"You can't really find a craft cocktail bar in Hoboken," said Ladislav Sebestyan, one of the two owners of Kolo Klub. "It's the kind of place where you can't really open a bar without a TV." But they felt the neighborhood could use one, so they brought in Michael Neff and Kenneth McCoy, proprietors of Ward III and the Rum House, to design the cocktail menu. Come take a look at what they're serving.
'Michael Neff' on Serious Eats
We asked New York bartender Michael Neff to show us how to make some essential drinks, and to tell us a bit of the story behind each one. Today, we're learning about one of the oldest cocktails in the books, the Old Fashioned. It seems that Mark Twain might have been a fan.
We asked New York bartender Michael Neff to show us how to make some essential drinks, and to tell us a bit of the story behind each one. Today, we're talking about Martinis.
We love new, creative cocktails, but sometimes you just want one of the classics. In this video, we learn how to make the grandfather of all tiki drinks: the Mai Tai.
We love new, creative cocktails, but sometimes you just want one of the classics. In this video, we learn how to make a simple Dark 'N' Stormy.
When I was young, I worked in a drug store in the mall, which wasn't nearly as hellish as it sounds to me now. Malls were fantastic back in the days before the internet; every one of the stores had both a bunch of products we couldn't afford to buy, and there were also pretty girls who we could moon at through the windows. I found my first "serious" girlfriend at the mall at the ripe old age of fifteen (if you must know, she worked in the Hello Kitty store). I loved my job, but as good as I thought I had it, I always knew my friend Bill had it better. Attached to the mall was a restaurant in which he worked as a busboy.
I've got one hand on a stroller, and one keeping a pre-schooler from falling off of my shoulders, which is a perfect time to talk about balance. "It comes from the stomach," I told her. "You've got to keep your head up, your eyes forward, and stay ﬂexible enough that you can move around as I'm walking."
When you are young and you work in hospitality, you often date in hospitality. Perhaps it is because of the strange hours of your job, or maybe it's because of the types of people attracted to the industry. I dated within my profession for both the convenience and for the personalities I met. Cooks were fun for nights of video games and standing in the back of smoky bars drinking Budweiser while listening to them perform with a band, waiters for their tortured monologues of how they would one day be famous actors. But my favorites were always bartenders.
Things get complicated when you factor in one of the major tools that bartenders use to connect to their clientele: the buy-back. Buy-back, comp, promo; call it what you will. In every bar, there is a certain budget that allows for giving a customer a drink that they do not have to pay for. For those of us who work behind bars, the buy-back is a double-edged sword.
Just under a year in, I was opening up one afternoon and a friend walked in with someone else in tow. The man was introduced as the owner of a hotel in Times Square which had an old bar on the first floor. After telling me in no uncertain terms how negatively he regarded his hotel's bar, he mentioned that its current owner would be losing his lease after more than forty years, and would we consider stopping by to check out the space?
There has been an interesting comment that that keeps popping up in the threads of these columns. It goes something like this: "I'm sick of the trend where bartenders think that they are god's gift to humanity. Your job is to make drinks, not to educate, babysit, or judge people. So do us all a favor; stow the attitude, and do your job."
Bars are societies writ small, and each has iron-clad regulations governing what will and will not be considered acceptable behavior. At one bar, patrons might be encouraged to dance on the bar and take shots with the bartenders. At others, the slightest exhibition of rowdy behavior might get a guest shown to the door.
Your life sucks. Sure, you make good money, but you're never home, you hate your boss, whatever industry you're in is either uninspiring or downright evil, and you want to take your ill-gotten gains and leverage them in to something that gives you the lifestyle you've always wanted. Do you open a Subway franchise? No way. Where's the fun in that? You want to do something fun. You want to open a bar.
We met our Behind the Bar columnist, well, when he was behind the bar—SENY editor Carey Jones was on assignment for New York Magazine, reviewing Ward III when it first opened. Carey found her way back there often enough to become a regular, and soon the rest of us followed. Now Michael is an important member of the Drinks team, sharing his insights on bartending and the cocktail world each week, so we decided to give him a little Q&A treatment so y'all can get to know him a little better.
It's 2012, and bartenders the world over are heaving sighs of relief after successfully surviving the mother of all nights out. I have been a bartender too long to hold much sentimentality for the champagne, horns, and streamers that comprise New Year's Eve, but it is a party, and someone has to throw it, so I spent this year the same way I've spent most others: slinging drinks and counting down to midnight.
In the space of a week, the world lost three brilliant thinkers. Václav Havel—poet, president, and revolutionary—will have to listen to the Plastic People of the Universe from up in the Cosmos. Christopher Hitchens is busy decomposing somewhere; no after-life for a rational atheist like him, thank you very much. And the man who gave the world "Bread and Jam for Frances," Russell Hoban, passed away in London on December 13th. It's been a tough week for writers.
I drink an Old Fashioned at Clover Club in Brooklyn, and drink Coronas while eating $1 tacos on the porch at The Sire in Riverside, California. I love both places for very different reasons; the only thing they have in common is that they have successfully crossed the boundary that separates places that merely sell drinks from what can generally be termed a good bar.
Every bar has its own culture—a philosophy on how guests should be treated, how the bar itself is set up, how the cocktails are made, how employees interact with each other, and a million other details. As bartenders and other staff come and go, they absorb these details, then spread this culture to other bars in their region and sometimes beyond. An interesting example of this is the rise of Fernet Branca.
The other night, we had a customer in the bar making out with a fire extinguisher. Our fire-extinguisher usually doesn't see much action, and it wasn't complaining, so we left the man to his courtship until things started to get out of hand. When he began fondling the more intimate regions of that life-saving device, a member of the staff had to delicately remind him that he was in public, and displays of that nature make other patrons uncomfortable. Then he was asked to leave. To his credit, he left off his romance and, after placing a business card on the extinguisher, paid his tab. One of us walked him to a cab and he left the bar quietly, probably remembering nothing of what he had done nor why he had been escorted out.
I began my bartending career in Seattle in the mid-90's, when the microbrewery revolution was transforming how people drink beer, and the philosophy of using fresh, local ingredients was pervasive in restaurants and on the upswing in bars. This was before the bubble popped, so every internet startup had an office with an on-site masseuse, and paper-millionaires populated the slew of new bars and restaurants that popped up to house them. Those of us who worked in these joints were both a close community of friends—but we were also stiff competitors. We competed for jobs, clientele, and bragging rights.