If New York bartenders could bottle their wisdom, they'd be so rich they wouldn't have to tend bar anymore, but they would anyway because they love their jobs that much. Thrillist talked to a trio of NYC's finest to get the lowdown on everything from tipping etiquette to... THE SMELLER.
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Justin Scurti, Saint Vitus What's the best bathroom graffiti you've ever seen? I actually hate bathroom graffiti, and tried so long to keep it out of Saint Vitus. But recently, somebody scratched "SMELLER" into one of our mirrors about 2 feet wide. Seems like an odd tag for a bathroom, right? "Hey, I'm here in your smelly bathroom smelling ‘cause I am The Smeller?" What's the best conversation you've ever overheard? Last night I overheard a conversation about menopause. People have no filters at bars. You hear everything: who's cheating on who, who's lying to who, who's getting lucky. It's a line from The Breakfast Club but so true: "I am the eyes and ears of this institution". Best song for elevating the crowd's mood? Worst? Van Halen "Hot for Teacher"! Period. Always evokes dancing on the bar and a raging good time. Worst would be something too heavy. I love heavy music, but, in a bar, a 15-minute black metal instrumental just makes everybody depressed. So you need to put on some Hall & Oates after to get the mood back up. Who doesn't like Hall & Oats while drinking? Who's your favorite movie/television/radio serial bartender, and why? I guess I'd have to go with Sam Malone. Ex-baseball player but working in a bar. So many bartenders are in bands or acting or art. He took care of his regulars, got all the ladies. I'd like to sit at his bar and see where the night goes. Where do you go when you want to get away from it all? I like day-time hangs. Levee during the day is quiet. $2 beers. The windows let the light in. At night I like to go to hidden gems where you can drink for next to nothing and not be bothered by drama. On tour, we always look for the "old man bars". We recently spent an entire night in a VFW hall bar away from all the cool kids. Note: This is who Justin was on tour with.
Sean Dougherty, The Grand Victory I desperately need a great hamburger right now. Where do I go? Walter Foods is my go to. They're right down the street from The Grand Victory, the food and service is excellent, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. But Minetta Tavern has the best burger in town, hands down. Grab a seat at the bar on a Sunday night when Brother Paul and Isaac are working. Who's got the sweetest Bartender Mustache in town? I don't know. Some suspender-wearing douchebag, I suppose. Any bartenders out there you truly admire? Holiday Cocktail Lounge was a great neighborhood dive in the East Village that closed a few years ago. The old man that owned the place and worked behind the bar would be drunk, wine stains down the front of his shirt, singing and dancing and serving the wrong drinks to customers. I truly miss that man.
Lucy at Lucy's -- also in the East Village -- is one of the sweetest ladies you could ever meet. She remembers every customer that sits at her bar and welcomes you back like family even if it’s been years since you've set foot in the place.
In general, I admire any bartender that respects what they do, is attentive, friendly, knows their product, and takes the time to give each customer the service they deserve. It is not an easy job to do well, which is why there are so many terrible bartenders out there. The good ones deserve our utmost admiration and a generous tip. The cocktail revolution: has it been won, or are the forces of just-drinking-stuff-neat still standing? "Cocktail Revolution" sounds like a term Guy Fieri or some other half-wit came up with. If you think you have to choose between imbibing a straight spirit or a cocktail exclusively, you are a moron and probably a very unadventurous and boring person. Defining "culture" very loosely, what's your favorite cultural activity in New York? Does watching white people dance count as culture?
Ketih Kelly, Public Assembly What's the best diner in New York? In my opinion, Kasia's in Williamsburg/Greenpoint. It's an old Polish diner that's probably been serving the same menu since '65. There's no lobster tank or florescent spaceship lights. It's an unpretentious, straight-up diner, and I almost always have the same waitress -- her name's Helen. It's my birthday. Do I get a free drink? Oh, it's your birthday, and you'd like a free drink? Well, here's to years of good health. Here's an ice water. What's the best way to get your attention? The best way to get my attention at the bar is to be patient and polite. Sometimes just hi how are you, please/thanks can go a long way. In terms of reciprocity, I'll always remember that more than a loudmouth snapping his fingers and waving his money as if he's a diabetic and I'm serving shots of insulin. It's okay. Relax. It's just a beer. How do you calm down a rowdy customer? It's pretty tricky. You have to have a pretty solid sense of where they're at at that moment. Sometimes a direct approach -- just letting them know what they're doing -- can snap them out of it. But if you're busy and they're on another planet, it can be as useless as explaining the color red to a blind person. It's simply security time. Where do I go if I want to get a tattoo so beautiful, even my mom will agree it was a good idea? In terms of tattoos there's a great shop called Greenpoint Tattoo. My mother was always very anti-tattoo, and the last one I got is her name in a heart. Came out beautiful, and no mother, even secretly, is not gonna love that.