Star Bartender

Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Haley Traub

The New York bartender just won the national Speed Rack championship and tackles our round of questions.

Courtesy Jim Vondruska

What do you like to drink after a shift? “Something sparkly, refreshing and light to cap off a long night. A spritz of some sort or a glass of Champagne always does the trick.”

What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ by Kiss. It’s Kiss doing disco. ’Nuff said.”

You’re the 2018 National Speed Rack champion. What was the hardest part of winning the prestigious competition? “Catering to the judges wants and needs while also fully representing myself and my bar family. I, of course, wanted to give the judges what they were after, but also wanted to make sure I wasn’t sacrificing my own beliefs behind the bar. It’s a delicate balance but I think I struck it!”

Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “Oh jeez...it would probably be the first properly made Old-Fashioned I had when I first got into bartending in New York. I was working at a new bar and restaurant on the Upper West Side and Greg Buda (now of the Dead Rabbit and BlackTail) got me started with the classics. There was no turning back after I sipped that classic boozy tipple.”

What’s your favorite bottle of booze that costs less than $25? “I always have a bottle of Old Overholt on my bar. It’s a total workhorse of a rye.”

What’s your favorite bottle of booze that costs more than $100? “Springbank is one of my absolute favorite Scotches and their 18 year is a thing of pricey beauty. It’s aged in used sherry casks, so some of the classic notes of those casks come through, but the signature saltiness is still the highlight.”

What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “I’m a sucker for the classic old-school New York combo of a steak with a massive Martini. Give me a Keens mutton chop with a dry gin Martini with a twist and I will die happy.”

What drink are you most proud of creating? “The first drink I had on the menu at Dutch Kills, the Tokyo Conference. It’s a split base Old-Fashioned variation with mezcal, Japanese whisky, banana liqueur and Amaro Lucano. I always like the idea of opposing spirits coming together and working together and that’s exactly what happened with that drink.”

What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “I’ve developed a late-in-life hop allergy (yes, it’s as sad as it sounds), so my shot and beer combos have turned into shot and cider combos. It’s almost always something along the lines of El Dorado 12 Rum and a dry cider over ice.”

What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “My own peeler. Too many times have I been without it and been stuck with a terrible loaner peeler that has me fearing for my fingers, so I’ve learned my lesson and always pack it.”

Haley Traub is the 2018 National Speed Rack Champion. She is also a bartender at New York’s Dutch Kills and Fresh Kills bars.

Interview has been condensed and edited.