What do you like to drink after a shift? “Usually something simple, my normal go to is a nice crisp glass of white wine.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “Johnny Cash, “Folsom Prison Blues,” just slightly rowdy with some grit.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “I do, however, I don’t go out to get nerdy really anymore. I just love enjoying the aspect of hospitality and simple pleasure of sharing food and drinks with friends. Ha! I guess how normal people do it!”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “A Bijou at Zig Zag from Murray Stenson. I was spoiled when I turned 21 and was living in Seattle. I had no real idea of what I was doing behind the bar at that point, I just realized that I wasn’t doing it well, so Zig Zag was a very special place for me.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “I don’t really get my inspiration from cocktail or spirits books anymore; my go-to book when creating new drinks is the Flavor Bible, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. This might be the most genius book of all time! Essentially the whole book is about flavor affinities. So anytime I get stuck or just find a really interesting flavor that I want to use, I go to this book for a nudge in the right direction. I highly recommend it to anyone that loves to create flavors in the kitchen or bar.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “I have a very particular one. A Gibson and Trout Roe Toast at New York’s ZZ Clam Bar, hands down my all-time favorite.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “I would have to say the Shackleton’s Urn. It’s currently on the menu at Banzarbar. While it’s a drink that has one million and one ingredients, (ha, well at least a few). All the ingredients work in harmony and it has to be one of our most popular as well as eye-catching drinks that we serve. It’s inspired by a classic tiki cocktail, the Cobra’s Fang. I use a blend of Fords Gin, Greenhook Ginsmiths Old Tom and Smith & Cross Rum, with lime, passionfruit, ginger, cinnamon, and peche, and served with crushed ice and just a touch of fire and toasted cinnamon. We also commissioned a special tiki mug from my hometown of Portland, Oregon, from Wolf Ceramics. I had a lot of fun working on this drink and it’s really lovely to see people enjoy it.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “Anthony Bourdain. I’ve always wanted to meet him and hoped that being based in New York I one day would. While I think he’d enjoy most anything with whiskey, I’d probably choose to stir him up a classic Sazerac then follow that up with glasses of whiskey, just to get him to stay all night and tell his stories. I still can’t bring myself to watch the final season of Parts Unknown.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “I love a Chelada (lime and salt), particularly made with Victoria, paired with a shot of mezcal.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “Well, maybe not one but two tools, my jiggers. I never feel comfortable using other people’s jiggers. While one is nothing special, the basic 1/2 and 3/4 from Bar Products, the other is a little more special and weighted, a Japanese Fuji Jigger. I feel more comfortable in a foreign space/bar when at the very least I can still quickly churn out cocktails with my most basic of tools.”
Eryn Reece is head bartender at New York’s Banzarbar, which is located above Freemans Restaurant. She was the Speed Rack National Champion in 2013.
Interview has been condensed and edited.