In a drinkscape driven by a constant search for the next trend in technique, ingredient or approach, it’s refreshing to come across a bartender who thoroughly understands what the past can offer the present.
For Sarah Morrissey, who cut her teeth at some of the city’s most established watering holes, it’s a natural stance to take. Having moved from neighboring New Jersey a decade ago, Morrissey, who has been in the service industry since her teens, credits a visit to the pioneering Milk & Honey as a formative moment in her drink-making career. “I was completely shocked and astonished at the bar, the service, ice and, of course, the drinks,” remembers Morrissey, who drank a Gold Rush on her first visit. “To this day it’s one of the best drinks I’ve ever had, and it really inspired me…to be able to make drinks like that.” Through the stints that followed, at such stalwarts as Dear Irving, Dutch Kills and Boilermaker, it’s hard not to see the influence of that initial visit on her less-is-more approach.
Before becoming the bar manager at Frenchette, which just received a James Beard Award nomination for best new restaurant, Morrissey created the beverage programs at Pig Beach, leaving her mark on a roster of drinks, like the California Collins and House Gibson, that are at once familiar without reading as rote. It’s a balancing act she achieves through subtle tweaks to a drink’s expected flavor profile, often through the use of split bases or active garnishes that enhance rather than merely decorate. Her Deacon Blues, for example, adheres to the structure of an Old-Fashioned—spirit, sweetener, bitters—but calls on an overproof bourbon and mezcal as the base, which is then sweetened with peppered simple syrup and finished with an aromatic dusting of fresh black pepper.
So what does Sarah Morrissey do when she’s not holding down the bar at Tribeca’s newest hot spot? Here, the seasoned bar manager answers our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the worst cocktail experiment she ever undertook, the ’90s-era hobbies she hasn’t quite outgrown and that time she got drunk on dirty vodka Martinis. —Chloe Frechette
Bar Manager of Frenchette.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Definitely a dog mom, I’ve never had a puppy before and it’s the only dream I’ve had my whole life.
Best thing you ever drank:
I would say it’s a drink that I would want to order over and over again. Recently, it was Claire Sprouse’s Milk Punch at Hunky Dory; Phil Ward has this yummy spicy passion fruit situation at Long Island Bar; my boyfriend Thomas made me a Concord grape Pisco Sour for breakfast once and that was outrageous; Dan Greenbaum‘s Smog Cutter that was on the menu at The Beagle, Tiki Adam’s Mai Tai at his home bar.
Worst thing you ever drank:
I went to a pretty prestigious bar in LA a few years ago and had maybe the worst drink I’ve ever tasted. It was so bad I couldn’t even chug it down.
First time you ever got drunk:
The summer going into my sophomore year of high school my friend Martina’s mom caught us trying to sneak vodka, so she decided she was going to get us drunk. She shook up four or five dirty vodka Martinis, pulled the Martini glasses out of a fancy cabinet and garnished them with pimiento stuffed olives. We couldn’t believe it, we walked around the kitchen thinking we were so chic, very Sex and the City. It was a pretty fun night, we went midnight swimming and I’m pretty sure two girls puked in a closet.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Every hobby I had in the ’90s was weird. Lisa Frank, Pogs, Beanie Babies, Teenie Beanie Babies, Sanrio, Furby, Tamagotchi, Milky Pop gel pens. I love all of them and my mom is currently/permanently baby sitting my Furby in New Jersey.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Don’t sweat the small stuff; you’re in your 20s, have some fucking fun and it doesn’t matter that you’re broke right now. Also, wear more sunscreen and drink more water.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
A drink actually came to me in a dream once. It was Byrrh and aquavit and something else. I woke up thinking ‘this is IT,’ and that I’ve just dreamt up the most amazing drink of all time! I made it at the bar the next day and it was disgusting.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Have you ever sat front row, fully reclined, with a Coke and popcorn at Alamo Draft House? Well you should, it’s the absolute best way to chill and watch a movie. You can also order bottles of Champagne there as well. If I’m not there or at my local hang, I’m at the beach. I’m a total beach rat and really good at throwing a frisbee.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
When I worked at Dutch Kills, I had a dude ask me for the most disgusting drink I could make him—pretty dumb request. I can’t imagine giving a customer something disgusting and I can’t imagine paying for/drinking something that is disgusting. So I made two Electric Current Fizzes (one for me and one for him), he was pretty freaked out by the dressed up egg yolk, but I shot my yolk back and he followed suit. He ended up loving the drink and I ended up giving him lecture about messing with bartenders on a busy Saturday night.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Probably the first Thanksgiving I actually remember eating.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Usually some sort of Collins.
Working at Frenchette has fucked me up (in a good way) with getting to try ALL of the natural wines that most people can’t get their hands on. I recently had this Gabrio Bini wine that rocked my world, but I usually go for white Burgundy.
In a dive bar?
Budweiser and a shot of Irish whiskey or tequila.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Honestly, I take a long hot shower, puke in the shower, dry off and sit in my towel on my couch (usually contemplating my life) and drink a cold gin and Sprite. I don’t have Sprite at my house all that often so I’ll sub out tonic when I need to.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Full on mocktail menus. I actually love making people mocktails—it’s not about shaming people for not drinking, it just seems like a bandwagon gimmick trick to me.
The last text message you sent:
“Egg role, ckn something, won ton, Low main or fried rice, duh.”