The bartender at Amor y Amargo on house-made sweet vermouth and cocktails on tap.
Amor y Amargo
443 E 6th Street, New York
So, this is a gin and tonic, but it tastes like so much more. Tell me about it.
It's not a gin and tonic like everyone might think — not just some Schweppes and Tanqueray. We use a tonic that we create here, in-house. It’s got little bit of maraschino, and we use a bright gin.
It does taste really summery.
The bitters and the hollowed grapefruit make it citrus-y and bright, and then there's some herbs to it.
Tell me about the cocktail that you guys actually have on tap.
The Americano Cocktail — we use a sweet vermouth that we make in house, blend it with some Campari, and add a little soda. There is nothing better to cool you off. It's a good drink to start off with. The sweet vermouth is red-wine based, and we keg it and tap that up by itself. A lot of people come in here looking for beers, but we're like, "Oh, we can one-up that for you." We've got a cocktail on tap.
Have you helped a lot of people see light, as far as bitters go?
Bitters have a bad reputation, but you can convince people — you have to make them the drink. Bitters don't have to be what you think — we can do cocktails from sweet to dry, all over the map. As soon as we make a drink, people’s eyes will light up, like, "Oh, so that's what that’s supposed to taste like." I can spin a drink out of Jagermeister that will change your life.
This is a small place, very intimate. When two people are here on a first date, and they're new to bitters, what would you recommend to them?
A lot of people come in because it's dark, it's quiet, and the crowd’s not crazy. A lot of people come in on first dates, and they might not know as much about bitters, so we go through them, taste a few here, smell a few here, try a few on your hand. It's fun and can start a conversation — suddenly you're laughing about the crazy flavors or bonding over trying something new together — and then we're picking out a cocktail that will loosen you up. It's an icebreaker, something to talk about.
What kind of bitters cocktail would you send to a pretty girl? Say, a cute girl who works at Nerve and has a crush on you?
Bitters are a challenging thing, because everyone's afraid of them. But it's a bold move, which you’ve got to respect. I’d send something like the Francause Four-play. A lot of people like to come in and order the Four-play. But it's cool: it's got some bold bitters, habanero bitters, and a lot of great French liquors. Plus, you can't help but smirk when someone sends you some foreplay. It breaks the ice.
Has anyone ever tried to pick you up?
I'm pretty oblivious to that kind of thing. I'm usually rocking out to the music and making a fool of myself.
Oh, come on now, I don't believe there's no story. You're so tall and likeable.
Well, the first night I ever bartended here, these four Norwegian girls came in and sat down. We serve very strong drinks. They were very open and upfront, and had no problem propositioning me. And they said that they'd wait.
Wait here until you got off work?
Yes! And it was a little weird, because it's one thing to say hey, I'll meet up with you afterwards, at 4 a.m., when I'm done scrubbing. But they were like, “No. We'll just sit here and wait.” And we told them we had to close up, and they said they'd wait outside. We're sitting here, trapped inside like, "I don't know what to do."
What music do you have going on here?
Well, usually it's something other than the The Decemberists. [laughs] We like to keep it fun. My favorite nights usually start with our ‘80s/’90s playlist. I'm actually going to throw that on. It always gets people going. As soon as something like "Wicked Game" comes on, people start to look around like, "All right. I can get down to this."
Do you ever have random dance parties break out?
Yes, and surprisingly, since we’re a thirteen-seat bar. But on Saturday nights when you have thirty people packed in here, and they're all having strong drinks, everybody leaves as friends.
So it's a friendly place — no fisticuffs?
No, it's too small and easy to avoid in here. We just give them a good drink, settle them down, and everyone has a good time. Anyway, we have more attitude than we know what to do with — we're a bitters bar.
The World's Greatest Gin and Tonic
12 drops hopped grapefruit bitters
1/4 oz. marachino
.75 oz. simple syrup
1.5 oz. Beefeater gin
Built on the rocks, top with soda and a grapefruit twist.