For Eryn Reece, drink-making wasn’t always about precise pours of sotol and Angelica root-rinsed glasses. When she first made the jump from waitressing as a teen to working behind the bar after turning 21, Reece recalls not knowing the first thing about how to properly execute classic cocktails. “I remember thinking, ‘Ugh, I have to stir a Manhattan as opposed to shake it?’ I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
But after stints across New York, including at the bygone tequila and mezcal haven, Mayahuel, and the East Village institution, Death & Co., Reece has more than proved her bartending chops. Today, you’ll find her at the helm of Freemans on the Lower East Side, and Banzarbar, an intimate, 20-seat cocktail bar tucked away on the second floor.
There, Reece serves a curated selection of drinks alongside dishes prepared by chef Humberto Guallpa for a five-course cocktail tasting menu that’s entirely low-proof. The menu includes pairings such as an umeshu and Japanese whisky drink mixed with verjus and togarasshi accompanied by a chimichurri-laden blue crab cake.
“It’s definitely been more challenging trying to find enough ingredients that hit that low-ABV point without using the same sherry every time,” observes Reece. When it comes to the à la carte menu, however, Reece doesn’t shy away from bolder flavors, but often she’ll temper them with more delicate ingredients. Her olive oil-washed Martini, for example, softens the bracing gin backbone by adding blanc vermouth rather than dry, as well as shochu and plum brandy. It’s just one example of how her familiarity with the broad spectrum of low-ABV ingredients informs her full-proof recipes, too.
So what does Reece do when she’s not experimenting with fat-washing and low-ABV drink formulas? Here, she tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her weirdest childhood hobby, her favorite bar and the one thing she wishes would disappear from cocktail menus forever.—Tatiana Bautista
I run the bar programs for both Freemans Restaurant and our cocktail bar, Banzarbar.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A business owner.
Best thing you ever drank:
I’ve had so many delicious things over the years, but one that sticks out to me is Tyson Buhler’s, “Warrior Poet.” A delicious blend of rye whiskey, aquavit, sweet vermouth, coconut liqueur and celery bitters. So bizarre how well all these flavors work together!
Worst thing you ever drank:
Amaro Sibilla. I can barely have a sip let alone order a full pour. So aggressively bitter. The taste just never leaves your mouth.
First time you ever got drunk:
My freshman year of high school on the 4th of July. My friends and I were stockpiling my parents wine coolers then sneaking out late at night to go drink them. We felt great the next day. I can’t believe I decided to try drinking again after that.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?Modest Mouse’s This Is a Long Drive For Someone with Nothing to Think About. Perfectly chill and melodic with just a touch of rock.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I was obsessed with horses growing up and was lucky enough to have one. At one point, I wanted to be a jockey and race horses so I used to videotape all of the triple crown races and watch them over and over. That is, until my dreams were shattered and I grew taller than 5 feet.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
How to cook. While I did pretty basic things to get by, I’ve only recently in the last year embraced wrapping my head around it. I’ve always found it funny when they compare bartenders and chefs. We have nothing on the amount of flavors they are able to layer.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Mushroom-infused Scotch. It was super funky and savory. It took a few different mushroom varieties and Scotch combinations, but it finally worked and ended up being quite a favorite drink.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
During the summer, it’s biking around Manhattan, either all the way to the Cloisters to enjoy some art or to Governor’s Island to just relax.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Fernet and orange juice. Fernet is already an aggressively bold taste on its own, which I enjoy small amounts of in cocktails. While fresh orange juice is great, please just never put it in my cocktail. The combination is dreadful.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Goodnight Sonny. While slightly due to approximation to my house, it’s one of the few bars with not only great food, but great food until 4 a.m., awesome music and some of my favorite bartenders in the city. Easy way to relax after a long night.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Next in Chicago….It was the first time I started to get inspired to create cocktails from the flavor combinations in food.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Almost always a classic Daiquiri.
I love a nice glass of an oxidized and funky orange wine.
In a dive bar?
Shot of whiskey and a bottle of High Life.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Ibuprofen, bottle of water, a cheeseburger, my couch, a season of The Office, and depending on whether I’m off or not, a little hair of the dog.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Listing simple syrup. No matter what, people immediately think it’s going to be sweet instead of being there to balance out their drink.
The last text message you sent:
“Haha Jamie Gordon Tots!!!”