Recipe: From Crappy Dive to Cocktail Palace, Margaritas Are Always There for You


Sick of your usual call drink? Try something new. In this series, we’re asking the city’s bartenders to name their current drinks of choice. Check out our Good Call archives for another round.

Today’s call comes by way of Steve Schneider, bartender at Employees Only (510 Hudson Street; 212-242-3021).

Through Steve Schneider’s progression from “crappy dive bar” to one of New York’s renowned cocktail destinations, he’s remained true to one drink: Schneider loves margaritas, and he’s traveled the world to taste them.

After serving his country as a member of the Marines, Schneider began his life in the bar industry at a dive in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Although the bar itself wasn’t glamorous, it served a very important purpose: Tending bar helped Schneider regain various critical-thinking skills after a head injury. Counts, recipes, and all of the basic elements that make up proper bar training helped Schneider in his recovery process. It wasn’t just a job, it was a lifestyle — and one that could help Schneider reclaim the passion and energy he had prior to his accident. “I was bartending out of love and therapy,” he says.

He took those skills into a steady gig at Employees Only, and he now travels the world as a representative of the top of his profession. And he’s constantly on the hunt for margaritas, one of the first cocktails he learned to make, and one that guests can order in virtually every bar everywhere.

“For me, the margarita evolved much like my career,” says Schneider. Through speed pour competitions and taking his time with customers seeking the camaraderie of a speakeasy stalwart, Schneider has always made the margarita part of his repertoire. In the beginning, it was one of a few cocktails he (and others) could make as well as enjoy. As Schneider moved up in his career and learned from seasoned veterans such as John Hogan about the power of fresh lime juice, the drink started to taste better. And when mezcals — and agave nectar — began to appear with greater frequency behind bars, he began to play with subtle modifications.

“The first time I tasted [mezcal], I was like, this is terrible,” he says. “The more I started tasting it, I started to get a love for it.” Working under the tutelage of Employees Only founders Jay Kosmas and Igor Hadzismajlovic solidified Schneider’s decision to invest in becoming a better bartender. Although he still enjoys the occasional “shitty margarita hunt,” being able to put a modern spin on classic cocktails has helped elevate his experience in providing his customers the escape they are looking for.

His experience at Employees Only has also helped him better understand the power of food pairings when it comes to cocktails, a detail that shows Schneider’s career — and perhaps taste in margaritas — isn’t quite done developing yet.

A fan of simple drinks that are lower in alcohol, he also enjoys a Pimm’s Cup every now and then. “I kind of order certain drinks at different bars,” says Schneider. Mayahuel, he says, is a go-to for mezcal and citrus-based drinks. He also enjoys visiting Justin Noel and Tim Cooper’s Sweetwater Social from time to time.

Mezcal Margarita

2 ounces mezcal, anything young and good (joven)
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce light agave nectar
1 ounce of lime juice
If I trust you, 3 slices of cucumber before you shake

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass with a salted rim.

Pimm’s Cup

2 ounces Pimm’s
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce lime juice
Shake with ice. Pour into a highball glass and top it off with ginger ale.