Clover Club in Brooklyn changes its menu of classic cocktails seasonally and likes to feature a historically important bartender in each new menu. Right now, patrons can try two cocktails by Tom Bullock, the first African-American to publish a cocktail book, back in 1917. George Herbert Walker, Dubya’s grandpa, was not only a big fan of Bullock’s cocktails, but contributed the introduction to his book, The Ideal Bartender. We speak to Julie Reiner, owner and beverage director at Clover Club, about the man, his drinks, and how to best enjoy them in her bar.
Why did you choose to feature Tom Bullock?
This was the suggestion of one of my bartenders, Nate Dumas. Tom Bullock was one of the only Black bartenders at the time, and the only one to publish a cocktail book. Nate is a real enthusiast–he collects cocktail books and when he suggested Tom Bullock, I thought it was a great idea. We made a couple of the cocktails and settled on two that we like a lot.
You’re featuring the Horse Thief Cocktail and Cohasset Punch. Why did you choose these two?
The thing with all these old books it that a lot of the stuff wouldn’t work today–it’s just not palatable. Quite a few that we tried were like that. These were the two that we liked best.
Were Black bartenders not a common thing?
As far as I know, no they were not common. It was more of a white man’s profession.
Serious women bartenders are still a minority. Do you feel like a pioneer?
People say that I am, but I have never viewed this from a gender perspective. I do what I love for a living. I would be thrilled to see more female bartenders so that the media would stop asking how I feel about being a woman in the bar business.
So, is it more a question of discrimination or is it just a job that appeals more to guys?
I think women don’t get hired as much. I wish that some of the male bartenders would train more women. I try to take on women at Flatiron and Clover Club, and a lot of the top female bartenders in the city started with me.
Can you tell me about the wonderful antique glassware you have in your back room?
It’s a hobby of mine to collect antique glassware. We call the back room The Parlor and the look of it is like this Gothic living room. We thought it would be great for everyone to have a different vintage glass back there.
Aren’t you worried about your good stuff getting broken by customers?
The glasses hold up well and, actually, our regular glasses break a lot more easily.
So, finally, the term “mixologist”: just a stupid buzzword or necessary distinction?
I think the term was created by the media to separate those of us who know about spirits and flavor pairings, and have a more culinary approach to cocktails versus people who just make vodka tonics. The thing is, to be a Master Sommelier, you have to pass a test, whereas anyone can say they’re a mixologist. It can help you get a better job, but I have plenty of people coming off the street calling themselves that who don’t know what they’re doing.