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Entries in Know Your Bartender (29)


Know Your Bartender: John Bush, Talde and Thistle Hill Tavern

(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. 

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Know Your Bartender: Jonathan Stan, Pacific Standard

Pacific Standard, located near the corner of 4th Avenue and St. Marks Place, is one of those neighborhood bars that make it very easy to have a good time in. Sure, there's a serious Pub Quiz every sunday at 8 in its spacious back room, and the daily-rotating selection of 18 American microbrews always invites exploration, but it's the room itself that just oozes laid-back, West Coast cool. From the wood paneling to the loyal regulars to the tongue-in-cheek "Frequent Drinker Card" to the unpretentious staff, it's a place where time seems to slow down a bit, and there's always extra room for you and your group of friends. There's also a wide selection of board games, as well as some tasty bar snacks and local menus to order from.

The reason for the Cali vibe? The owners, Jonathan Stan and John Rauschenberg, both hail from the Bay Area, and met while studying at the University of California. After Rauschenberg moved to New York and found that no bars resembled the ones they liked back in California (which John also noticed when he'd come to visit), they both decided to just open one themselves, and in September 2007, Pacific Standard was born (it's also the city's official Oakland A's and Cal Bears bar). I sat down with Stan, who can be found behind the bar when he's not handling other owner-related duties, earlier today.

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Know Your Bartender: Jessica Jelliffe, High Dive

High Dive, on Fifth between Garfield and Carroll, has just about everything you could hope for in a pub. It's clean, has great bartenders, a solid happy hour, free popcorn, and a great jukebox. Who can ask for more? It's part of Rory Dwyer's local empire, which also includes Commonwealth, Sharlene's, and the soon-to-open Blueprint, just across the street.

Jessica Jelliffe, who also has run the Banana Bag & Bodice Theater Company with her husband for the past 13 years, can be found behind the bar on Wednesday and Friday during the day, and Monday nights.

HPS: How long have you been working here for?

Jessica: I've been working here since we opened, two years ago as of May 1st.

HPS: What is your favorite thing about this bar?

Jessica: I love the community of this place. The whole intention behind this bar is to have the feeling of a pub. And the literal sense of that word, the public house. And that's what it feels like. The first two years of this job I worked only during the day, and what I got out out of that was a real sense of the neighborhood, as opposed to the nights, which are just all about drinking. And that's a huge part of what a bar is around for, understandably, but what I really got to experience is the community of the place, and this neighborhood. I think it's really taken a foothold in that way, in a manner that a lot of bars just don't have. We open at 3, and that's a great time to be in the neighborhood.

HPS: Can you talk a little bit about the Happy Hour?

Jessica: The Happy Hour is from when we open at 3 until 8. It's a dollar off everything, and $2 PBR drafts, $3 Yuengling drafts, $4 well.

HPS: Have you ever received any really strange drink orders here?

Jessica: Yeah, there's this thing called an Appletini [laughs]. That's just the weirdest drink. I don't think I would ever want to drink one of those. But, you know, everybody's tastebuds are different.

HPS: If you could have a drink with one person from history, who would it be?

Jessica: Oh, God, there's so many! Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Edith Piaf, Billie Holliday, and the list goes on and on. Any of the Barrymore family, Karl Marx, the Marx Brothers. That'd be a good party.

HPS: Are there any cocktails you make that you really pride yourself on?

Jessica: My favorite, personally, is Overholt Rye on the rocks with two dashes of Angostura bitters. Sort of like a Manhattan with no vermouth. There's a woman who lives around the corner, and since we opened she's been slowly teaching me her ideal Cosmo. It's our secret recipe.

HPS: Which drinks do you pour the most frequently?

Jessica: Well during the day I hardly ever get mixed drink orders, so PBR, Yuengling, Blue Point, Founders, Allagash. As far as liquor goes, Kentucky Gentleman, Jameson of course, Powers.

HPS: Are there any bottles back there that you've never poured from?

Jessica: Yeah. The Rogue Hazelnut Spiced Rum, but I think that people just don't know about it. The Beach Head Peach Liqueur has been here since the beginning.

HPS: If you weren't tending bar, are there any professions that you'd pursue full time? I think I know the answer.

Jessica: Yeah, well we have our theatre company, and it's actually full-time. More than this job, because I'm only here two or three days a week. When I'm here I'm on, but my mind is always thinking about what needs to happen. We're about to go on tour to Europe for August. It's very exciting.

High Dive, 243 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. Phone: 718-788-0401.


Know Your Bartender: Brett Mallare, Alchemy

When you think about gastropubs in Park Slope, Alchemy will most likely be one of the first places that come to mind. Owner Kevin Read, a former bartender at Lucky Strike, opened it up in February 2007 after spending some time exploring the gastropubs of London, and has assembled a winning combination of quality cocktails and local beer with top notch comfort food, like burgers, steaks, and fish and chips, along with some more upscale offerings like wild mushroom barley risotto and duck confit. It's also a great brunch option, and is open for breakfast every day.

Read has designed a simple space, with a 100-year old bar taken from a speakeasy in Queens, a few comfortable booths, and a couple communal tables. Brett Mallare, a Boston transplant who moved here in 2005, can be found behind the bar on Mondays and Tuesdays.

HPS: How long have you been working here for?

Brett: I've been here since it opened. 

HPS: What's your favorite thing about the bar here?

Brett: It's a real neighborhood bar, and the people that come in here are amazing. It's a nice group of locals. The staff here are all good friend of mine, there's a nice sense of this local community. Everyone in this area really knows each other pretty well.

HPS: Can you talk a little about the Happy Hour?

Brett: Yep, it's from 4:30-6:30 Monday-Friday. All the local beers, all well drinks, and all wine is four dollars. We have a Happy Hour menu as well.

HPS: Have you ever received any really strange drink orders here?

Brett: Yeah, a table two months ago asked for a round of Slippery Nipple shots. I've been bartending in New York since 2006, and people in Manhattan generally ask for vodka red bulls, Jager shots, that kind of thing, but in Brooklyn most people want a nice cocktail or a beer. 

HPS: What are your most popular drinks here?

Brett: We have an extensive cocktail list, so we definitely make a lot of cocktails, and people drink a lot of local beer, a lot of nice bourbon. We go through the most of the Sixpoint IPA, that's probably our most popular beer. We go through a lot of Jameson and Maker's Mark here too. 

As far as cocktails go, we make a ton of Bloody Marys on the weekend, but that's standard when you serve brunch. Off the cocktail list, the one that tends to get ordered a lot here is the Slippery Slope, and that's basically like a whiskey sour with mint.

HPS: If you could have a drink with one person from history, who would it be?

Brett: Wow, I don't know if I've ever thought about that. I guess I wouldn't mind having a drink with Marvin Gaye in his prime. Seems like he'd be a fun guy to hang out with, he's my favorite singer. He'd probably try to get me to do cocaine, though.

HPS: Probably! Are there any cocktails that you make that you really pride yourself on?

Brett: I make a really good gin fizz, that's one that I really like. That and a Manhattan. 

HPS: Are there any bottles back there that you've never touched?

Brett: The Drambuie is used pretty rarely, people only order a rusty nail like once or twice a year. The Creme de Cacao, I don't ever really use that either.

HPS: If you weren't tending bar, what other professions would you choose?

Brett: Well I'm a musician on the side, I play guitar, synthesizer, drum machine, kind of all over the place. If I could I'd be doing that full time. Stuff music-related.

Alchemy, 56 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11217. 718-636-4385.


Know Your Bartender: Natasha Mezentseff, Great Lakes

There's a ramshackle little one-story building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and First Street, and it's home to exactly the type of bar that you'd expect based on the exterior. Great Lakes, which was founded in 1997 by two friends from the Midwest (who also own Boat Bar on Smith Street), is a true dive bar: dark and sparsely decorated with some nautical touches, with no-nonsense bartenders who sell fairly-priced drinks to a mostly 30-something crowd looking to have one too many. It's a relaxed, comfortable place to gather with friends, though, with a great draft beer selection, and the jukebox can't be beat. 

Midwood, Brooklyn native Natasha Mezentseff has been bartending all over the city (including a stint at The Gate) for eighteen years, and can be found behind the bar on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from when they open at 5 until 4 AM.

HPS: How long have you been bartending here for?

Natasha: About four years.

HPS: What's your favorite thing about this bar?

Natasha: I like the fact that it's always low key. The customers are really friendly. Things that are interesting always happen; we get a lot of characters.

HPS: Can you talk a little about the Happy Hour?

Natasha: Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, and it's a dollar off everything. All the beers are different prices, but it averages out to about 4 or 5 dollars a drink. And High Life is two dollars.

HPS: What's the strangest drink order that you've ever received here?

Natasha: I did a well tequila Cosmopolitan, five of them! For a group, they all came together and wanted that. 

HPS: If you could have a drink with one person from history, who would it be?

Natasha: I would have to say Iggy Pop. He doesn't drink any more, though, so it would have to be young Iggy Pop. 

HPS: Are there any cocktails you make that you really pride yourself on?

Natasha: I've been bartending a really long time, so I can make anything really. I make really good margaritas, I make great martinis and Manhattans. There's nothing I won't make if a person asks for it.

HPS: What drinks are served the most frequently here?

Natasha: We sell mostly draft beer, IPAs seem to be pretty popular. A lot of whiskey, Jack and Cokes, things like that. The $3 High Life special is popular too. 

HPS: Are there any bottles back there that you've never touched?

Natasha: Yeah, of course. Every bar has some of those. A lot of those sweet liqueurs don't get much use. I don't think I've ever used the Sloe Gin.

HPS: If you weren't tending bar, what other professions would you be interested in?

Natasha: I'm interested in fashion and design, and I've been thinking about going to school for jewelry design. I'm a painter too.

Great Lakes, 284 5th Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 718-499-3710.