Hot Bird may be the perfect neighborhood bar. It has great beer and whiskey selections, good music, and a big outdoor space where you can often find someone grilling sausages. In fact, the only discernible problem is that everyone seems to agree it’s the perfect bar and, despite its location on a rather barren corner of Atlantic Avenue, it’s regularly packed. Anthony Buccellato has been behind the bar pretty much since the start.
Were you expecting it to be so popular?
Actually, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I had been there once to check it out and thought it was a cool spot. I had no idea that it was going to be as busy as it was.
How long have you been a bartender?
On and off since I was a teenager, I guess. I started working at my father’s bar. He owned a place up in Poughkeepsie, New York. I just always turned to it when I needed a cash job.
What do you do when you’re not bartending?
Freelance designer. I trained as an architect and, as most people know, the economy is pretty bad for architects right now. [Bartending] is helping me reset a little bit and stay afloat while I pursue freelance work, as opposed to going back to work for a firm.
Is there much crossover between the two jobs?
In this bar, the décor has all these old woodworking tools so I’m constantly getting asked questions about that — about the building, the materials. So, yeah, I wind up getting into a lot of conversations about the design elements of the bar.
Have you ever thought of designing a bar?
Professionally, I did a lot of museum spaces, but I’ve been doing a lot of smaller-scale spaces, like offices and houses. I’d love the opportunity to do some bar design.
What would you bring to it, considering your experience behind the bar?
Besides getting furniture scale and comfort of customers right, I would design a bar that’s nice to work behind. That’s always the worst part about bartending — you step behind a space that nobody’s thought about and it’s cramped or everything’s out of reach, not ergonomic. I’d make sure you have things where you need them. There would be no way to accidentally knock things that don’t go together, like glass and ice.
Who’s your worst type of customer?
How bad I think a customer is depends on my attitude a lot of the time. I’ve done this long enough and I try to give everybody an even shake because it’ll throw off my whole night if I get angry at somebody. But I’ll tell you, my pet peeve is when people crumple a handful of money and drop it on the bar.
Has the growing rate of booze snobbery made your life easier or harder?
We have a really good selection of booze here so we’ll get people who know their liquor. They think we’re a cocktail bar, which, truth is, all the bartenders here know what they’re doing. We can make a fancy drink, but we’re more of a beer-and-whiskey place. It can be hard when, on a Friday or Saturday night, we’ll be four-deep at the bar and people are coming up and ordering Sidecars and Manhattans. I’ve had people watch me make a drink and tell me what I’m doing wrong — that comes with the territory. Who’s more fun, beer geeks or booze snobs?
I guess I like talking to beer geeks a little better. I drink a lot of whiskey, but I’m the type who settles on one drink: I drink Manhattans incessantly and I’m pretty happy with that. With beer, I’ll try anything.
What’s your favorite beer on tap at Hot Bird right now?
Green Flash West Coast IPA. It’s from San Diego. It’s a pretty strong IPA, but it’s light on your palette. Floral hops … just my favorite beer all around right now.
Are you sad you lost your food truck?
We’re grilling sausages outside for the time being. But we’re getting a neighbor, from the owners of the Smoke Joint. They’re going to be serving food in here. I heard they’re actually going to have a Hot Bird special and it’s going to be some kind of chicken, so we’ll finally be able to stop answering the question of why don’t we serve chicken.
Nice way to pay homage to the name.
Yeah, that’s right. The original Hot Bird was a Prospect Heights barbecue joint. We took the name from the billboards that were left over after they moved out of the neighborhood. The old Hot Bird owner apparently Googled the name and called us up — he’s a lawyer and lives in New Orleans now. He was psyched, actually, that someone had made use of the name and thought it was a cool reappropriation. He even offered us his chicken recipe.
What’s your go-to hangover cure?
I’m into hangover prevention. When I get home after a night of drinking, I usually drink as much water as I can and take a cold shower. I eat something small and take some vitamins and Advil and I wake up feeling surprisingly well. If I do get a hangover, a Michelada works for me.