This story is published in partnership with Bacardi’s Spirit Forward Women in Leadership series, an annual summit dedicated to championing the spirits trade community and accelerating the advancement of women. For more information, and to find out how you can attend the program’s five-city tour, click here.
Pamela Wiznitzer has an Ivy League bartending education. Really: Her introduction to making drinks was through Columbia’s Bartending Agency, which she signed up for while attending Barnard in New York City. “It was the best ROI of my life,” she says not-so-jokingly. The program, which employed real spirits rather than colored water like many bartending classes, was run by friends. After class let out, they’d collect the practice dregs and pre-game before hitting the Upper West Side bars.
Wiznitzer started bartending seriously when she was laid off from a corporate marketing job in 2008. She snatched up a daytime bartending shift at a sports bar in Murray Hill, a slot understood to be the most undesirable in the business. “But I made more money than I could ever imagine,” she says. She attracted her own clientele, began studying cocktail-making as a craft, joined the USBG and got a master’s in food studies. After working at Empellón and King in SoHo, she landed on the opening team at The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog with Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. Then, she opened Seamstress, a neighborhood cocktail bar on the Upper East Side.
Forged as a polished local watering hole, Seamstress serves a vast swath of neighborhood—from Harlem to the low 60s—that has been traditionally a no-man’s land for cocktails. Here, Wiznitzer adheres to a philosophy of pleasing customers first. “I try to make cocktails that you want to drink two of,” she says. She appreciates the idea of the obscure, but ultimately wants guests to feel as if they are being looked after rather than challenged. Many of the cocktails on Seamstress’s menu, including a riff on a root beer float called the Wiz Fizz and a ginger-laced Manhattan variation named the Mortimer & Mauve, are permanent fixtures precisely because they please new customers and regulars alike.
And though she travels at least 50 percent of the time for special projects, including consulting on cocktail programs around the country and, this year, championing Bacardi’s Spirit Forward Women in Leadership series (for which she is co-host and spokesperson), Wiznitzer maintains a weekly shift so she can commune with her regulars who come from Ridgewood, Bushwick and beyond. “So many careers are finite, and the number of people you interact with is finite, too,” she says. “Not bartending. We see so many different people every day. And that’s the best part.”
Here, Wiznitzer takes our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her weirdest cocktail experiment, the best meal she’s ever had and where in the world she’d spend her final night drinking.
By the Numbers
Current occupation: Creative Director at Seamstress, National President of the USBG.
What do want to be when you grow up? A meteorologist.
What books are essential to have behind the bar? Ones that you will actually use or read. I am a huge proponent of the Flavor Bible for drink building, The Savoy Cocktail Book for inspiration and a few personal favorites like Julie Reiner’s Craft Cocktail Party and Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist.
How would you describe your style of drink-making? For the guest. I like to use unique flavor profiles, but build my drink around familiarity and styles that the guest will enjoy. These drinks aren’t for me; they are for the people who sit at my bar.
If you could have three women, living or dead, come sit at your bar, who would they be? My mother and two grandmas (all still alive). Because I’d love nothing more than to serve drinks to the women who continue to shape my life and are the matriarchs of my family.
In your opinion, what’s been the greatest change in drinking culture in the last decade? Curiosity. I think our modern-day drinkers are extremely curious about new cocktails, spirits and venues, and they seek out these innovations.
What’s the next great frontier in cocktail culture? Shaping the new generation of bartenders. We’ve had a few different waves come through over the past 20 years, and this newest one is young, excited, knowledgeable and eager to make bartending their career.
How do you define leadership behind the bar? Listening, compassion and patience. It’s teaching by example. It’s checking your personal baggage at the door every time you walk into work and putting the needs of your bar, staff and guests at the forefront of service. (And snacks. Being a good leader also means keeping a team well-fed).
Which industry leaders do you admire most? I have to lead the list with Julie Reiner and Susan Fedroff, who are not only my friends but also the most exquisite role models in our industry when it comes to work-life balance, business and leadership. Other people who constantly inspire me are Ezra Star, Luis Hernandez, Josh Mazza, Colin [Asare-]Appiah, Sean Muldoon, Ashtin Berry, Tiffanie Barriere, Joaquín Simó, Derek Brown, Angie Featherson, Lynnette Marrero, Robin Nance, Shel Bourdon, Chelsea Gregoire. The list could go on for pages, but there is a common thread between all of these people. They challenge me. They hold me accountable for my actions, words, work, and push me to always think bigger and be better. Whether you agree with their leadership tactics or not, all of these people have the best interest of our bar industry at heart and work tirelessly to make our community better.
Tell us about your drink, the Belvoir Boulevard: When it comes to imbibing, I love to keep it low-proof and easy to drink. I’m a lover of bitter cocktails (and vodka), so I’m combining these elements and the flavors I enjoy in one glass. Also, it’s not too sweet and so easy to make.
Best thing you ever drank: Toss up between the “Apple Drink” at Coupette in London or [Louis Royer] Pineau des Charentes siphoned from the barrel. It was over 30 years old and Nicholas Royer’s father, Jerome, let us try it at their grandmother’s house in Cognac.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Graceland by Paul Simon.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? I collected gemstones as a kid and had them all extremely organized and labeled in containers and boxes.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: I tried to make these alcoholic, spicy, hard candy lace structures that—despite all of my attempts—just never worked out.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Yoga, hanging with friends, going to the Met Museum.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: “Make me something from my dreams.” Bro, I have no idea what you dreamt about at night.
Your favorite bar, and why: Besides Seamstress? Daddy-O in the West Village. Hands-down. One of the best backbars of spirits. Gator tots served up until 3:59 a.m. every day.
Best meal you’ve ever had: Any meal cooked by my grandma. Or Blue Hill at Stone Barns last winter.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? Negroni on the rocks, 50/50 gin Martini with olives or vodka-soda with bitters.
Wine bar? Glass of Lambrusco.
In a dive bar? Cider on ice with a Cognac back. Or a Bud Heavy.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime: Three Advil liquid gels, coconut water, banana, hot yoga and a nap in the afternoon.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: Misspellings. Come on, people, we all have spell-check, and St-Germain does not have an “e” at the end of it.
The last text message you sent: “I thought the mug really spoke to me.”
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.