Although Aaron Polsky traded New York’s bartending scene for Los Angeles’ in 2016, many of his ideas are still rooted in the city where he got his start.
As Harvard & Stone’s bar manager, Polsky approaches the job with an East Coast sensibility, incorporating elements from his decade of hospitality experience in nearly every corner of the city, from Bouchon to Milk & Honey to Eleven Madison Park. “I’ve always had an appreciation for the advanced techniques, like the Dave Arnold stuff,” he says, referencing the science-minded approach of the Existing Conditions’ proprietor, which leans heavily on centrifuges and Cyrovac machines. Polsky credits the “pinnacle” years of New York’s dining scene between 2005 and 2008, when big-name chefs like David Chang and Wylie Dufresne were at their prime, as an influential period for him.
In particular, he recalls a Cyrovac-compressed melon and cucumber salad seen during his early days at Bouchon. At Harvard & Stone, he offers a reinterpretation of the dish in cocktail form, which involves ice cubes made from frozen and compressed watermelon infused with Aperol.
Even though his cross-country move took place over three years ago, Polsky still finds himself smitten with the region’s bounty of produce. “I’ve always been someone who has loved farmers markets,” he says. These days, he dedicates much of his time to developing liqueurs out of whatever produce catches his eye, from elderberries to Buddha’s hands and strawberries sourced from the cult-favorite family farm Harry’s Berries.
So, what does Polsky do when he’s not scouring farmers markets for ingredients? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share a lobster-infused Daiquiri that didn’t quite pan out, his ambitious post-hangover regimen and his go-to drink order. —Tatiana Bautista
Bar Manager, Harvard & Stone, Los Angeles.
What do want to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank (and describe):
Jillian Vose’s Soul Clench (Waqar pisco, Dolin dry vermouth, Combier Pamplemousse Rose Liqueur, St-Germain, Velvet Falernum, and grapefruit peel). It’s been six years and I won’t shut the fuck up about it.
Worst thing you ever drank:
The flaming Dr. Peppers that Yael Vengroff, Christine Wiseman and Erin Hayes keep foisting on me.
First time you ever got drunk:
I was visiting my brother Rob in college in New York. I was probably 15. He was really impressed with my ability to hold my booze until it all sharply dropped off. I think I still remember: four Sam Adams Summers [Summer Ales], two Kamikazes, and two of something else. That’s all it took back then 🙈.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Appetite for Destruction.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I don’t know that I’d call it weird, but I’ve always loved tinkering with electronics and mechanics. So I work on my car from time to time, and back in the day I built my own Marshall Plexi guitar amp replica.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Being patient and aware of the things that I can’t change are not the same as being apathetic.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Blending grilled lobster heads into rum, straining, and making Daiquiris that taste like the ocean.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Performing. I recently took guitar back up after 10 years, and played my first show in like 15 years at Harvard & Stone. Fuckin’ exhilarating.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Splenda Mojito was a new one in 2011, and I haven’t gotten it since.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Harvard & Stone. There’s no other bar like it, and it’s always felt like home. I bet most of our team would say the same thing.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Alinea with Stephen Torres in 2009. We got lit beforehand and set the record for fastest consumption of the 23-course tour. I still remember every bite.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
No go-to, I check out the menu.
In a dive bar?
Jim Beam, I guess.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Get out of the house and move around to metabolize out the aldehydes. If I’m lucky enough to be hungover on a workout day, by the end of the workout I’m feelin’ like a new man.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The last text message you sent:
A “the more you know” GIF.