Dan Greenbaum is always working somewhere between his seamless knowledge of the classics and a willingness to experiment. Take the Penichillin, one of the more popular drinks at Diamond Reef in Brooklyn, where Greenbaum is a co-owner. It’s a frozen spin on the Penicillin with two forms of whiskey at its core: liquid Scotch floating atop frozen Scotch—the equivalent of an experimental band’s deconstructionist pop unexpectedly topping the charts.
Greenbaum is a New York City native with fourteen years of bartending experience. His work prior to Diamond Reef’s opening includes a list of beloved New York City spots, including The John Dory Oyster Bar, Attaboy and the sorely-missed East Village spot, The Beagle.
At Diamond Reef, his frozen drinks have found a loyal audience; Greenbaum notes that the Spicy Canary, a drink made with tequila, mango and lime is the bar’s most popular cocktail. That said, innovation isn’t the first thing on Greenbaum’s mind. When asked how important experimentation is to him, he replies, “Not as important as making classic drinks well.”
The expansive Diamond Reef opened in early 2017 to rave reviews, including being named one of Esquire’s Best Bars in America that year. It’s a spacious, welcoming place that’s become something of a destination bar. Was this his intention before it opened? “Not really,” he says. “It was more that we found a unique space and it happened to be on an industrial block on Atlantic Ave.” Greenbaum also points out that “the majority of our guests live in the surrounding neighborhoods.”
So what is Greenbaum doing when he’s not slinging Penichillins? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his thoughts on mushroom collecting, Back to the Future II, the virtues of silence and the pleasures of a cold beer. —Tobias Carroll
Owner and general manager, Diamond Reef.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Retired. I have no idea.
Best thing you ever drank?
A cold beer on a really hot day.
Worst thing you ever drank?
A hot beer on a really hot day.
First time you ever got drunk?
It must have been drinking too much wine at dinner. I remember when I was a teenager, I drank a bottle of Cuervo Gold with a bunch of friends. I made some bad choices that night.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I would go crazy. Maybe something like John Cage’s 4’33”, so it would be silence.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Mushroom collecting. I did that for the first time this weekend, but I thought, I could see how people get into this. I was upstate, in the Catskills.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
The results to a bunch of sporting events that I could have put bets on. You remember the book in Back to the Future II, Biff’s sports almanac? Similar to that.
What’s the weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
I was playing around with MSG for a while–MSG Daiquiris. It wasn’t that bad! It tasted a little savory. It freaks out your palate a little bit. We did MSG Negronis, too. It tasted a little saltier. The finish is a little weird; it’s a little slappy on your palate. Not necessarily in a good way, though.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Being around people I love.
What’s the weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten?
I had one guy ask me to make him a drink that was inspired by his friend’s red and black plaid shirt. It was these two Scandinavian guys who came in one night. I think I gave him a shot and a beer at that point. I remember thinking, “These guys are fucking with me a little bit,” so I was going to fuck with them back.
What’s your favorite bar?
Sunny’s in Red Hook. It’s one of my favorites, for sure.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Probably a bunch of home-cooked meals. As for restaurants, I can remember going to Asador Etxebarri, which is in the Basque Country, in San Sebastián. The grilled stuff there is amazing. I think they’re the masters of grilling stuff over different heats.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Campari and soda, usually.
What’s your go-to drink in a wine bar?
Either dry sherry or a crisp white wine, a mineral white wine.
What’s your go-to drink in a dive bar?
A bottle of beer. Budweiser, usually.
What’s your preferred hangover recovery regime?
Sleep and soup. I like pozole or birria, which is Mexican goat or beef stew. It’s like consommé. In Mexico, they’ll usually roast a whole lamb or goat or sheep, and then they’ll have the soup at the bottom of that, with garbanzo beans. That’s a pretty good cure.
What’s the one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever?
Lots of words.
What was the last text message you sent?
The kissy face emoji.