Summit's Greg Seider on the Bar's First Anniversary, His Garden-to-Glass Philosophy, and the Best Tipping Story in History
Summit made headlines when it opened a year ago on Avenue C for offering great cocktails and -- gasp! -- a fun atmosphere. Imagine: bartender who knows how to shoot the shit and not a suspender or waxed mustache tip in sight. Summit celebrated its first anniversary on Tuesday with a punch party and pulled pork sliders in the backyard (with tequila-infused watermelon for dessert). Partner and bartender Greg Seider discusses his first year in business.
How was your first year at Summit?
It was kinda tricky opening a business on Avenue C. When we first opened, there was nothing past us, we were like the last frontier of Manhattan. People say how good we are and it's, like, you have no idea. People don't want to walk over here in the wintertime. So, we knew we were gonna make it work, but if you go over to the West Side it's all bougie money. Over on this side, it's a whole other element.
What's been your secret?
We have a great staff -- not the typical mixologist staff. It's almost easier working with the guys who have less experience but have great attitudes and do great service than gathering all the top mixologists. We have big snowball fights right in the bar in the winter.
What do you hope to achieve in the second year?
Just to keep being the best cocktail bar. It's a different paradigm from the Death & Co./PDT type of cocktail bar. You can get a great cocktail, but it's not so proper and conformed. I have my friends come back and guest-bartend in the middle of a shift. So, we have a little more leeway to have fun. Bartenders and mixologists come here to relax. I want to keep offering the highest quality of cocktail in the funnest way possible.
Has the whole Prohibition theme peaked?
I think people want to be in a bar, to not have to whisper. All these rules [some cocktail lounges have] -- like, I can't talk to a girl unless she talks to me first. That's kinda crazy. You're drinking alcohol. You should be able to have fun.
What was your first bartending gig?
When I was 11 or 12, my grandmother had this five-gallon jug of Burgundy wine. I was somehow addicted to wine coolers -- my father used to let me have one sip and I'd guzzle the whole thing down. So, I decided I'd figure out how to make my own wine cooler. I took my grandmother's Burgundy wine and mixed it with ginger ale, and that was my first cocktail.
And now you make cocktails with ingredients from your own community-garden plot.
My brother studies permaculture, so he set up the garden on 8th Street, around the corner. It has stuff that we use in cocktails in summer, like basil and shiso leaf. We're trying to get peppers and cucumbers, but those take a little while, so maybe by next season. He's actually going to enclose it as a greenhouse so things can grow all year round. What sort of ingredients or flavors are you excited about these days?
For me, that blend of the kitchen and bar coming together is natural. So, ingredients that were strictly used for savory are now being incorporated in cocktails. Some of my friends are the best chefs in the city so I get all my inspiration from cooking. I have this spice purveyor -- he gets me smoked cinnamon, which is an amazing spice. I haven't even heard of anyone using it in cooking, so to be able to use it in a cocktail is awesome. I want to be right [at the cutting edge of] where the culinary world is, but with cocktails.
What do you think you would have done had you not become a bartender/bar owner?
I've always loved food and drink, so maybe I would have been a private chef. I would love a combination of creating amazing farms for the ingredients -- like my brother does -- and I love cooking, so to be able to do it in amazing locations around the world.
What's your best tipping story?
My favorite bartender is Peter Dorelli, who used to run the Savoy hotel bar in London. He had the best bar tip story I've ever heard in my life. Frank Sinatra used to stay there and one night he was looking for some company -- not like that, just for conversation -- and he asked Peter if he could find some. So, he's walking around London and people are laughing at him, saying, "Yeah, right, Frank Sinatra needs company. Are you kidding?" He finally comes back with three women and they're at the bar and they have a great time. Frank Sinatra thanks him and leaves. The next day, his driver comes back with a big envelope and Peter thinks, wow, there must be a lot of money in there. He opens it and it's a deed to some land that Jack Daniels donated to Frank Sinatra. So, that's how he tipped him: with 200 acres or so of land in Tennessee.
That's a great story. So, anything coming up that you're working on?
I'm doing the Rising Stars StarChefs event at the Maritime Parc in New Jersey September 22. I'm the VIP mixologist. So, that'll be fun, chilling with Thomas Keller. Then, just continuing my travels around the world to find the most delicious things to put in people's mouths.
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