Behind the Bar: Dushan Zaric Talks East Side Social Club Cocktails, the Mad Men Effect, & Why Vodka Drinks Aren’t for Wusses


The recently opened East Side Social Club enlisted the help of Dushan Zaric to create its 1950s-inspired cocktail list. (He’s a partner of owner Bill Gilroy’s at Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.) According to Zaric, the Mad Men vibe is intentional. In fact, get ready for a three-martini lunch special coming soon.

How did you come up with the drinks list?

The place is designed like a 1950s New York white guy place, like an old Mulberry Street joint. It’s very Old World-style. You know, mamas cooking and checkered tablecloths. I was intrigued because I haven’t played much with the 1950s. In the mixology world, the ’50s were a dark time because of the emergence of so many artificial ingredients. I wanted at least one Italian ingredient in each drink, which is what we did. The list is mostly variations on the classics and some custom-made drinks.

Is the Midtown crowd very different from what you’re used to?

It’s a different customer base and a different business style, too. You have to create a menu that’s balanced with the space. It has to have a lot of things that are accessible. If you think about it in a food way, it means a lot of chicken dishes.

So, vodka drinks?

Yes, we have a couple vodka cocktails on there. They’re cool, actually, and I’m really proud of them. But there’s gin, too. The drinks are straightforward, not really based on bourbon and other strong stuff.

Do other bartenders give you flack when you do vodka drinks?

The vodka drinks use Domaine Charbay Red Raspberry and Square One Cucumber, which are both good infusions with interesting flavors. So, it’s a vodka drink but it’s still very complex. I understand why bartenders have a problem with making vodka drinks. It’s like cooking with tofu: It’s all about the other flavors you put in. I would argue that only a great bartender can work with vodka, because it’s all about working with [the other ingredients]. Young mixologists aren’t trained to think that way. It’s easy to work with 100-proof rye [because it already has strong, complex flavor].

East Side Social Club has a real Mad Men vibe. Do you watch the show?

Yeah, I do. We wanted that. We wanted to fulfill the infatuation with the three-martini lunch. In fact, we will offer a three-martini lunch soon. We believe drinking is part of the gastronomical experience. If you’re drinking just to get high, you’re missing the point.

What’s your favorite drink on the menu?

The Brooklyn Cocktail. It’s a variation on a Manhattan. It has rye, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and amaro.

You’ve been working in bars for awhile now. What’s the worst thing a customer has said or done?

I try not to judge them. I understand that people don’t so much understand about drinking. It’s about them; it’s not about me. If people do something dumb, I don’t look at it that way. It’s their money I’m after. A bartender’s most important job is to fill the register.

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