Mike Vacheresse landed his first stint behind a fine-dining bar more than two decades ago, when he took a position at Atwaters in Portland, Oregon, eventually working his way up to assistant wine director and presiding over a list of more than 9,000 bottles. In those days, his job afforded him time to travel extensively, and he biked the West Coast, Europe, and eastern Canada, and backpacked Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Guatemala. In 2002, he got serious about his career, and he moved to New York, “purposely to work at the top restaurants,” he says.
He landed behind the stick at Gotham Bar and Grill for a couple of years, then moved over to Masa and Bar Masa, where he created the cocktail list. He also did time at A Voce, and short stints at BLT Steak, Aquavit, and Cafe Gray. And then, three and a half years ago, he became a stay-at-home dad, taking himself out of the bartending game.
He’s back now, though. Earlier this year, he went out drinking with his friend Joe Sweigart, who would soon become his business partner. “He asked me, ‘Are you going to go back to bartending when the kids go to school?’ ” Vacheresse says. “I said, ‘I won’t bartend unless I own the bar.’ ” A few weeks later, Sweigart, a CPA with no restaurant experience, called Vacheresse and convinced him to go into business. At the very end of November, the pair opened Travel Bar (520 Court Street, 718-858-2509), named for their travels and for the travel bar bartenders carry with them to haul their shakers and spoons, in Carroll Gardens.
“It’s great to open my own place and put all that knowledge to work,” says Vacheresse. “I hand-selected everything I sell: every beer, wine, and spirit.”
First and foremost, says the bartender, Travel Bar is “a neighborhood bar in Carroll Gardens, and I live in the neighborhood.” He adds, “We’re all about service and comfort. I’ve been a bartender for so long, and worn so many hats. I feel like the bar scene in the industry has become insular instead of outgoing, and I’m very outgoing. My vision is to be welcoming and comfortable.” He strives to remember the name of second-time guests, as well as what they drink.
In the build-out, the partners went for comfort, installing plush seats at the reclaimed-wood bar, and a banquette along the walls. Travel photographs dot the painted brick walls, depicting his and his partner’s adventures. A large photo of a road in Dingle, Ireland, hangs on the back wall, because Vacheresse and Sweigart realized they’d both been on that same road at the same time.
Vacheresse’s cocktail list offers a handful of classics and ten original creations, including the “Ringo Shoga” (the name means “apple ginger” in Japanese), a blend of ginger-spiked apple cider, amaretto, and bourbon, and the “Get Off My Lawn,” made with Carpano Blanco vermouth, muddle apples, Montenegro amaro, and bitters. (Carpano Blanco vermouth is made in Torino; Clint Eastwood’s line in Gran Torino gives the cocktail its name.) Look, too, for popular drinks like the “Grapefruit Milano,” a blend of Campari, grapefruit juice, and Moscato, and “Courtney’s Dilemma,” named for Vacheresse’s wife and made with vodka, house-made sour mix, and cherry heering.
The cocktail list will change with the seasons, says Vacheresse, as will the food menu. Currently, you’ll find vegetarian French onion soup, an extensive meat and cheese board, a couple of sandwiches and flatbreads, and shakshuka, which Sweigart ate every day when he was visiting Israel.
“It’s simple and straightforward, what you’re looking for in a bar,” says Vacheresse.