Abigail Gullo never intended to land a career as a professional bartender. A former NYC-based theater teacher and off-Broadway actress, she first fell into drink-making when she was tasked with mixing a Manhattan for her grandfather.
An interest in the histories behind the various ingredients evolved into a professional pursuit when she landed a position at Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance, a bar fittingly inspired (at least in hindsight) by the city she would come to call home. From there, her one-time hobby transitioned rather seamlessly into a full-time career, and she into a New Orleans native. She’s now the head bartender at Compére Lapin, where she works closely with chef Nina Compton and the rest of the kitchen.
While Gullo claims she’d rather be singing in a rock-n-roll band, she continues to earn accolades for her very personal, culinary-driven approach to drink-making. Here, the award-winning bartender on the three drinks that define her style.
“I wanted to honor my French-Canadian roots with a rye drink with French influence. Naturally, I had to put some maple syrup in it too: Charbonneau Way is the name of the road where our sugar house lies… where we make sweet Catskill maple syrup. The yard in the summertime is covered in a blanket of wild mountain thyme with beautiful purple flowers; we pick them and make thyme rye juleps all summer long. Fresh thyme for garnish took me to the country, and that mist of absinthe on the glass took me to my new home in New Orleans.”
“Like most green bartenders, early in my career I relied too much on adding a ton of ingredients to make my drinks interesting. Toby Cecchini, who was behind the stick with me at Fort Defiance at the time, challenged me to make a good drink with three ingredients or less. I had recently become fascinated with tiki and all things Beachbum Berry and was reading about ‘Don’s Mix,’ a syrup made from cinnamon, grapefruit juice and vanilla. I made my own twist [on] a grapefruit oleo, as taught to me by David Wondrich [with] cinnamon and star anise… I christened this new syrup “Abby’s Mix” and mixed it with dry St. Lucian rum and fresh lime juice. St. John Frizell called the drink a winner and put it on the menu. Toby thinks I cheated by putting more ingredients in the syrup.”
“This strong and stirred cocktail is named after the Big Chief Indians down here in New Orleans that lead their tribes in the St. Joseph’s Day parade. The drink is derived from a lineage of New York-named drinks—most immediately a variation on the Longshoreman, which is based on the Red Hook, which is based on the Brooklyn, which is based on the Manhattan. It’s kind of the journey I made from Manhattan to Fort Defiance in Brooklyn and now to New Orleans. I like to use Averna because the Sicilian influence is very strong here in New Orleans; it’s also what I like to imagine my great-great-grandfather doing a shot of (along with some espresso) before he left Palermo for the New World more than a century ago. Brown, bitter and stirred—aren’t we all down here in New Orleans?”