Going 10 Rounds With Top New York Bartender Pam Wiznitzer
The talented New York bartender tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Either a big glass of water or a few sips from the open root beers we always have on hand for making the Wiz Fizz cocktail at [my bar] Seamstress. I don’t drink during work or afterwards, so I stick to something non-alcoholic.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “Anything besides ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ by Journey. Stop playing that song! There are so many better choices.”
Name the cocktail that was the hardest one for you to master? “Either the Ramos Gin Fizz or a Singapore Sling. A Ramos because you have to practice the technique to getting a ‘stiff head’ (yeah, yeah—the term is a bit crude) for the top of the cocktail and after years of working with different people, I finally have a surefire routine. And the Singapore Sling only because it has a million different ingredients and memorizing that took some effort.”
What drink should be banished and why? “Anything that is labeled ‘girly’ or ‘manly’ by a guest. Because drinks are not gendered and that terminology is toxic. The idea that the aesthetics of a cocktail dictate who can drink it is so antiquated. So, rather than banish a drink, let’s banish those descriptions! All drinks have a purpose and I’m never opposed to making any concoction for a guest.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “Good is very subjective. I would argue that the $3 frozen Margaritas (that you could flavor anyway you wanted) at The Heights Bar & Grill in New York when I was in college were incredible… at the time. Going back and drinking them now is quite a different experience and, perhaps, the nostalgia doesn’t stand up over time. (I did it two years ago and trust me, they aren’t as great as I remember them to be). However, I would say that my first glass of Scotch with my friend Margy during my junior year in college was a defining moment for me. It showed me that there was more than just Gin & Sodas, French Martinis and Bay Breezes to imbibe at a bar. We were at a small bar at 108th Street and Broadway, wearing polo shirts and pearls—yes, laugh it up, I used to wear that combination religiously—drinking glass after glass of Scotch. It was a defining moment in my maturity of ‘bar going’ and to this day, I still thank her profusely for changing my life that night.”
Ever appropriate to shake a Martini? “Yup! When the guest asks for it to be shaken it’s 100 percent appropriate and necessary. Same goes for the Vesper. Damn you, Ian Fleming, for messing with the way we make cocktails. But hey, that’s why James Bond was so cool, he always went against the norm.”
What book on cocktails, spirits, or food is your go-to resource? “I always like to revisit the classics, such as the Savoy Cocktail Book and Jerry Thomas’ manual. I’m a huge proponent of The Flavor Bible when constructing new cocktails because its helps me connect different ingredient combinations that are less obvious. But I often just ask my friends Luis Hernandez, Rafael Reyes, Ezra Star, and chef JJ (Joseph Johnson), if I have ingredient related questions. They all have strong culinary backgrounds and are always open to answering any of my questions.”
Ever appropriate for a customer to ask for more olives for a drink? “You bet it is! You want more olives, just ask. Look, however you drink your Martini is your prerogative. I just want to ensure that it’s precisely the way you want it and that you enjoy every last sip. If you desire a whole side dish of olives for your drink, I’m happy to provide that for you. All I ask is that you don’t reach over our bar, place your hands into our garnish tray and grab them yourself. Bartenders are constantly washing their hands and use sanitized methods of getting garnishes onto drinks. Who knows where your hands have been and we would rather you not potentially contaminate our garnish tray for future cocktails needs. Just ask instead.”
Do you ever drink cocktails with a meal? “All the time. I love wine, beer, and cocktails with my meals. Sometimes a cocktail is the perfect drink to sip alongside a beautifully prepared dish. A Martini with a seafood appetizer course and a stirred brown spirit drink with a meat entree!”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “I’ve crafted loads of drinks, but I would probably say that my No Say cocktail is one of my proudest creation. Having a drink on a cocktail menu for more than two-and-a-half years and it still be a top seller (and requested by many regulars) confirms that there’s something on point with the flavor combination. The recipe features Ilegal Mezcal, which is a brand that gives a lot back to the bartending community in terms of health and wellness, and culture.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “I won a competition called Beer Baller, Shot Caller with the pairing of Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout and Dos Maderas 5+5 PX Rum. But I also love a dry hard cider with a side of Cognac (VSOP preferred) or a hard root beer with some rye.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A bar spoon tends to be in most of my bags.”
Pam Wiznitzer is the creative director of Seamstress and the National President of the United States Bartenders’ Guild.
Interview has been condensed and edited.