What do you like to drink after a shift? “Were I still a drinking man, a beer and a whiskey would be my top, ‘go to any bar and have it’ choice. Specifically, Miller High Life and Powers Irish Whiskey, neat. If I were going to a cocktail bar, I’d make it a Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned. Now, I occasionally enjoy a non-alcoholic beer. Einbecker is a personal favorite. Unfortunately, non-alcoholic whiskey still isn’t a thing.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “Billy Joel, “The Longest Time.””
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “Very much so. There’s always a difficulty in suspending disbelief, after two-and-a-half decades in the industry, but I love bars. Even when my wife and I go out to dinner, it’s always our preference to sit at the bar.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “For a cocktail, probably a Manhattan, made for me by one of the guys who trained me at Balthazar. Anything and everything I tried at Sasha [Petraske]’s bars, back when I was learning how to make cocktails.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “My all-time favorite for recipes is Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s just a trove of recipes. It’s a great place to get a foundation in classic cocktails and their structure.”
What’s your favorite bottle of booze that costs less than $25? “Pueblo Viejo Blanco Tequila or Wild Turkey 101 Rye.”
What’s your favorite bottle of booze that costs more than $100? “Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades or Russell’s Reserve 2002, or Del Maguey Madrecuixe. Many of the Samarolis. This is a huge, endless universe. There are so many, I would be very hard-pressed to pick favorites without further narrowing it down.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “The Happiest Hour’s Gibson with the Happiest Burger.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “I don’t like to pick favorites in front of the children, and it varies, from day to day, week to week, etc. I’ve always been fond of the Link Wray, which was a staple on the menu at Happiest Hour for a long time. The Golden Delicious was one of my first, and the Clara Bow was the first drink I ever had cold-called at another bar I was working.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Miller High Life and Powers Irish Whiskey.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “Knives and a wine key. You’ll never be lent good ones when you’re guest bartending at another bar or restaurant.”
Jim Kearns is the beverage director of Recreation inside the Moxy NYC Downtown hotel.
Interview has been condensed and edited.