vee Vee in Jamaica Plain. I included Dan because of his intent focus on local craft beers, a real plus at an already great little indie neighborhood place that I originally reviewed back in 2011. I’m glad to be able to publish his thoughtful answers here, which had to be cut severely for publication.

======

MC SLIM JB: Vee Vee is a neighborhood joint leaning local, seasonal and sustainable, with a bar focus on small, local craft brewers. A lot of newcomers seem to be copying your template. Meanwhile, Bostonians have gotten geekier about beer, and their options in like-minded bars have expanded greatly. You were ahead of that curve: what changes have you seen in your customers, suppliers?

DAN VALACHOVIC: The biggest change in the customers has been in trusting what we are putting on our draught list. There are so many new breweries in the area just in the last several years, and many new options for consumers. Our regular customers have come to respect and trust my palate and style of beer that I gravitate towards, and seem happy to try whatever new offering might be available. 

MC: How has it changed your philosophy (if at all) and product mix? What does that rising tide mean for your bar program going forward?

DV: I have found myself digging deeper with specialty distributors and importers in an effort to keep things fresh and current. We are also in talks with JP's Streetcar Wine & Beer shop about collaborating with local breweries for one-off brews. Establishing personal relationships with the local brewers is very important to me and a key to staying on top of things.

Moving forward, I actually like the idea of paring back rather than adding more. We have only four draught lines and about 20 bottles on our list; it's a fun challenge to curate those lists in a way that is interesting and exciting. No fluff or filler.

MC: Beer that you wish more customers would order?

DV: I recently added a rare Belgian beer called De Dolle Arabier to the bottle list. While all of the other beers on the list contain descriptors conveying style and flavor profiles, I simply describe this as "Dan's favorite beer in the world". It's been very interesting to see regulars as well as first-timers order it and monitor their reaction. I've yet to encounter anyone that hasn't thoroughly enjoyed it (or, at least anyone willing to tell me they haven't enjoyed it!)

MC: Drink you wish customers would forget existed?

DV: Any of the mass-produced yellow lagers. On the rare occasion that someone asks for one, we point them to a can of Notch Session Pils. It's probably a little hoppier than they are expecting, but most are satisfied.

MC: What is your most prized bartending accoutrement, e.g., tool, book, glassware, etc.?

DV: I built myself a keg fridge in my cellar at home. It's very satisfying to have your favorite beer readily available on demand.

MC, aside: I am green with envy!

MC: Beer style that more customers should be trying?

DV: I really enjoy beers that are fermented with Brettanomyces yeast. When properly used, it can give a beer a tropical, funky complexity that you wouldn't otherwise see.

MC: What’s your favorite example to introduce a newbie to it?

DV: Orval is a Belgian Trappist ale that is fermented with a traditional ale yeast and then re-fermented in the bottle with a slight amount of Brett yeast. So if you try a young bottle next to one that has aged for several months, you can begin to see its effect on the flavor profile. Belgian beer bars often offer different vintages of Orval on their menus: I've been thinking of adding this option as well.

MC: What’s the best day of the week and time of day for a customer to engage you in a leisurely, educational five-minute conversation about drinks?

DV: Tuesday nights either between 5:30-7:00pm or 9:30-10:30pm.

MC: You may have seen this article on the in-house lingo of certain NYC bars. What’s one of your house’s code words/phrases for intra-staff communication in front of customers?

DV: We don't have any of our own, but after that article ran we adopted the "I need you to bar back seat six for me" as a way to retrieve the forgotten name of a regular customer.

MC: What’s your typical end-of-shift drink?

DV: Whatever Trillium beer is currently on tap. Last night was their American Blonde ale, Pocket Pigeon.

MC: What’s a great book / film / record / play / TV show you’ve consumed recently and recommend?

DV: Nothing Can Hurt Me, the Big Star documentary.

MC: Do you have a guilty-pleasure drink, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your peers or customers to catch you drinking?

DV: Nothing beats a shandy at the beach. Last summer I bought a case of Leinenkugel’s version, but rumor has it that Narragansett and [RI frozen lemonade maker] Del’s will be teaming up this year, which sounds awesome.

MC: What’s the last astonishing restaurant meal you had (what and where) other than at your place?

DV: Last week I stopped off at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine for a quick lunch and had a fried oyster bun and an Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale. The sandwich perfectly balances the airy softness of the Asian-style bun with the crunch of the fried oyster and tanginess of tartar sauce and some pickled onions. That lunch is crave-worthy and worth the trip.

MC: What are a couple of dives you favor on your own time?

DV: The Galway House on Centre Street in JP is a go-to for a post-shift beer and bar pizza. J.J. Foley’s Fireside Tavern near Forest Hills is the place to go when we feel like darts. Pleasant Cafe is a dependable old-school classic out in Rozzie.

MC: Dr. Bartender, what’s the best cure for my hangover?

DV: I keep it pretty simple: a greasy burger, plenty of water and Advil. And a nap.

MC: Most interesting current trend in beer?

DV: Beer brewers experimenting with slight variations on a style. Trillium Brewing and Mystic Brewery are two locals that I see tweaking a standard of theirs just slightly to emphasize how a different hop, grain or yeast can affect the final product.

MC? Most ridiculous / overhyped / bullshit trend:

DV: Yuengling.

MC: As a bar customer yourself, what’s one aspect of Boston’s bars that you wish more operators would do a better job of?

DV: Listing serving sizes and ABV of beers on beer menus. It's important to know, especially if you have a long night ahead.

MC: What Greater Boston bar is absolutely killing it right now? Of all their qualities, what’s the single standout attribute that makes you want to drink there?

DV: State Park. The whole place was designed around having fun and that's exactly what they've accomplished.

MC: What are the top destinations on your Bars of the World Bucket List?

DV: There's a year-old place in Austin, Texas that I've read about called Craft Pride. They have 52 lines of Texas-only craft beers and park a bacon food truck in their back patio. I look forward to spending an afternoon there some day educating myself on all things Texas beer.

MC: What’s the most ridiculous thing a Yelper has ever said about you or your place?

DV: I stay away from reading Yelp. Not much good can come from the anxiety it brings on.

MC: What bartender or bar manager, currently working or retired, is your first-ballot lock for entry into Boston’s Bartending Hall of Fame?

DV: John Gertsen. He has been a class act innovator for as long as I've been going out in Boston.

MC: Compose the question you think I should have asked, and answer it.

DV: "What are your top three most inspirational beer bars?" 1) The Other Side, Boston (RIP). I had my beer “Aha!” moment there many years ago when I ordered a Duvel with my lunch. That was the moment I realized there was a lot more to beer than I had thought. 2) Spuyten Duyvil, Brooklyn. They only have a handful of draught lines but the selection is so well thought out. It feels like a funky European cafe inside and all of the furnishings and art and knickknacks are for sale. 3) ‘t Velootje, Ghent, Belgium. I was there is the middle of the winter-- the place has no heat, just a fireplace that the owner feeds rubbish into over the course of the night. There is no beer list, he just pours you what he happens to have that day. Somehow it is just the most wonderful place to enjoy a few beers.

17 July 2014

"Pouring Reign (The Director's Cut)", Part II: Will Isaza of Fairsted Kitchen

Will Isaza of Fairsted Kitchen, Brookline, MA
Photo courtesy of Will Isaza
In April 2014, I wrote a cover feature for The Improper Bostonian entitled “Pouring Reign”, in which I interviewed twelve Boston bartenders I admire. Six are veteran talents I felt had been overlooked by local media; six are newcomers promising enough to get themselves situated in some of our top bar programs. All had many more interesting things to say than I could fit in the space allowed.

How many more? My initial draft ran to 10,000 words, but the feature was allotted 2500; I begged my editors for more room, and they generously let it swell to 3500, a very long feature for the publication.

As happy as I was with the piece (and especially the gorgeous accompanying portrait photography by Adam DeTour), a lot of great material got left on the cutting-room floor. I got permission to run the unexpurgated interviews here. Here’s the second one, my unedited interview with Will Isaza of Fairsted Kitchen, an independent restaurant in Washington Square, Brookline. I first got to know Will as I was researching my review of Fairsted for The Improper, where he impressed me as a relatively new talent.

======

MC SLIM JB: Will, you've probably seen my Improper Bostonian review of Fairsted Kitchen, in which I note its extraordinary hospitality ethos. You may have read my essay about the importance of hospitality to the bartender's game. Is hospitality something that can be learned, or is it purely innate? Did you come in with that inclination already built-in? How does Fairsted cultivate that attitude in the staff?

WILL ISAZA: I think that if someone wants to make a career out of this industry, hospitality should be the first priority. We are in the business of satisfying people through food and drink, but having that little extra flair to make a guest smile I don't think can be taught. I've always loved meeting new people and interacting with many different personalities, it's pretty cool to have a job where I can do that on a nightly basis. My bosses; Andrew Foster, Steve Bowman, and Patrick Gaggiano, have instilled much of that philosophy at Fairsted. They want everyone who walks through the door to feel as though they're at home having dinner/drinks amongst family. Of course that only works because of the staff, we all kind of have that family sense as a staff including management and ownership, therefore that is reflected when we are in the middle of service. Being a small staff helps a lot, but we all genuinely like each other and I don't think that was a mistake. Those guys just really enjoy creating a home style environment and having a great time with guests, which not many places in Boston can do. 

MC: Measure or free-pour?

WI: Mostly measure.

MC: Drink that you wish more customers would order?

WI: Vieux Carre.

MC: Drink you wish customers would forget existed?

WI: None, they all should be consumed by those who love them!

MC: What is your most prized bartending accoutrement, e.g., spoon, ice tool, ice mold, shaker, mixing glass, knife, Lewis bag, cocktail book, serving glass, other piece of barware or glassware?

WI: Just give me ice and a Boston shaker and I'll figure out the rest. I'm not really one to be picky about that stuff.  

MC: Most annoying customer behavior?

WI: To quote Mr. [Andrew] Foster, "Never really had annoying guests, just people who don't know what they want". And that's what we're here for. 

MC: Every bartender has a collection of Fiasco Moments, e.g., the tray of glasses smashed into the ice bin, the flyaway tin that resulted in a guest wearing a shakerful of cocktails, the strangers you introduced at your bar that ended up in a murder/suicide, your proud original creation that customers hated, etc. What’s a particularly egregious / entertaining one of yours?

WI: Back when I first started tending bar, I was working a busy Friday night service bar, and the guests in front of me got into a really huge argument and proceeded to start their divorce as they had dinner. I gave them a couple shots and told them to love each other, the woman involved immediately started crying and left the bar. Whoops. 

MC: Spirit, wine or beer that more customers should be trying?

WI: Rum or rhum [agricole]. You would think people drink more of it, but they really don't. 

MC: Your favorite cocktail or bottling to introduce a newbie to it?

WI: It all depends on the individual and what flavors they naturally enjoy. Everyone is different. I never really have a "go-to" recipe without interacting with someone. 

MC: What’s the best day of the week and time of day for a customer to engage you in a leisurely, educational five-minute conversation about drinks?

WI: I would say Mondays at around 6pm or Tuesdays at around 5pm

MC: You may have seen this New York Times article on the in-house lingo of certain NYC bars. What’s one of your house’s code words/phrases for intra-staff communication in front of customers?

WI: "Getting Crowed" is unique to Fairsted Kitchen. We treat our VIP guests to a fantastic shot of Old Crow Reserve. 

MC: What’s your typical end-of-shift drink?

WI: Whisky or whiskey, that's it.

MC: What’s a great book / film / record / play / TV show you’ve consumed recently and recommend?

WI: Esquire's Handbook for Hosts (1953). An awesome handbook on how to be the life of any party. 

MC: Do you have a guilty-pleasure drink, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your peers or customers to catch you drinking?

WI: Daiquiris all around, please. Guests seem confused when I tell them that, but most of my peers share my affinity for daiquiris -- don't you?

[MC: Yep.]

MC: What’s the last astonishing restaurant meal you had (what and where) other than at your employer's?

WI: In Boston I haven't really had time to go out and about because of work, but on vacation, Sylvain in New Orleans was the last great memorable meal I had and would recommend in a heartbeat. The meal was solid from start to finish and the one dish that stood out the most to me was a braised Wagyu beef belly on a bed of toasted parsnips. Just saying it makes me want to go back! 

MC: What are a couple of dives you favor on your own time?

WI: Sligo in Davis Square has always been great, but recently, O’Leary’s on Beacon Street in Brookline has slowly but surely become a black hole of greatness. 

MC: Dr. Bartender, what’s the best cure for my hangover?

WI: Cure? The key is to never go to sleep. 

MC: Most interesting current trend in cocktails, beer or wine?

WI: I would put bottled cocktails and beer cocktails at the top of the list for current trends. 

MC: Most ridiculous / overhyped / bullshit trend?

WI: Bars calling themselves "craft cocktail bars" as opposed to just bars. Over-hyped and bullshit. All great bars should be able to make you a great cocktail and tell you everything you need to know about the ingredients used. 

MC: As a bar customer yourself, what’s one aspect of Boston’s bars that you wish more operators would do a better job of?

WI: As a guest, I wish that bartenders would focus more on helping me have a great time, rather than just feed me information on what I'm drinking. Most of the times I go to bars to drink, eat, and have a good time, not to be educated.  

MC: What Greater Boston bar is absolutely killing it right now? Of all their qualities, what’s the single standout attribute that makes you want to drink there?

WI: I think Boston as a whole is killing it right now. It's really tough to single out any one bar. 

MC: What are the top destinations on your Bars of the World Bucket List?

WI: Bar High Five in Tokyo is definitely up in my Bucket List. The Floridita in Havana and Bodeguita Del Medio in Havana, which I have had the pleasure of attending were the two bars that I really wanted to go to for a long time. I remember the bartender at Bodeguita Del Medio looked at me and said, "Here is the first mojito you have ever had, all the rest have been merely an imitation". Paired with a handmade Cohiba, it was by far the best bar experience I've ever had. 

MC: Offer a sentence or two of advice to aspiring bartenders.

WI: I would tell an aspiring bartender to always keep in mind that your job is to make other people happy, not just yourself. And to enjoy every moment behind any bar, because if you don't enjoy what you’re doing or where you work, then what’s the point? Cocktails, beer, wine, etc. can always be taught and you will only learn as much as you allow yourself to learn.

MC: Say a few words about your most influential bartending mentor.

WI: The first bar manager I ever worked for definitely showed me the ropes and gave me a chance when a lot of people wouldn't. I would say that my style of tending bar was greatly influenced by what he taught me. Also my brother, Moe Isaza, currently a manager at Grafton Street, always pushed me to try new things, and from him I learned the most important thing of all: if I'm not having fun while I'm behind a bar, the people I'm serving won't be either. 

MC: What’s the most surprisingly useful life skill that bartending has taught you?

WI: Communication in every aspect has definitely been the most useful life skill that tending bar has taught me. You would be surprised how many people start problems and/or misunderstandings by simply not being able to communicate.

15 July 2014

"Pouring Reign (The Director's Cut)", Part I: Ezra Star of Drink


Ezra Star of Drink, Boston, MA
Photo courtesy of Ezra Star
In April 2014, I wrote a cover feature for The Improper Bostonian entitled “Pouring Reign”, in which I interviewed twelve Boston bartenders I admire. Six are veteran talents I felt had been overlooked by local media; six are newcomers promising enough to get themselves situated in some of our top bar programs. All had many more interesting things to say than I could fit in the space allowed.

How many more? My initial draft ran to 10,000 words, but the feature was allotted 2500; I begged my editors for more room, and they generously let it swell to 3500, a very long feature for the publication.

As happy as I was with the piece (and especially the gorgeous accompanying portrait photography by Adam DeTour), a lot of great material got left on the cutting-room floor. I got permission to run the unexpurgated interviews here. Here’s the first one, my unedited interview with Ezra Star of Drink, one of my personal favorites among an absurdly talented staff at one of Boston’s most popular and acclaimed craft cocktail bars.

======

MC SLIM JB: Drink (the bar) is arguably Boston’s most nationally-famous craft cocktail destination; it’s been a while since I’ve been by when there weren’t dense crowds and a line out the door. How do you balance the demands of high-volume service with the ideal of a personalized cocktail experience?

EZRA STAR: Balancing the demands of high volume service and individual attention can be very difficult especially in a place that doesn't have a menu. The first way I deal with this is to not think about making drinks. We have to make a ton of drinks, but the more focused I can be on the people at my bar the better. I rely on creating and refining systems that allow the team as a whole to execute and refine the standards of Drink.

MC: Measure or free-pour?

ES: Drink uses OXO stainless steel cups for measuring, which I find to be very quick and easy measuring tools. The problem with them, though, is that as you use them, the numbers eventually wear off, so essentially we are free-pouring our drinks. My personal preference is to free pour, but I trust myself when I make a drink. At this point I have made at least ten thousand cocktails and know by sight and feel generally what a quarter-ounce, ounce, or whatever is when it comes out of a bottle. When I go out, unless the person seems as though they know what they are doing, I prefer to see them measure.

MC: Drink that you wish more customers would order?

ES: I would love to see people ordering more brandy-based drinks, especially women. Nine times out of ten, if I have someone who claims to not like whiskey or dark alcohol, I can always surprise them with a brandy-based drink and they love it.

MC: Drink you wish customers would forget existed?

ES: The Long Island Iced Tea. I love them, but come on... I know you want to get drunk; let's be a little more aggressive. How about a 151 all-dark-alcohol Long Island?

MC: What is your most prized bartending accoutrement, e.g., spoon, ice tool, ice mold, shaker, mixing glass, knife, Lewis bag, cocktail book, serving glass, other piece of barware or glassware?

ES: My most prized bartending tool is my ice saw. I love the thing, I even engraved some stars on it to make it known to whom it belongs. Plus it looks pretty bad-ass sticking out of my bag when I'm walking to work. I feel like an Edo-period samurai walking through the city.

MC: Most annoying customer behavior?

ES: Asking about my tattoos, or grabbing my arms while I'm making drinks to ask about my tattoos.

MC, aside: Kids, remember the ice saw.

MC: Every bartender has a collection of Fiasco Moments, e.g., the tray of glasses smashed into the ice bin, the flyaway tin that resulted in a guest wearing a shakerful of cocktails, the strangers you introduced at your bar that ended up in a murder/suicide, your proud original creation that customers hated, etc. What’s a particularly egregious / entertaining one of yours?

ES: I had been working for about ten days straight and had just finished making six Ramos Gin Fizzes when on my seventh, the shaker slid from my hand and went into the lap of the person across from me at the bar and covered her in cream and egg. She was really nice about it (though I don't think she'll ever order another one), but I was pretty embarrassed.

MC: What spirit, wine or beer should more customers be trying, and what do you suggest to introduce a newbie to it?

ES: Armagnac, grappa, Cognac, anything made from grapes. A great introduction is Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac. I love it so much I actually have a habit of signing the back of every bottle I see.

MC: What’s the best day of the week and time of day for a customer to engage you in a leisurely, educational five-minute conversation about drinks?

ES: I am always down to talk about booze and making drinks, but because of how busy we get, I tend to ask people to come in early on Tuesday, Wednesdays or Thursdays (and by early, I mean when we open at 4pm).

MC: You may have seen this article on the in-house lingo of certain NYC bars. What’s one of your house’s code words/phrases for intra-staff communication in front of customers? 

ES: My favorite one is "In the pool", as in someone who is only getting water or is too drunk to have drinks.

MC: What’s your typical end-of-shift drink?

ES: Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac in a glass.

MC: What’s a great book / film / record / play / TV show you’ve consumed recently and recommend?

ES: House of Cards for a show, but I have been reading this amazing book called What the Nose Knows by Avery Gilbert and it has been blowing my mind.

MC: Do you have a guilty-pleasure drink, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your peers or customers to catch you drinking?

ES: Apricot Sour: 2 ounces of Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot liqueur, half an ounce of simple, and half an ounce of lemon. It is so good, so sweet, and so wrong.

MC: What’s the last astonishing restaurant meal you had other than at your place?

ES: I recently went to Fairsted Kitchen and was blown away by what they are doing over there!

MC: Dr. Bartender, what’s the best cure for my hangover?

ES: An Italian Greyhound cocktail and pho. Recently after an incredible night of birthday drinking, I had to come in at noon hungover to cut some ice. The salt rim of the Italian Greyhound and the soup were the only things that got me through it.

MC: Most interesting current trend in cocktails, wine or beer?

ES: Loire Valley reds seem to be popping up all over the place. Love it!

MC: Most ridiculous / overhyped / bullshit trend?

ES: Drinking orange bitters.

MC: As a bar customer yourself, what’s one aspect of Boston’s bars that you wish more operators would do a better job of? 

ES: Good sound. So many places have shitty sound systems or sound proofing.

MC: What Greater Boston bar is absolutely killing it right now? Of all their qualities, what’s the single standout attribute that makes you want to drink there?

ES: Sarma. Amazing food, wine and cocktails. I love what these guys are doing, just wish I lived a little closer to them.

MC: What are the top destinations on your Bars of the World Bucket List?

ES: Happiness Forgets (London), Artisan (London), Callooh Callay (London), William and Graham (Denver), Honeycut (LA), Experimental Cocktail Club (Paris), The Black Pearl (Australia), Alembic (San Fran), Rick House (San Fran), Trick Dog (San Fran), Anvil (Houston).

MC: What’s the most ridiculous thing a Yelper (or other amateur reviewer) has ever said about you or the place you work?

ES: "They have a line to get in. Why don't they just let more people in?"

MC: What bartender or bar manager, currently working or retired, is your first-ballot lock for entry into Boston’s Bartending Hall of Fame? 

ES: John Gertsen and Misty Kalkofen

MC: Offer a sentence or two of advice to aspiring bartenders.

ES: Work hard, read everything you can about what you do, forget what you read, find a person who will yell at you to forget, then look at the people on the other side of the bar and get to know them.

MC: Say a few words about your most influential bartending mentor. 

ES: I have had the privilege to work for some of the industry's most amazing people, and I am still blown away by Scott Marshall [formerly of Drink, now at 22 Square in Savannah, GA.] The things I learned from him are still echoing in my mind to this day.

MC: What’s the most surprisingly useful life skill that bartending has taught you?

ES: Learning to listen to other people.