As a student of English and religion at Boston University, Joaquín Simó, for a time, had no intention of bartending at all.
Rather, he was a regular at Boston’s White Horse Tavern where—having decided against a career in academia—he began work as a door guy, then a barback. He further honed his skills at college dives and neighborhood restaurants in Boston before moving to New York, where he landed a job as part of the opening staff at acclaimed New York speakeasy Death & Co. where he put in five and a half years before leaving to join Alchemy Consulting.
These days, he’s applying his characteristically deliberate, academic approach to drinks at Pouring Ribbons, Alchemy’s flagship bar. There, he’s instituted an easily communicable matrix-style menu that plots drinks along a Cartesian grid, most recently noted for its highly conceptual, thematic bent; last fall, it featured drinks inspired by America’s Route 66 before giving way to a spring’s Silk Road edition, which highlights flavors found along the centuries-old trade route.
So what does Simó do when he’s not bartending, recipe-writing or consulting? And what are the two words he wishes would disappear from drink lists forever? Here, Simó describes the first time he ever got drunk, reveals his weirdest cocktail experiment and explains why one should never, ever drink Malort. —Lizzie Munro
What do want to be when you grow up?
Better. A better friend, a better boss, a better manager, a better leader, a better husband, a better dog-daddy and obviously a far better answerer of questions.
Best thing you ever drank:
Sitting at 69 Colebrooke Row, Tony Conigliaro made me a Silver Ghost cocktail [a riff on a Daiquiri]. In his own inimitable way, [he] had taken completely non-traditional ingredients and used them to transform a familiar cocktail into a wildly organoleptic experience. Mindblowing.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Jeppsen’s Malort. I know it’s a Chicago rite of passage [and] I know bartenders love the challenge of mixing with it, but that stuff is just awful. The quality of the distillate is wretched and the flavor lingers like a fart in an elevator.
First time you ever got drunk:
I was visiting Ecuador for a cousin’s wedding and my other cousin and I (who were the youngest in our generation) may have taken advantage of the distracted adults and helped ourselves to a few Johnnie Walker and Cokes while we were sitting in a doorless jeep parked in my aunt’s driveway during the reception. Did I mention this was the summer before 6th grade? The good life decisions started real young.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. With that one album, I have music for every mood, emotion and occasion.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I grew up with car posters wallpapering my bedroom. I would go every year to the Miami International Car Show. I can still recite engine statistics for cars from the 1980s. I subscribed to Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Road & Track and Automobile for years. I know none of this sounds all that strange, but to be fair, I’ve never had a driver’s license in my life. So there’s that.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That all the things I was concentrating so hard to work on and refine had absolutely zero to do with the skill set that I needed to be ready to take the next step in my career. I was so focused on how to be the best bartender I could be that I never really considered how hard management, ownership and leadership was going to be. You can’t jigger those.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
There was that miso-butterscotch tequila tiki drink I never ended up putting on the opening Pouring Ribbons menu. I got it to taste really damn good, but simply couldn’t couldn’t figure out how to make it not completely coat all the tins in slippery butteriness.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Scuba diving. It’s the closest I’m ever going to get to being in outer space.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
To make a recipe that was first concocted by a friend (who was naturally not present) of said guest the prior weekend at a house party in another state.
Your favorite bar, and why:
The Bar at the Connaught Hotel is possibly my favorite room in the world. Perhaps it’s the giant silver bucket filled with iced Champagne sitting on the bar, or the pressed linen napkins your impeccable drinks are placed on. Or maybe it’s just that Ago is the best bartender on the planet and watching him work fills me with joy, wonder and humility.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
My wife and I were married in Rome. Not legally, of course—it was more of an exchanging of vows in front of a tree in a public park whilst surrounded by dry-humping Roman teenagers, as one does. Our reception was catered by my Tia Pilar, who had come from Spain to accompany my mother. My aunt, true to her Spanish roots, had packed jamón, Manchego cheese, Spanish olives, boquerones, beautiful tinned mollusks and so much more. It was amazing—all we could do was marvel at the wonders emerging from a suitcase and an induction burner. Not a bad way to kick off a marriage.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? In a dive bar?
I am rarely not in mood for a Daiquiri when I want something shaken or an Old-Fashioned when I want something stirred. In a dive bar, I tend to stick to bottled or canned beer. There’s usually a neat pour of some whiskey accompanying said beer. If the beer or whiskey selection is profoundly depressing, a vanilla vodka plus ginger ale is a genuinely bulletproof order.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
I’m usually pretty good about consuming as much water as possible right before going to bed. The upside is twofold: I hydrate and then my full bladder usually wakes me up far earlier than I would get up otherwise. That’s when I pop two ibuprofen and wash them down with as much water as I can drink. Then, it’s straight back to bed for another couple hours of sleep.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The words “bar chef.” I mean, really.
The last text message you sent:
I warned Jimmy Yeager of my impending return to Aspen. I asked him to hide the children and the easily frightened, and keep the mezcal well within reach.