Paradise Lounge could only belong to Austin Hartman. Though still in its infancy, the tropical, rum-focused bar exudes the sort of hospitality and good vibes that come naturally to the veteran New York bartender.
Born in Chicago, but raised in Santa Cruz, California, Hartman moved to New York nine years ago, first landing at the beloved Williamsburg bar, Hotel Delmano, before going on to run the program at Bushwick’s bygone Montana’s Trail House. At the same time, he was also pulling shifts at a number of longstanding neighborhood bars, like The Narrows, Three Diamond Door and Pearl’s Social & Billy Club, becoming a fixture of the Brooklyn bar scene along the way.
When he opened Paradise Lounge in July of 2018, he brought with him a penchant for simple, crushable cocktails and an innate understanding of the ineffable makings of a great bar. Occupying a former Polish dive in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens, a collection of vintage rum decanters, rattan lamps and other island-inspired decor—much of which comes from Hartman’s own personal collection—signals the backbone of the drinks program: “We focus more on island classics and the simplicity of those drinks,” says Hartman.
But sharing real estate with the ever-growing rum collection are countless personal details that transform the place into something more. Hartman’s signature Chicago Cubs hat, worn until frayed, has been retired on the backbar; nearby, an illustration of Clover Club bartender and fellow rum enthusiast Jelani Johnson watches over the cash register and the ceiling has begun to be plastered with dollar bills from visitors hailing from far and wide.
So what does Hartman do when he’s not slinging rum in Paradise? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the best thing he ever drank, his love of Reiki healing and that time he tried steamed gin. —Chloe Frechette
Operating owner and bartender at Paradise Lounge.
What do want to be when you grow up?
An X-Men. Still waiting.
Best thing you ever drank:
Off-the-still rhum agricole at the Rhum JM distillery in Martinique with my Cane Club Collective comrades.
Worst thing you ever drank:
By loss of a bet and punishable by shot: Steamed gin, absinthe, tabasco.
First time you ever got drunk:
Ugh. 15. With three friends. Literally all of the Jack Daniels. Several hours later, the sound of our collective vomit woke up the folks of the friend whose house we were all crashing at. The parents took great care of us kids—water, Advil, giant breakfast in the morning. I pretty much took a long sabbatical of experimenting with drinking after that.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Can we change the question to: Which Harry Potter or episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation I would watch on loop forever?
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I’ve been a LARPer (live action roll playing) for several years now, which some find weird – I just think it’s cool and fun.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
The Chicago Cubs will win the World Series in 2016 and it will be one of the greatest days of your life. Put all of your money on it. Go Cubs go!
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
A while back with my best bud Keith—a bottled/clarified/carbonated/THC/Last Word cocktail. Oh, it was weird and it worked.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Several months ago I got really into Reiki healing. My longtime friend, Dale, is a spiritual healer, mover, shaker and is amazing and it’s been a fun journey thus far. Or falling asleep to a Harry Potter, Adventure Time, Star Wars or Steven Universe.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
“Lemme get ‘ah Titos & vodka!”
Your favorite bar, and why:
I love my bar the most, but in honesty it’s Hotel Delmano. Nearly four days after moving to New York in 2010 I got a job there and was welcomed to the family. A year into my employment I broke my ankle and couldn’t work. The ownership and staff (now forever friends) did everything to support me during that time. That experience shaped how I think of the industry in terms of support, friendship and community. Oh, and all beach bars.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
A few years ago I went to Gythio, Greece, a small coastal town in the Peloponnese, for a wedding. Best meal I’ve ever had was every meal I ate there. Dozens of little seafood restaurants on the water, everything fresh, local and prepared to perfection with ease.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Daiquiri. As for base spirit, I have my go-to r(h)ums, but often down for whatever rum the bartender is diggin’.
In a dive bar?
Depends on the dive and mood. Spring Lounge—always a Guinness; 7B—whatever Rob puts in front of you; Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern—oh, wait—damn it.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Under extreme need: The classic “Shower Spritz”—hot shower and cold spritz. Otherwise, regular hangovers are cured by stubbornness.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The last text message you sent:
“You can’t ‘Huzzah’ if you don’t ‘Huzzah’” (this text also included a .gif of Tobias Funke saying ‘Huzzah.’)