Top Shelf and Under The Table: Bartenders Spill Everything (Except the Drinks)

Six bartenders. One bowl of booze. Off the clock.


When Last Call has come and gone, the bartenders-only, after-hours' scene comes to life. enlisted two of New York's best barkeeps—Nicholas Jarrett (Clover Club, Dram, the Flatiron) and Frank Cisneros (Dram, co-owner of the Drink)—to give you exclusive access to this uncensored slice of nightlife. Just make sure to keep it under your hat.

THE BAR: Friday night at Painkiller, on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

THE BARTENDERS: Giuseppe Gonzalez, a bartender and partner at Painkiller; Karin Stanley, a bartender at Little Branch, Milk & Honey and partner at Dutch Kills; Avery Glasser, co-founder of Bittermens and co-owner of bitters tasting room Amor y Amargo; Abigail Gullo, a bartender at Fort Defiance and Fatty Johnson's.

THE BOOZE: Negra Modelo; shots of Chairman's Reserve spiced rum; Cobra punch — made from frozen margaritas and served in a giant Scorpion bowl.

3:48 AM: "Never Ask for a Buyback"

Nicholas rolled into Painkiller earlier in the night to meet with Giuseppe. Abigail was already drinking there at the time

Abigail Gullo: I had these two guys at my bar tonight. One was going through a breakup and I didn't want to get too involved. They wind up sitting there for three hours, have two cocktails apiece, one of them has a couple glasses of wine with dinner, the other has a glass of port with dessert — which they share — and at the end, when I drop the check, one of them goes, "What, we don't even get any buybacks?"

Nicholas Jarrett: You never ask for a buyback.

Abigail Gullo: You never ask, asshole — that's what I'm thinking. But I'm making a big tiki drink with a flaming garnish, and whenever I serve it, everyone goes, "Ooh, what's that?" I always make extra, you know, to make a few chasers. So I tell these guys, "Hey, I was actually making something for you right now, a little treat." And one of them says, "It's no good to us now, we're leaving. We just need something off the top."

Nicholas Jarrett: You want something off the top? Then pay me everything you fucking owe me.

Abigail Gullo: At first, I thought, did I give bad service? But no, fuck those guys. Whose cigarettes are those?

Avery Glasser: I have pipe tobacco… but that's really not going to help you.

Abigail Gullo: Uh-unh, it's definitely not.

4:03 AM: "New Orleans Naked"

Frank arrived later, having spent earlier portions of the night drinking at Cienfuegos and Death & Co with friends.

Giuseppe Gonzalez: There's a girl I know who got a glow-in-the-dark tattoo right above her pussy. The way it glows is, you have to put a UV light on it. But like, why would you ever bust out a UV light?

Avery Glassman: I once had a co-worker who had a tattoo on his back of a Harley rider dreaming a lesbian scene. This guy would take off his shirt in the middle of a fucking formal office. Didn't need a reason. He had UV in a couple of very strategic places. In the lesbian scene.

Giuseppe Gonzalez: I promise to not try to get naked right now.

Avery Glassman: Oh, you promise to try not to?

Giuseppe Gonzalez: I spent one Tales [Tales of the Cocktail, the nation's biggest bartending conference] wandering the streets of New Orleans naked. My friend Maria's holding me up, because I'm drunk. I'm bumping into cars, falling on my face. Richie Boccato [co-owner of Painkiller and New York's Dutch Kills] is walking in front of me, helping me hide my junk. We're walking through the hotel lobby, where Audrey Saunders [owner of Pegu Club] sees me and instantly becomes mama-bear protector. She says, "Get him to the hotel room! Go go go!"

Nicholas Jarrett: Did you ever hear the story of Frank Cisneros's dick fight?

Frank Cisneros: Oh, God.

Nicholas Jarrett: There's video. Of the dick fight.

Frank Cisneros: Jason [Littrell, bartender at Death & Co.] videotaped the whole thing.

Karin Stanley: It was on Facebook.

4:10 am: "French Tipping"

Two Mexican beers (Presidente) were upturned into the punch bowl to top off the mix.

Karin Stanley: The Frenchies have been tipping like shit for years, but there must have been an article in a French newspaper or something, because they've been stepping up their game. Nicholas Jarrett: Yeah, I've noticed that.

Karin Stanley: They have become not only good, but creepy good. I had some Frenchies recently, I went to pick up the check, and there was a pile of quarters, and at first I was like, Oh, fuck. But they'd actually tipped us 20 percent in cash, then thrown a pile of quarters on top.

Nicholas Jarrett: Tips should reflect services rendered. Especially at a cocktail bar, you have a lot of unsocialized motherfuckers.

Karin Stanley: If you behave, Little Branch is the most wonderful bar in the whole entire world. It's so dark, it's so beautiful. It smells so good.

Nicholas Jarrett: I've heard a lot of fun stories about previous bars that were there in that spot.

Karin Stanley: Milk Bar?

Nicholas Jarrett: Yeah.

Karin Stanley: That was a crazy tranny bar, one of the hottest spots for music in the mid-nineties. Björk used to go there every week. She even recorded a song in the bathroom. Things are different now. We have a bartender who's been wearing a fez lately. He says, "Karin, you know what this hat is? Because I do not. Tell me about this hat." And I'm like, "It's a little weird — you kinda look like one of those monkeys with the cymbals."

Share your thoughts on buybacks, glow-in-the-dark tattoos — and (if you've got 'em) stories about New York's nearly dearly departed Milk Bar — in the comments section below, and check back soon for another installment of Top Shelf and Under the Table.

—Illustration by Maritsa Patrinos

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