On the website for Mother’s Ruin—the Nolita cocktail bar opened by Richard Knapp and T.J. Lynch in 2011—the “About Us” section closes with the addendum: “Oh, and expect shit to get weird.”
It’s a fitting sentiment. Lynch’s career in bartending began after he spent more than seven years working as a chef (including a stint as co-owner of Baltimore’s Red Maple restaurant) before moving to New York and taking up posts behind the stick at Highlands in the West Village and The Rusty Knot, under Toby Maloney. Over the years, Lynch has developed a playfulness that belies serious know-how, a juxtaposition that has become central to his approach.
Here, Lynch highlights three drinks that define his style.
“Toby Maloney started this trend in NYC about 11 years ago when I worked for him at the Rusty Knot,” says Lynch, of Maloney’s penchant for making canned beer cocktails. “His idea of lime and salt on top of the can came from his time spent in Texas as a kid. Years later, when we bought the space that is now Mother’s Ruin, there just happened to be a case of Tecate left in the fridge by the previous owner. Considering that fate, I ran to the corner bodega to get some Cholula (my all time favorite hot sauce), and from then on we have been selling mountains of loaded Tecates.”
“When we started brunch five years ago, we had this silly idea to buy a slushy machine to do a frozen signature brunch cocktail. Even sillier was the idea that we would only use the slushy machine for brunch. For the first few weeks, we actually took the machine back to the kitchen after brunch was over. [But] the machine is really heavy, so we started just leaving it on the bar. The Why Not was the original brunch slushy that started it all. It’s basically a frozen Paloma with a five-chile molasses swirl.” (Today, the Why Not is one of more than 400 slushy cocktails that the bar has put on the menu, which changes daily.)
“My wife and my business partner both make fun of me for being not very cautious at times. When it comes to things around the bar and at home, I tend to use brute force to ‘fix’ things. So, they both often use the phrase “TJ Smash”, as in “Hulk, smash!” That, coupled with my love of mint (hands down my favorite herb), has resulted in this drink, which I make more than any other cocktail. It’s essentially a speedy, overly minted and bittered Whiskey Smash.”