What’s your story? How did you become so interested in cocktails?
I grew up in Brooklyn. That’s my story. As far as cocktails are concerned, I was moonlighting as a doorman at Little Branch in late 2005. I wasn’t very interested in cocktails at that time. Since my duties as doorman did not require me to spend a great deal of time inside of the actual bar, most of the staff was unfamiliar with my face¬†and therefore they usually charged me for my drinks–even when I showed up on my off days as a civilian. I figured that since it was a classy bar with top-notch ingredients and excellent service there was probably a high overhead, so I didn’t complain.
2.¬†What compelled you to become a bartender?
I wasn’t really compelled, by any means. It was more a matter of happenstance. After working the door for what seemed like an eternal and unforgiving winter, my employers at Little Branch (Joseph Schwartz and Sasha Petraske) decided to bring me downstairs and show me a thing or two about what was going on at the bar. For about a year I worked as a host and server until I was given the opportunity to begin training behind the bar on¬†quiet evenings, where I routinely botched and fumbled my way into a regular place in the bartender rotation at both Little Branch and Milk & Honey–until I opened Dutch Kills in 2009.
3.¬†What differentiates¬†Dutch Kills¬†from other cocktail bars?
The obvious¬†answer would be our zip code. Dutch Kills is a neighborhood cocktail saloon on the Western frontier of Long Island City, Queens where men and women from every strata of the socioeconomic spectrum can enjoy an exemplary and generously-priced drink within a warm and convivial setting. Neighborhood affiliation aside,¬†Dutch Kills stands out amongst its peers due mostly to the care and precision with which our cocktails are executed and presented to our guests by our dedicated staff of bright, energetic, enduring, and engaging bartenders, servers, and barbacks. Our cocktail program is governed by a formidable range of premium spirits and liqueurs, carefully selected farm-fresh ingredients, and a superior caliber of ice that is produced next¬†door via two Clinebell CB300X2D machines, courtesy of Hundredweight. This ice is¬†then harvested on the premises from 300-pound blocks that are hand-cut directly behind the bar for the purpose of satisfying the needs of specific cocktails. Our continued focus and development of our ice program is perhaps one of the most highly recognized and internationally lauded aspects of our service model. The prevailing atmosphere within Dutch Kills is very much a reflection of the blue-collar industrial roots that resonate throughout the streets of Long Island City. The oak walls within the tavern section of the bar are stained with a deep, rich mahogany finish–lending a timeless and intimate aspect to the cozy and inviting booths throughout. A short walk down the hall gives way to a lofty barroom with an eighteen (18) foot ceiling that houses a large skylight that shines down directly upon the bar. The bar itself is made of fine and sturdy oak that is lined with sixteen stools where every seat at the bar commands a front-row view of the three bar stations. Here guests can witness first hand the banter and quality craftsmanship of our bartenders who ply their trade with pride–and entirely without pretension or prejudice. Perhaps most importantly, specific inspiration for Dutch Kills comes from the desire to provide our local patrons with affordable and commendable cocktails in an environment that is completely devoid of any airs of exclusivity. Our extensive training behind the bar has made our bartenders both well-versed and well-adept at conjuring myriad incarnations of drinks. Therefore, we do not necessarily specialize in one style of cocktail, but we excel in every variety of cocktail that we set forth over our bar.
4.¬†Why do you think rum is enjoying such a renaissance?
I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with the state of the global economy?
5.¬†If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one rum drink, what would it be? And why?
Save the cocktail, and leave me the bottle.
6.¬†What’s a great easy rum drink people can make at home?
You can’t really go wrong with this¬†one:
Daiquiri aka “Daiquiri Natural” -or- “Daiquiri Num. 1”
3/4 oz. Simple syrup
1 oz. Fresh lime juice
2 oz. White rum
Shake with ice, and strain into a chilled 5 1/2 oz. coupe. As an option, garnish with a¬†lime wedge.
(adapted from the original recipe at Bar La Florida, Havana, Cuba circa 1935)
The word ‚Äú Daiquiri‚ÄĚ is of Taino (or native Caribbean) origin, and it was the given name for a picturesque beach outside of Santiago, Cuba. There was also a nearby iron mine by the same name, and it is rumored that this cocktail was christened sometime around 1900 by the manager of an American mining company who had exhausted his gin supply and subsequently opted to use rum as a substitute. The Daiquiri as we know it has since evolved from a tall and stirred affair to the timeless and elegant classic that is found in various¬†materializations at bars all over the world today.
7.¬†Who’s¬†the¬†most liberated spirit you know (past or present)? Who has lived life¬†the¬†most freely?
Ralph “Sonny” Barger.