T.J. Lynch can most nights be found — silver ‘hawk and ginger stubble intact — behind the bar at Highlands in the West Village, cracking wise and slinging Scotch-based drinks. He also fills in at Mary Queen of Scots, the second venture by the team behind Highlands, which has brought a special vie en rose-hued shade of tartan to the Lower East Side. He sat down with Fork in the Road to talk shop.
How did you get into bartending in the first place?
I cooked for about seven years. I was a chef at my own restaurant in Baltimore and then I came to my senses and realized that cooking for a living sucks. So, I decided to go have fun and make a lot of money bartending.
Seems like quite a few chefs make the leap to bartending. Why does cooking suck?
It’s long hours, low pay, lots of stress. You don’t have a life. The fun parts about cooking I can still do at home. I make food for people that I like and see their reactions and have them enjoy it. I don’t need to ruin my life by working 80 hours a week.
Does the whole interaction with the customer make bartending more satisfying?
It’s more immediate gratification, definitely. You can make something for them, give it to them, and get the pay off right there. When you’re in the kitchen slaving away, pumping out 250 dishes, you’re not going to see anybody’s response to it.
What’s your go-to drink when you go to a bar?
Beer. Or wine. Or a shot. When you do the multi-ingredient cocktail thing all day long, the last thing you want is a multi-ingredient cocktail.
Where do you like to drink when you’re not at your own bars?
I like to drink at bars where nobody else is. I live in the East Village so I frequent a lot of the quieter dive bars. Lucy’s on Avenue A. She’s been bartending for 30 years. She’s awesome. It’s like doing shots with your grandmother. 7B has been my local bar for a long, long time. I can leave keys for out-of-town visitors, pop in and have a sandwich, walk out on my tab and pick it up a few days later. Not that I ever plan to walk out on my tab.
Do you have an earliest drinking memory?
My first cocktail memory is from when I was 16 or 17. It was Christmas Eve and my parents decided to class it up and make Manhattans. We were allowed one. It was a big, fancy deal. I remember what my mom said to me. I had one and I was already wasted at that point. She looked at me and said, “Now remember. Manhattans are like breasts. One’s not enough and three’s too many.” Words of wisdom from Mom Lynch.
What trends in drinking are you excited about these days?
I think we’re maxed out on high-end mixology speakeasies. Now, I think, the understanding of what makes a good cocktail will be more widespread. All places will start using fresh juices and better ice and better spirits. Bartenders will know how to make the classics. I’d like to go into a normal bar and get a can of beer and an awesome Sidecar. Those places are coming. I know for a fact that they are.
Are you trying to tell us something?
I know two already that are in the works. There’s probably more. I just think this is a natural progression that’s happening after this whole mixology thing.
Are you sure you’re not trying to tell us something?
I’m going to open up one of those places we were just talking about. Somewhere in the Lower East Side-Chinatown area. It’s planned for, hopefully, next summer.
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