“I want to disrupt the game. I want to make it more fun, and less singular-minded than what’s just in a glass,” says bartender Channing Centeno. On any given day, you’ll find him managing the bar program at Brooklyn’s Otis, planning his monthly tiki pop-up, working as a brand ambassador with St-Germain—or juggling all three at once.
Since landing his first job as a dishwater at age 14, Centeno hasn’t left the food and drink industry. After getting his degree in hospitality management from Ohio State, he pursued a position with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in Columbus, where he bounced between server, busboy and bartender. After four years, he moved to New York to help open Ocean Prime, another Cameron Mitchell property, before leaving the hospitality group to bartend at Momofuku Ko. From there, he moved onto the now-shuttered Seamstress on the Upper East Side, before landing his current gig as creative director and head bartender at Otis.
While he is responsible for the current roster of cocktails at Otis, he’s eager to mentor younger bartenders to hone their creativity and eventually have them take up more real estate on the menu. “There’s a lot of ego in having the ‘best’ cocktails. But when that becomes more important, the surrounding culture suffers,” he says.
His monthly pop-up, Tiki & Slow Jams, aims to dispel that type of pretentiousness. At its core, Centeno describes it as a laid-back environment for anyone to enjoy cocktails against the backdrop of nostalgic 1990s and early 2000s hip hop and R&B. It also serves as a platform for him to showcase creativity as a person of color. “Growing up, I didn’t see people of color like me doing cool, creative things…I really want to change that perception in the industry,” he explains.
So what does Centeno do when he’s not slinging spritzes and pineapple-spiked drinks? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire where he shares his specialized hangover routine, the best thing he’s ever drank and his weirdest hobby.—Tatiana Bautista
I’m the Brooklyn brand ambassador for St-Germain. I also do the creative portion of the bar program at Otis in Bushwick. I have a pop-up I produce called Tiki & Slow Jams with my two other friends—French and Devin.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
My strength is connecting people and things. That’s what I wanna be—the kind of person that makes things happen…I want to find win-wins for everyone in this industry.
Best thing you ever drank:
I remember last summer I was on the beach in Lisbon drinking port tonics I poured into a plastic cup right out of the cooler. But if I think about the singular best thing, it’s first glass of txakolina I’ve ever had.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Any beer that’s not served cold to me. Ugh, makes me think of skunked beers or warm Natty Lights from college. I would just be at parties standing in the corner thinking, “Damn, I wish I wasn’t so broke, I’d buy my own beer!”
First time you ever got drunk:
Eighth grade graduation, it was my buddy’s place—I won’t name names here. We’d go to his house all the time because once the parents left, we just drank. Budweisers and everything. We were arm wrestling in the basement, some of us puked, then we passed out.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I go to a hip hop class called “Dance Like the Hot Bitch You Always Knew You Were” at this place in Williamsburg called Good Move. If you’re not a dancer, it’s hard. But they say I’m a natural—I’ve been dancing my whole life. As a guy, to go to a class like that, I’m not afraid to be in touch with my feminine side. I’m always the only guy, but it’s really fun, I get to twerk and sashay and have a good time. Our bodies were meant to move.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
There are two kinds of people in the world: people who have good intentions, and those who don’t. Once you figure those people out, you can put them in a box and can’t set the bar of expectation any higher than that.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Something I’m trying to get into more that’s kind of a trend is using adaptogens. Real things that evoke certain responses in humans and putting them in cocktails—like a cocktail at Otis that calls for ginseng. I’m trying to be more intentional and mindful about what I put into cocktails.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Cooking and hosting people for dinner parties. That’s my thing. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world. As a Filipino, we grew up with food in this way.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Can I say my least favorite drink order? It’s when people ask for their drink to be “not too sweet.” Would you ask the kitchen when you order your food, “not too salty”?
Your favorite bar, and why:
Maison Premiere for cocktails, for sure. It’s one of those bars that you walk into and feel like you’re transported. Magazine is my favorite dive bar, it’s super chill, there’s real good beers and the bathrooms have the best jukebox in the city.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
I went to this place Deia in Mallorca for seafood with my buddy Jack. We were supposed to go to Amsterdam but all the flights got cancelled, and it sucked. We just wanted to go somewhere, so we just said fuck it and found a flight to Mallorca that was available. People told me I had to go eat at this place Deia, but it’s really hard to get into. Couldn’t get a reservation, but I decided we should just show up. When we got there, we saw they were refusing a bunch of people trying to show up without reservations, but we came all this way, and I had to find a way to eat there. I just went to the front and said, “For Centeno, 10:00? I called earlier to confirm.” The hostess couldn’t find the reservation (obviously) but she ended up leading us to a table.
In a dive bar?
High Life, Modelo or Tecate. Maybe a shot of whiskey.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
I get a few kinds of hangovers. There’s the kind when I call the Chinese delivery place, order salt-pepper shrimp, beef lo mein, General Tso’s chicken, then Brisk iced tea or Coke. I’ll put all that food in a big bowl and put everything together with white rice. I’ll finish that throughout the day and when it’s all gone, my hangover is over. Then I’ll watch a familiar movie like Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction or Bad Boys II. Otherwise it’s a BEC with like four Essentia waters.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
An Old-Fashioned. Because if you want one, just order it. People will always order the classics, you don’t always need it on the menu. If you know, you know.
The last text message you sent:
“I’ll call you after this meeting I’m in right now.”