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10 Under-the-Radar Bartenders in NYC

By Kelly Dobkin
May 7, 2014
Photo by: Clay Williams

There's a certain group of bartenders who get most of the attention in the NY cocktail scene, usually the big names behind the important cocktail programs. But there's a solid crop of bartenders in the Big Apple with plenty of cred, stories to tell and personalities worthy of their own special attention. Below, check out 10 of NYC's most fascinating under-the-radar bartenders. 

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Kasia Krupinska, Bartender/Manager, The Third Man

    Bartending cred: "This year is my 10th anniversary in NYC. I moved here from Poland and I won my green card on a lottery, so I think it was destiny telling me that I have to be here. I had been at Seasonal and Edi and the Wolf before in various roles, but this is my first time bartending."

    Favorite drink to make: "Currently on the menu this season I’m really into mixing fruits and herbs together. We have a raspberry drink on the menu which is egg white-based and mixes raspberry, basil, gin and lemon. It's very refreshing, beautiful and summery."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "Screaming or waving at bartenders. But generally our clientele here on Avenue C is all neighborhood people. They’re usually nothing but pleasant."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "My favorite event was a Black Grouse event, which was phenomenal. They invited guest bartenders to work behind the bar. The theme was smoky flavors and Danny [Neff] did a little fire show behind the bar."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "My guilty pleasure is definitely Maker’s Mark. When I’m closing down the bar, and when the night is starting to turn into the morning, I like to have my glass of Maker’s Mark. That sounds very romantic, I know."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Carlos Abeyta, Bartender, Beauty & Essex

    Bartending cred: 7 years total, 3.5 in NYC, including stints at Barrio 47, Empire Hotel and LTO.

    Favorite drink to make: "A good old fashioned. It’s just a classic drink, but I’m kind of obsessed with it and I’ve seen it butchered so many times. Technically you're not supposed to muddle orange and cherry in the bottom, but so many places do."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "I don't have one in particular. People aren't intending to annoy you, they’re just unaware. At the end of the day I’m here to serve, and it’s the service industry." 

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "I'm originally from New Mexico. This guy comes in and he’s from Texas and I called him 'sir.' And he said, 'No one calls me sir; where are you from?' So I told him. He handed me $200 and said, 'Here’s a little something for a Southern gentleman.'" 

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "Sometimes I’ll find myself at Wo Hop and it’s a really fun place. The food is just ok, but at that hour it tastes amazing. I'll have a scotch or a rye neat and a beer to go with it."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Dmirtri Bartlett, Beverage Director, River Styx, Roebling Tea Room

    Bartending cred: Twenty years; two in NYC. His first unofficial bartending job was a bit unusual - he mixed drinks at age nine at the women's shelter where his mom lived in Tuscon, AZ. "One day my aunt got me a bartender book; a cocktail book. It was always sort of a ladies' night thing but during the daytime. Three months after that, my most played with toy was a blender and some tiki umbrellas." 

    Favorite drink to make: "I made up a signature drink back in the day that I do now at River Styx. It's a play on this drink at this bar Contiki in Tucson, which was my grandmother’s favorite bar. Now we call it the Beast Mode. You'd never guess what's in it - and I can't tell you."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "It’s not too bar-related, really: when a customer comes in really late and sits down, knowing that the kitchen is closed. And the inevitable question always is, 'So there’s nothing I could eat?' Followed by, 'Well, what about a mac 'n' cheese?' The chefs are gone. There’s nobody in there. When I see someone like that walk in, before they can even get to that, I’ll just find some nuts in the back to satisfy them."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "Once, while visiting my favorite chain bar, an employee didn't show up, but I really needed that 151 strawberry daiquiri as did others, so I hopped behind the bar and it took about an hour for them to be certain I didn't actually work there. I just said I was from another location and filling in for a minute. I was able to pull off a couple rounds of cocktails before it came to a head. They weren't upset about it at all. It was Fridays."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "I’m not really a big drinker. Surprisingly enough I hate drunks. I love creating them, but I don’t like drunks. Anyone that’s worked with me knows I have a soft spot for big, fruity, overly garnished drinks or grandma drinks. My favorite place to go get a drink is TGI Fridays and my favorite drink is a 151 with strawberry margarita mix."

  • Photo by: Gabi Porter

    Tonia Guffey, Head Bartender/Manager, Dram

    Bartending cred: Twelve years total, 10 in NYC. "I started bartending when I was 18 at a crappy chain restaurant in Orlando, Florida that will remain unnamed. Let's just say their Singapore sling and a real Singapore sling were very, very different. From there I started DJing at some clubs Downtown and ended up working the as the door girl at an indie dance club. I started bartending at a dive bar/pool hall as well. I moved to NYC in 2004 to escape the dredges of Orlando."

    Favorite drink to make: "Oh come now. Every bartender's favorite drink to make is a shot, for themselves. Duh. I don't really have a favorite to make. I like to make things that make the people drinking them excited, and if I can throw in a little knowledge that's even better! I also don't dislike any drink. Once you get to a certain level, you've made really annoying drinks - like egg drinks or muddled drinks - a billion times so it's not really an issue."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "The usual. raising your hand like an a**hole. Asking 'What's the best?' Saying 'Not too sweet.' (We don't have simple syrup spurting out of our hands uncontrollably!) People in large groups who order one drink at a time. People who order from one bartender who get impatient after 30 seconds and order again from the other bartender and then are surprised when they end up with two drinks."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "I have a lot. I think one really cool experience was working the private staff holiday party for the restaurant Daniel. All industry people so they were all so, so polite. But on top of that Daniel Boulud came behind the bar and I taught him how to make an El Diablo cocktail and we took tequila shots together. It was sooooo cool!!!!"

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "I am a 'shots, bro' kind of gal. After my shift it's chain-smoking and taking shots of Laird's bonded applejack. I have been known to hit the bodega to get my fella and me chicken sammies late night and of course coming home to snuggle our 90-lb. pit bull-mastiff mix, Hank."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Ann Marie Del Bello, Beverage Manager, ABC Cocina

    Bartending cred: After working in the hospitality field for years, Ann Marie moved to NYC a few years ago. "When I moved to NY, ABC Kitchen was hiring and I started as a runner, and so I worked as a runner for starting and then moved to server. And for a little while I was a sommelier at Kitchen, and then after that I became a floor manager at Kitchen for about a year. Right around there Cocina was opening and I was always very involved in the beverage side, and so when they opened they offered the position to me and I was thrilled. "

    Favorite drink to make: "I get really excited about making mocktails, because I think for people who are unable to drink - like my mom doesn’t drink - when you’re able to make this beautiful item in a glass that looks just as pretty as the cocktails coming out and it tastes just as incredible, I think it’s truly special."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "I would probably say eye contact but that's something once again I feel in general. When I’m speaking to someone, just like look me in the eyes."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "The Mermaid that’s behind the bar at Cocina - well, I got to ride it one time when we won our two stars from The New York Times. It was a very special moment."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "I’m not the type of person to have the cocktail after work. I have to have like a chocolate chip cookie. If I don’t get the cookie, I get a little upset. I just go to pastry and ask nicely."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Shane McGowan, Bartender, The Bar Downstairs at Andaz

    Bartending cred: Nine years total; five in NY, including Mercer Kitchen.

    Favorite drink to make: "Probably a Last Word, which is gin, Chartreuse, maraschino and lime juice."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "I have a lot of those. Actually last night, a guy was whistling at me to get attention like a dog. That always really bothers me. Whistling, snapping. At the club they would grab your shirt to get your attention."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "One time, a guy grabbed my shirt to get my attention. So instead of getting mad, I just put him on a time-out. If you stand there for five minutes, without bothering [anyone] else, you can stay. He just had to wait there and be calm and be there for five minutes."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "We usually go across the street to the bar or we’ll go out to PJ Clarke’s and eat an entire steak dinner, because they serve until 3 AM."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Shannon Ponche, Bartender, Nitecap, Mayahuel

    Bartending cred: Four years total; some in St. Louis. "I got really lucky getting a job at Mayahuel. I starting working three or four days after I worked here."

    Favorite drink to make: "I like making a refreshing shaken cocktail. That’s what I like to drink."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "When people really don’t even bother to look at the menu at all and just say, 'Surprise me.' The Mayahuel menu is very daunting; it’s about 50 cocktails long. Give me some instruction, because the 'surprise me' thing is a lot of pressure."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "When we change the menu, the whole staff tastes and we give feedback. So when you have this idea and then make the drink and everyone really likes it - I love that. Phil is an awesome boss and it’s really nice when he only has really good things to say about your drink."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "Sparkling rosé is probably one of my favorite things to drink ever. I’m excited for an entire season of sparkling rosé. Though I usually have a beer after my shift."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Alicia Rebensdorf, Owner, Tuffet

    Bartending cred: "I'm from Oakland, CA originally, and I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. I started as a writer, but then I realized I liked my job waiting tables better. I did a lot of fine dining and got immersed in the the NYC food world."

    Favorite drink to make: "We do a sangria program here, and we always have three or four seasonal sangrias. Right now we have one that is apple, ginger and celery. We infuse it with wine and gin. There's also a chile-mango sangria and a rosemary-dill rosé sangria. So I’ll do an infusion and play with it with different nectars. It's very easy to make."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "I’m not a huge fan of massive PDA at the bar. Do it in the corners. It’s kind of annoying when people do it right in front of you."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "I feel like it’s kind of a smaller scale thing. The most surprising thing about being a bartender and owner and is really being part of a neighborhood and a community. Being a part of their lives and watching people go through transitions is very gratifying."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "I’m from the Bay Area; a shot of Fernet is one of my go-tos. That’s probably about it. I always have my own signature glass, these little shorties."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Pamela Wiznitzer, Bartender, The Dead Rabbit

    Bartending cred: "I began bartending initially in college. I went to Columbia Bartending Academy. I’ve been here for 11 years. I did event planning and then I worked at an education tech startup. I have two bachelor’s degrees from dual programs between Barnard and the Jewish Theological Seminary. There’s not a lot of Jewish bartenders; we’re really rare. Publications have come to me to make cocktails for certain holidays. I’ve crafted cocktails based on Torah portions. I can make a Rosh Hashanah-inspired cocktail for my family and I teach kosher mixology classes here in the city."

    Favorite drink to make: "The one that the guests ask me to make is my favorite. I really enjoy making people happy."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "When people say they’re going to come back and they don’t. When someone says, 'Whatever you want to make me.' I get so upset by that, because I want to make something crafted toward them. I really like when they vocalize, tell me a little bit about what they’re looking for. "

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "I had a guest named Tommy who sat with me back in 2009. He came in during the daytime. He would have lunch and a Corona or two. We started talking a lot; I learned a lot about his life. A few months later he brought in this girl named Lourdes. And he was like you what do you think? Over the next year I watched Tommy and Lourdes grow together as a couple. I became friends with him outside of the bar industry. I met his whole family. Then Tommy and Lourdes got engaged and I stopped working at the bar, but we stayed friends and then I was invited to his wedding. It was so emotional for me because I got to see it from day one."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "I am the lamest bartender. I don’t drink when I work, and that includes before and after. It’s a personal thing. I like to be aware and attentive at all times. I always have a Perrier after work to make sure I’m hydrated when I go home. It’s mostly a social responsibility thing. I don’t want to deal with that. Post-shift, I have a good laugh with my staff. Sometimes when we close the bar I make them listen to songs I want to listen to, like 'Let it Go' from Frozen."

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    Eric Holloway, Beverage Director, Gallow Green and The Heath at The McKittrick Hotel

    Bartending cred: Gallow Green, The Heath, Maison Premiere. "I'm old enough to rent a car."

    Favorite drink to make: "The one you want. I prefer making a variety of drinks more than any one; it keeps things fresh for you and for me.
 Of our current offerings, let me make you the Bellefontaine, lightly stirred in the glass over two-inch ice, it's the Negroni you would drink in the French Caribbean."

    Bar customer pet peeve: "Is the same as with people in general: someone who seems unwilling to tap in to the lighter side of things.  For us here at Gallow Green especially, we’re outside in summer in a beautiful (and I mean beautiful) garden setting and well, take a deep breath, and try and love your life at this moment."

    Best behind-the-bar experience: "Bartending Gallow Green's main bar at times is like being in a band playing an outdoor summer show. When it’s busy there can be four bartenders, all of us side by side, almost within arm's reach of each other, working in tandem all night long. I guess I love the feeling of winning and doing it as a team."

    Post-shift guilty pleasure: "Taking an NYC taxicab home, windows down, digging on a plate of shawarma and falafel from King Cab Halal on 10th at 28th - Mohammed's been on that corner for 14 years!"

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