“I am not here to change the way people drink,” says Paige Walwyn, bartender at Chicago’s Queen Mary Tavern. Despite counting Don Lee and Dave Arnold, two of the bar world’s most forward-thinking characters, among her mentors, Walwyn prefers a simpler approach. “I want to make cocktails that people will drink two of.”
Though she began her bartending career in her home state of New Jersey, in 2018 she made the leap to New York, first working at Union Square Hospitality Group’s North End Grill and Porchlight before taking simultaneous bartending jobs at Lee and Arnold’s Existing Conditions and Julie Reiner’s Clover Club. It was the latter stint, at the classics-focused Brooklyn bar, that most resonated with her own approach to drink-making. “They’re tried and true,” says Walwyn of Reiner’s roster of classics and modern classics. Her own Plain Sailing, a straightforward mixture of gin, blanc vermouth, manzanilla sherry and sloe gin that feels like it’s pulled from the pages of Harry Craddock, is cut from the same cloth.
But the influence of Lee in particular can be felt in Walwyn’s firm belief in the importance of mentorship and community building. “He always had an interest in my success in a way that not many other people did,” explains Walwyn of Lee, whom she first met as a participant in New Orleans’ annual Cocktail Apprentice Program. Walwyn offers this same generosity of time and expertise to her peers as part of her philosophy of hospitality, which she sees as extending beyond the bartender-guest exchange to include peer-to-peer empowerment. “I don’t believe in gatekeeping information,” she says. “For a long time, many people of color, especially Black women, were made to feel like there could only be one successful person, which is wholly untrue,” says Walwyn. “If I can make just one person’s experience coming up in this industry feel a little less lonely than mine, I’d be happy.”
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
It is OK to say no to things that don’t serve you.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Jack & Coke, extra dirty.
Best drink you’ve ever had:
I had this excellent drink in Mexico City at Hanky Panky. The combination of flavors was wild–gin, Scotch, sparkling wine, coconut, hoja santa, etc.—but it worked so well and genuinely blew me away. It reminded me to try things that, on paper, are very much out of my comfort zone.
Your favorite classic cocktail:
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Candy corn cocktail… It wasn’t good.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The term “mocktail.” There is nothing to mock about nonalcoholic drinks; let’s treat them with the same respect we treat any other drink on the menu.