Behind the counter of ZZ’s Clam Bar in New York City, a bartender in a white tuxedo jacket elegantly shakes metal tins full of cracked ice, cuts fruit into origami garnishes, flames cinnamon sticks into a cloud of aromatic smoke, and then glides out from behind the bar to deliver drinks—wearing no pants. Just a jacket, gold bow tie and booty shorts. This is the doing of Thomas Waugh, the wizard behind Major Food Group’s occasionally throw-back, always fantastical drinks.
Hailing from California, Waugh worked in San Francisco’s Alembic before moving to New York where he tended bar at Death & Co. The influence of both coasts is apparent in his style. Waugh’s drinks play on a classic structure, but are cut from their constraints and placed into a fantastical context—a whole coconut or a century-old teacup at ZZ’s Clam Bar—resulting in an experience that is nothing if not transporting. It’s a notion that’s apparent, too, at his latest project, Karasu, a little-advertised, Japanese-style speakeasy in Brooklyn, which opened this past year.
But what does Waugh do (and where does he go) when he’s not drinking or drink-making? And what’s the worst thing he ever drank? Here, Waugh tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his strangest cocktail experiment, and the one thing he wishes would disappear from drink lists forever.
What do want to be when you grow up?
A stay-at-home dad without any children.
Best thing you ever drank:
An entire Cocktail Explosion straight to my solo dome at The NoMad. I was LIT.
First time you ever got drunk:
When I was in 7th grade, we would make chocolate chip-mint ice cream milkshakes and add peppermint schnapps and vodka to them. We had a few of those over some Mario Cart for an eventful evening.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Brian Eno, Music for Airports.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
None of my fishing buddies know this, but every time I catch a fish, I put it in my pants until I get back home. Wait does that qualify as a hobby? Fishing. Fishing is the weirdest hobby I have.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That Trump would be the president. I wouldn’t have paid all those years of taxes.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Not only did I attempt it, I executed it. I made a blue cheese Ramos Gin Fizz with Highland Park Scotch. I call it, “The Bleu Cheese Incident.”
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
This regular of ours at Alembic in San Francisco would come in and order Middleton Rare and Diet Coke. I don’t know if it’s the weirdest, but it definitely didn’t compute in my brain.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Sharlene’s in Brooklyn. Cheap beer, decent whiskey, a great jukebox and plenty of low-hanging fruit.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Every year for my birthday I go to Keen’s Steakhouse in Manhattan. I only go once a year, but it is my ultimate. Liquor and wine fueled with a huge round table of my best friends, giant steaks and chops (and creamed spinach is my kryptonite).
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a dive bar?
Stoli O and cranberry.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Shot of Chartreuse, a large Gatorade and a hard bike ride.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The last text message you sent:
“Hey guys, when you get out of the shower will you please make sure the lever is pointing directly 6 o’clock? If it’s even a tiny bit one way or the other it drips and splashes and soaks the bath rug. Also, make sure the rug is as far away from the faucet as possible and let it hang on the outside of the tub not the inside. I’m tired of stepping onto a cold wet bath rug. Thanks.”