Some preadolescents collect comics. Young Damon Boelte collected cocktail books. That juvenile fascination with adult beverages clearly paid off. Today, the Oklahoma native is one of the most respected bartenders in the entire city. After a stint at Red Hook’s once-revered, now-defunct liquor shop, LeNell's, Boelte made his mark by establishing the bar program at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, one of the first serious cocktail destinations in contemporary Brooklyn. Last year, he partnered with Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff, Rucola's Julian Brizzi, and food photographer Daniel Krieger to open Grand Army, a laid-back neighborhood hangout and oyster bar in Boerum Hill that manages to pull off very sophisticated cocktails without the usual pretense that comes with it. If you haven’t tried Boelte’s expertly prepared concoctions, you may have heard him riffing about everything liquid on his weekly Heritage Radio program, The Speakeasy.
What spirit defined 2016 for you and why?
Plantation Pineapple Rum. There's not a lot that I can say about Plantation Pineapple Rum other than it's motherfucking pineapple and motherfucking rum together!
What’s the craziest thing that happened in your bar this year?
One night, I had to save four motorcycles from being towed. It was around 1:30am, and the NYPD was towing vehicles for a street fair that they hadn't posted anything about. Luckily, they allowed me to roll them up onto the sidewalk. It made me feel really good to be looking out for the neighborhood riders.
What drink are you ready to retire in 2017?
I don't really like this question, because it seems a bit elitist, but I'd have to say I'm not the biggest fan of spicy cocktails. I love spicy food, but I prefer my food spicy, and my drinks refreshing.