Behind the various cocktail bars he tends, Frank Cisneros mixes drinks that require precious attention. He calculates ingredients such as saffron-infused syrup, rare bitters, and caramelized demerara sugar with jiggers of spirits like rhum agricole and Armagnac. But when it’s his turn to unwind on the other side of the bar, he’d rather reach for the quick relief of a shot and a beer, thank you very much.
“You talk to any chef about what they cook at home, and it’s always like, ‘Uh, nothing, I cook all day at work, why would I cook at home?'” says Cisneros, who sports a genteel mustache and bartends at Prime Meats, Bar Celona, and Bushwick Country Club, all in Brooklyn. “After 11 hours of making really carefully crafted cocktails for people, I want a shot of Powers or Jameson and a Blue Point or Brooklyn Lager.”
New York’s mixologists–not simply shake-and-strain bartenders, but liquid chefs who marry flavors and spirits with passion and invention–can be seen careening around the city on impromptu bar crawls on their off-duty nights (Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, usually). While they often visit each other’s pedigreed establishments, following the bartender code of mutual survival, there are a few laid-back spots where mixologists gather like barflies week after week to unbutton their vests, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and catch up on industry news.
Regular pit stops include Louis 649 in Alphabet City, the Randolph on Broome Street in SoHo, Daddy-O’s on Bedford Street in the West Village, and Bua in the East Village–across the street from speakeasy PDT, conveniently enough.
“I spend so much time working in these upscale places that I want a break and go to places that are fun and don’t have a lot of rules,” says Charles Hardwick, who puts on VIP events with his cocktail company, Drinkmrkt, and frequents East Village caves like Black & White and Lit.
On a recent Tuesday night at the Randolph–a mahogany-walled bar that manages to combine the unpretentious atmosphere of a dive with the liquid offerings of a sophisticated cocktail lounge–mixologists and cocktail writers huddled near a piano, sipping PBRs and chatting about an event earlier that day celebrating the U.S. launch of Don Roberto tequila. While a round of “pickle backs”–shots of Jameson followed by shots of pickle brine from the Pickle Guys–were handed out, a few imbibers busted out swing dance moves and the breaking of a bench made the crowd erupt in giggles. This level of din, which lasted into the wee hours, simply wouldn’t fly at sit-down bars like Milk & Honey or Death & Co.
“I love how approachable the Randolph is,” says bartender Jason Littrell, known as the “ringleader” of the Randolph, which is also known as “the clubhouse.” “We rarely have a door man, and we don’t enforce any sort of dress codes or anything. It’s just an easy place to hang out in with a good spirit selection and great cocktails. We’re not trying to save the manatees over here–just have a little bit of fun.”