The only Westerner to receive a Japanese visa for the express purpose of bartending, Frank Cisneros has been making drinks since he was just 20 years old. Having found a 1908 copy of William Boothby’s The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them, he set out to test every cocktail in the book—despite not being legally allowed to drink.
Following a few bartending stints in Portland, Oregon, the Washington State-native moved to New York in 2006, where he perfected his technique at establishments like Prime Meats and Dram, among others. Cisneros’ interest in the Japanese style of bartending specifically was triggered nearly a decade later, when he accepted a job behind the bar at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, which had been looking to hire a New York-based bartender with whom to trade ideas. It was there that Cisneros began to immerse himself in Japanese cocktail culture—something that he decided to bring with him upon his return to New York in January, 2016. Currently at the helm of New York’s Japanese-inspired Bar Moga (and formerly, Karasu and Uchu), Cisneros has been among the latest contributors to an emerging trans-Pacific dialogue, epitomized by the growing number of American bars that nod to Japan’s bar culture in both concept and design.
But what does Cisneros do when he’s not drinking, or drink-making? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his weirdest hobby, his go-to drink in a dive and his favorite bar in the world.
What do want to be when you grow up?
An Air Force pilot.
Best thing you ever drank:
1996 Salon Champagne. I am obsessed with Champagne and this stuff was in a league of its own.
Worst thing you ever drank:
My friend in college used to save leftover liquor from her parties, combine them all in an empty two-liter Pepsi bottle and bring them to my work and we’d drink this horrible suicide drink. I thought that was just what alcohol tasted like normally.
First time you ever got drunk:
I was like 18 and we used to sneak into these Vietnamese bars in San Diego where I lived at the time and drink iced tea with horrible Vietnamese moonshine and play pool. I barely remember ever leaving that place.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I collect, repair, restore and ride vintage 1970s mopeds and small displacement motorcycles.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
The customer experience trumps anything I can make cocktail-wise. Everything but the cocktail is what’s important.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I tried to make a white cacao butter vermouth. It was an oily mess.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Riding mopeds, flying airplanes or sailing
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
When I worked in Tokyo, I once got a request for a bartenders choice red-colored cocktail with a quarter-teaspoon of alcohol in it.
Your favorite bar, and why:
My buddy Takuro owns a super sketchy shochu bar in golden Gai in Tokyo. It’s hands down the best bar on earth and I will never tell the exact location because it’s too precious to me.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Hard to say but Per Se, Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernardin are amongst the top, but recently I had the tasting menu at Frenchie in Paris and holy crap is it good.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Vintage Champagne if it’s available and I know it’s a good value.
In a dive bar?
Powers, neat, and a Highlife.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The last text message you sent:
“You around or in bed?”