With the recent opening of Boilermaker (13 First Avenue), bartender Erick Castro is getting comfortable with New York — but it’s still the West Coast he calls home. It was at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse where he developed his bartending style, and in San Diego where he opened Polite Provisions, where soda fountain digs meet serious libations and service.
Castro’s resume spans time zones and venues (he’s a globetrotting brand ambassador and he’s worked bowling alley bars), but he says his experiences are more alike than they are different. “I feel that the one common thread in all of these spaces that has always united them, was reminding myself that when you get down to it, people are all the same,” he explains. “We are all just looking for a comfortable stool at the bar where we can unwind and forget about the woes of every day life.”
Here, Castro tells us about the one question he asks job candidates that tells all, who inspires him every day, and the last drink he had that changed his life.
What will never change about your approach to bartending?
I am and always have been a believer in genuine hospitality whenever behind the bar. It doesn’t matter if you are serving craft cocktails on hand-cut ice or flipping pints in the local sports bar, whether or not people come back consistently is all about how welcome they feel when they visit.
What did you consider when developing the cocktail list here in NYC, versus what you considered when creating the menu for Polite Provisions in San Diego?
The number one priority I make when designing any menu is to make drinks that I personally want to sit down and drink. I don’t believe in creating menus with an agenda; I would rather come up with some tasty drinks that I myself would like to enjoy after a long day at work. This way it always come straight from the heart and from a place of honest expression.
The menu seem tequila- and rum-heavy — any reason?
Guilty as charged! I blame my Latin roots!
What did you consider when creating the boilermaker pairings — i.e., what works and what doesn’t?
All of the Boilermakers were created to complement each other when sipped side by side. Because of this we put great care into making sure that the flavor profiles of both the beer and shot compliment each other in a profound, yet delicious way.
What drink on the list has your name and drinking style written all over it?
The Oceanside is a drink that I have become known for over the years, and it pretty much encapsulates my style in one drink. It is a play on a classic foundation that plays off, yet intensifies, the existing flavor components. The drink is essentially a Southside (gin, lime, mint, sugar), but with the addition of celery bitters and a pinch of sea salt.
What is the first question you ask someone who wants to work at one of your bars?
I ask them what would they be doing if they were not going to work behind the bar. The answer they give you then can tell you pretty much everything that you need to know about their outlook on life.
Once he or she is hired, what’s the first piece of advice you give them?
The first thing I do is warn them that I will be very tough on them and to prepare for me to be critical on them. Then I remind them that I am not doing this to mean or rude, but rather because I want to help them excel in their role. Then I provide them with the information, training and infrastructure to succeed. If I cannot provide those three things, then I have failed them before we have even started.
Who inspires you?
Every single day, I am inspired by my mother, who worked her heart out day in and day out without complaint. She did everything well and with great care, simply because that was the only way to do it.
When is the last time you had a drink and thought, “I’ve never tasted anything like this before in my life”?
I recently had a beer aged in a Del Maguey Mezcal barrel that utterly and completely blew my mind. It was one of the most incredible sensory experiences that I have had in recent memory. Unfortunately, I am sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal in what brewery I had this beautiful beverage, but if you poke around and find some, you will not regret it.
Are there any new or exceptionally interesting spirits/liqueurs/prep methods you’re loving right now?
I am very much in love with the new draft system that was installed at the bar by Don Lee. It is come pretty cutting edge stuff, and allows us to do some amazing stuff with cocktails on draft.