NoMad bar director Leo Robitschek is as much a perfectionist as he is an innovator. After joining the team at Eleven Madison Park a little over a decade ago—and being promoted to head bartender in 2009—he retooled the restaurant’s drinks program, expanding the menu and stressing technique among his bartenders. In addition, he called on the kitchen to provide an array of custom syrups, along with housemade grenadine and orgeat, in an exacting, culinary-inspired approach that has come to define his style, not only at EMP, but at the nearby NoMad Bar.
At the latter program, for which he won a James Beard Award in 2014, he’s pushed boundaries further, installing not only a menu of large-format drinks (elaborately garnished, and dubbed “Cocktail Explosions”) but one that highlights reserve items utilizing rare spirits in classics like the Jungle Bird and Vieux Carré. But that’s not to ignore the rest of the bar’s extensive drink list, which, since 2012, has maintained its focus on classic cocktails. Throughout are drinks that Robitschek has workshopped extensively, always paying close attention not only to the selection of spirits, but to garnish and technique as well.
But what does Robitschek do when he’s not drinking, or drink-making? And what exactly would he reach for, say, in a dive bar? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his most disastrous cocktail experiment, his strangest hobbies and his favorite bar in the world. —Lizzie Munro
What do want to be when you grow up?
An astronaut. No, a hot dad. No, both.
Worst thing you ever drank:
I had a great idea of creating a cocktail inspired by a baseball game—a hot dog and beer. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t subject an enemy to the first few tries of that cocktail.
First time you ever got drunk:
While in high school, my sisters and I threw a house party when my parents went away for a weekend. I decided to make Margaritas using Cuervo Gold, bottled Margarita mix and my Snoopy Sno-cone maker. The Margaritas were a hit, and so was my head when I fell over.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Biggie’s Life After Death, Michael Jackson’s Bad or Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 1.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I am still oddly obsessed with screaming goat videos. I’ve actually gone to the petting zoo on multiple occasions to attempt to get one to scream like a human, but sadly it hasn’t happened yet.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That I can’t do everything myself no matter how hard I try. Ask for help and empower those around you.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Please see: “Worst thing you ever drank.”
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Dancing. Definitely dancing.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Belvedere with Red Bull and sake.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Clumsies in Athens. The cocktails are interesting, conceptual and delicious; the bartenders are hospitable and the dance party is on point.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Streetside tacos in Mexico City at Los Cocuyos.
In a dive bar?
Either Campari and soda, or gin and soda.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Lots of water and the gym, followed by brunch where I immediately order a double espresso, green juice, cider, cocktail and sparkling water all at the same time.
One thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
I honestly can’t think of anything.
The last text message you sent:
“How’s the setup for the event going? Also, can you please bring me a cookie?!?”