|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?
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?
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.