(L to R) John Bush, Dale Talde, and David Massoni
Whatever you do, don't call John Bush, the brains behind the cocktail menus at Thistle Hill Tavern and the recently-opened Talde, a mixologist. "I've always called myself a bartender, not a mixologist," he said when we sat down last week. "I've gone to places where they call it mixology, I've had some really good drinks there, but what it's all about for me is making a good, stiff drink exactly the same every time you make it. It's about knowing your clientele and knowing about what's going on in the world. It's about knowing when they've had enough to drink, when they want to talk and don't want to talk. That's what a bartender is, being good at reading the world."
And if reading the world is a skill, Bush certainly possesses it. A California native, he came to New York in 1995 and soon found work tending bar in the East Village, first at 2A and then at Niagara, where he worked for 13 years. He tired of the Village in recent years, though ("It's getting really young, and losing that neighborhood feel"), and jumped at the opportunity a few years ago to open Thistle Hill with friend David Massoni. "Seventh Avenue reminds me of Avenue A when I first moved there," he said. "I knew every bartender that bartended at every bar, I knew all the people in the bodegas and the stores."
Bush, who recently married and will be moving to the Slope from Williamsburg in May, can be found behind the bar most nights at Talde, and will also be behind the cocktail list at the third restaurant in their burgeoning empire, a "roadhouse" that will be opening in the space that was last home to Aunt Suzie's.
HPS: How did you approach developing this cocktail menu, as opposed to the one at Thistle Hill?
John: For Thistle Hill, I knew that I wanted to go old-school, English-Irish tavern, family-oriented. I based the cocktails around that: finding old cocktails and bringing them back, thinking about what my dad liked to drink and then fiddling around with them.