Extra Fancy's Robert Krueger Makes Fun, Fast, and Approachable Cocktails
Extra Fancy (302 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, 347-422-0939), a bar and restaurant in Williamsburg, is quickly becoming known for its laid-back atmosphere and top-notch food and drinks thanks in no small part to bar program head Robert Krueger, a veteran of Employees Only and Macao Trading Company. We caught up with him to hear about the start of Extra Fancy and Mixed Company, the twice-a-month guest bartending night that features some big names in the industry.
How did you fall into bartending? After college I got a summer job working at a French restaurant. I had a friend who told me that in order to be a proper human being you should work in a restaurant. I was a runner -- cutting bread, scooping ice cream, flambéing dessert. I felt like I was sustaining people. In New York, people live out in restaurants and bars. It's a very important role.
From there, Dushan Zaric offered me a position at Employees Only. They trained me as the bar back. Then I took over ordering, then I was made bar manager, and I did that for five years.
Were you learning constantly? There are many things to learn and things I still don't know and would like to learn. There's the element of creative mixology but then there's the bar technique. Certain experiences you can only learn by doing. Dushan would say that going to bartending school and mixing colored liquids is like trying to learn how to cook with plastic food. The substitution really doesn't work; you have to do the real thing.
How is Extra Fancy's bar program different from Employees Only? In terms of infusions and syrups, we do a little less cooking, so it's a bit of a break, but it's fun to know how to execute. Extra Fancy's menu is more from the bottle. Drinks are ready to go. Technique-wise, it's the same process and tools to make the drinks as at EO. We've incorporated certain tricks like the spray stencil that says "extra fancy" -- if you spray bitters on an egg white base you can make whatever design you want. It's got a big crowd-pleasing effect. You want Instagram bait. The cocktails have to be beautiful.
What was your goal with Extra Fancy's bar menu? The bar program here was designed to be fun and fast with high quality cocktails. There are some serious and hard hitting drinks but then a lot of crowd pleasers -- not stuff that's complicated just to be complicated.
What are some of your favorite cocktails on the menu? Baby You're Driving is one of the top drinks. We needed a crisp, not-too-strong citrus, refreshing, not sweet drink, and it just kind of came about. It's Zubrowka, Combier Grapefruit, Lillet, and fresh lime. I made it and handed it to Mark [Rancourt, Extra Fancy's co-owner], he handed it to his girlfriend, she drank it all and said, "Baby, you're driving." That's the kind of thing you're looking for. We're looking for a reason for the recipe to exist and that it comes together in one clear thought.
The Go-To is the top drink here. It's made with Ford's gin, cucumber, lime, mint, ginger beer, and elderflower. Elderflower may have a ketchup reputation with bartenders these days -- you don't want to overuse it -- but it has a place in your palette and people love it.
On the stronger side of things, we have the One More That's It, an old-fashioned style drink with Amaro Meletti and chocolate bitters and a rum and bourbon split base served on the rocks. People try it and they're like, "Oh, this is a drink."
Can you tell me about your guest bartender program? We started doing it last summer. We call it Mixed Company. There are a lot of restaurant bar folks who hang out here. I admit, it's a way to get our friends behind our bar to show us what they know and have fun. It's a place where anybody can come and be themselves. It's why we're so well liked -- it's an open environment. The bartenders get to do their own thing, make great drinks, play, and have fun with our bar and guests. It's a collaboration. Sometimes they'll come in with six recipes, sometimes we have two and they have two. We have a sponsor brand help out, and we feature their product for the evening to make a one-night-only cocktail list. It takes place every other Wednesday.
Have you had one visit in particular that's your favorite? Sother Teague did a great job; his was a blast. He made these re-bottled old fashioneds with bourbon and rye from Jim Beam. I think it was Nob Creek rye, Old Overholt rye, and Basil Hayden bourbon and demerara sugar and maybe bitters. It was just perfectly balanced.
Upcoming Mixed Company Schedule: Feb 26 Pete Vasconcellos from The Penrose with Mount Gay Rum March 12 Frank Stilo from The Standard East, Sponsor TBD March 26 Eryn Reese from Death & Co., Sponsor TBD April 9 Vincent Favella from Oak and Iron, Sponsor TBD
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