There is something perpetually boyish about bartender Toby Cecchini. It might have something to do with the curling thatch of hair that flops over his forehead. Or his round, wire spectacles, which give way to a signature look of wide-eyed naiveté. But then he says something like, “This place is such a spectacular shit-hole,” and destroys any greenness with a flourish of adjective-heavy wit.
A native Midwesterner, Cecchini has tended bar in New York City since the 1980s and is credited with the creation of the Cosmopolitan. Though he treats the blush vodka drink (created at the Odeon in 1988, to be exact) like an albatross, there’s no denying his critical role in helping shape the identity of an entire decade of urban drinking. Cecchini went on to open the much-loved Chelsea bar Passerby, which was forced to shutter in 2008 after a decade in business. He’s finally reappeared—hair flopped, glasses perched—behind the counter at The Long Island Bar, his brand new watering hole built into a long-defunct, silver-sided diner on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, only a few blocks from his Cobble Hill residence. Some nights he can be found in the back room rooting on the Greenbay Packers and drinking beer, and, on others, studiously taking orders and stirring Boulevardiers, quite at home in his new-old fashioned digs. —Leslie Pariseau
What do want to be when you grow up?
Certainly not an adult.
Best thing you ever drank:
A tiny dram of Delamain 1951 Cognac with my father on his deathbed.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Arguably the same as above.
First time you ever got drunk:
One day after tennis practice in high school, a friend and I set about very categorically to “get drunk,” not at all certain how exactly to effectuate that. His parents were out and we found a bottle of Tanqueray gin. We had no idea how to drink it, really, so we just poured enormous glasses of it warm into huge, ‘70s-era wine goblets and choked it down. The predictable technicolor bloodbath ensued.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Wayne Newton’s Greatest Hits or Vanilla Ice’s To The Extreme? Alright, I’ll take Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Walking train tracks. Literally. In high school I used to love to go on what I termed “linear walkabout,” wherein I’d walk for miles and miles balancing on one train rail without ever stepping off.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
How to make a perfect brandy crusta. I lied; I still don’t know that.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I’ve been trying for years to make the perfect cocktail iteration of the dessert bananas foster. Its technical difficulty is perfectly paralleled by its profound dumbness.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Modesty prevents my putting that in print, I’m afraid.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
A guy came into my bar and, without any prompting, asked me to make him a drink that was a mockup of a rabid polar bear wrestling a naked clown. I blinked, then made him repeat it, which he did, verbatim.
Your favorite bar, and why:
The Joynt in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Krystal Burgers in New Orleans this past week. Oh, I’m sorry, you said the best?
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a dive bar?
The Ramos Gin Fizz with smoked gin, elderflower tincture and quail egg.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Don’t have dranked too much the night before.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Strawberries, oddly, because they may be my favorite fruit.
The last text message you sent:
“Sorry to mar your experience. How was the pasta?”