Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Joaquín Simó
The award-winning New York bartender tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “I love a cold crisp beer at the end of the night. I tend to start swirling my wine and thinking about it too much, so beer is the perfect thing for me to drink as I’m concentrating on breaking down a station or doing the money/nightly closeout sheet. I can just enjoy it without having to think a ton about it. I will usually grab whichever beer we happen to have the most of in the lowboy.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “Venus in Furs,” by the Velvet Underground. Decadent, filthy, lurid, dissonant yet somehow perfect. It sounds like it was recorded in a haze, so it’s best enjoyed in one.”
What’s your favorite city to drink in besides your own? “Paris. Good lord do I love drinking in that town! From nabbing a glass of wine and a snack at Septime La Cave to the sophistication of Prescription to the perfect mixology at Mabel to the mind-blowing creativity at Little Red Door to tacos and mezcal at Candelaria to shots of blanche de Normandie at Le Syndicate to tikiliciousness at Dirty Dick to blurry Daiquiris at Glass, I can go and on about the amazing options and wonderful people in that city.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “With my parents, at the dinner table. It was a cold, crisp pilsner to accompany the ceviche we were eating. I was in early elementary school, and while I didn’t care for beer on its own, it made perfect sense with the high acidity and chile heat of the citrus-cooked whitefish.”
What book on cocktails, spirits or food is your go-to resource? “I truly love The Flavor Bible. It’s an amazing source to get past a creative roadblock. Just scanning through the quotes, recipes and flavor affinities for specific ingredients has gotten me to finish more drinks than I can think of. I smack my forehead more often with that book open in front of me than pretty much anything else.”
What cocktail was the toughest one for you to master? “Might be a Sazerac. It took a long time to truly understand how best to balance the amount of Peychaud’s Bitters in a given Sazerac depending on the base spirit in question. A soft, peanut-y rye like Overholt requires less than half the Peychaud’s that Wild Turkey 101 Rye might call for, but they both taste resolutely like Sazeracs. And that’s to say nothing of the subtleties that various Cognacs will demand.”
When you have a night off and you’re drinking in someone else’s bar, do you prefer to sit on a bar stool, in a booth or at a table? “If I’m by myself or with a friend, I prefer to be at the bar. If I’m on a date night with my wife, I need to be sitting in a booth or table with my back to the room. Otherwise, I start paying attention to nonsense like the mise-en-place of the service station or that the hostess is clearly not seating anyone in a given section because the bartender is clearly now hooking up with the waitress working that section and she is not happy about it. This is why we stay home on date nights.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “It’s hard to pick amongst your babies, but I do have a soft spot for the Naked & Famous. I’ve certainly worked harder on creating other drinks, but the fact that it can be made in pretty much any bar in the world makes me really happy.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Mezcal and a grapefruit radler is like a baby Paloma.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “My traveling Old Fashioned kit: individually wrapped sugar cubes, 2 ounce dropper bottles of various bitters, and an expandable stirring spoon. I can make a delicious Old Fashioned on any plane or from any hotel minibar with that lil guy. What else could I ask for?”
Joaquín Simó is head bartender and managing partner of New York’s acclaimed Pouring Ribbons. In 2012, he was named best American bartender at the Tales of the Cocktails conference.