Raised in Wisconsin, Brian Bartels has been bartending and writing his entire adult life: Having relocated to New York in his 20s, he went on to help open the West Village’s popular Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey’s Grocery and Bar Sardine restaurants, among others. Most recently, he authored the handbook, The Bloody Mary, with 50 recipes for the brunch classic, including his own State Street Bloody Mary. An exercise in balance, the recipe is emblematic of the thoughtful approach that Bartels takes behind the stick.
But what does Bartels do when he’s not bartending, writing or, well, drinking? Here, the bartender takes a stab at our Lookbook Questionnaire to reveal his go-to drink in a dive, the worst cocktail experiment he’s ever attempted and the one thing he wishes would disappear from drink lists forever.
What do you want life to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank:
First thing that comes to mind is the Grasshopper at Pepe Le Moko in Portland, because I’m still eight years old and will always love minty chocolate goodness (thank you, Jeffrey Morgenthaler), but I would also say the North Sea Oil Scotch cocktail at The NoMad Bar (thank you, Leo).
Worst thing you ever drank:
Tomato juice and coffee. I was a little too ambitious when testing recipes for the book.
First time you ever got drunk:
At my friend’s parents’ house. I had four cans of Miller Lite and three shots of Wild Turkey in forty-five minutes. Shortly thereafter, I spiked a can of beer on nice thick carpet in their basement, knocked over a plant with fresh soil onto white carpet in the living room, punched a hole in a hallway wall and subsequently threw up in his parents’ bedroom.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Exile On Main St. by the Rolling Stones.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
We did a drink at Fedora a couple years back called “MMMMM….it does go well with the chicken” in honor of the Beastie Boys song “The Blue Nun,” inspired by wine merchant Peter Sichel. Gin, dry white wine, lemon, simple syrup and our house pickling liquid.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
One New Year’s Eve (during my “adversarial” youth) some reprobates and unloved children ordered impolitely—which is to say, with malice—and I was left to oblige them with my “weirdest” shot, which was taking the bar’s spill mat and combining the liquid into shot glasses, and charging them $22 for the five shots of garbage.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Anywhere that’s open, no one’s bumping into or elbowing me, people respect one another, there’s an old-school jukebox, the bartender is ready for anything and, if we’re all lucky to learn something, there’s an old-timer sitting somewhere nearby who can wax on film, art, writing and philosophy with a world traveler’s wisdom.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Any meal in Ma Bartels’ kitchen.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
I gravitate to anything Loire, but I am also a rosé fiend.
Beer. If it’s a true dive, the coldest bottle in the room works fine.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Coconut water, followed by coffee.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The last text message you sent: