|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?
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.