We hear you have Irish blood, like the founders of The Dead Rabbit, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. “My mum is from Dublin. She was in the United States for the summer when she was 25, and she met my dad [of Italian descent], who grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. So here I am. I spent every summer in Ireland growing up.”
Your first bar job was at Four Peaks Brewing, in Arizona. What was your first night like? “It was like being on stage for the first time. I couldn’t even pour a beer, I was just shaking, even though I knew everybody there and they were all proud of me for getting a promotion [from server]. It was a busy Friday night, it was my first shift ... it was sink or swim. I was like, ‘How do I make a Cosmo? [My colleague] was like, ‘Make it pink.’ Then I was like, ‘How do I make an Adios Mother-F***er?’ ‘Long Island Iced Tea, but make it blue.’ This was the early 2000s when people weren’t drinking cocktails like they are drinking them today, and Tempe, Arizona is a college town, so it’s a huge party town. After a few hours, I calmed down. I am thankful for having a startin that kind of environment. I learned to multitask and to be efficient.”
Any advice for young bartenders? “It’s important that [new] bartenders don’t jump too far into it, like, ‘Let’s create something with crazy ingredients.’ It’s important that people learn work ethic first, and work in a high-volume environment.”
How did you find the Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) 5-day Programme in New York? “I was in Boston and New York researching all these bars and what was going on in those cities, and making pros-and-cons lists. New York was the city I could see myself in. It was scary because I didn’t know anybody, really. The mentors I worked with in Arizona, I heard them talking about this [BAR programme], and I thought I should look into it. I got to meet people who gave me job opportunities along the way. Almost every person in that class has been a part of [my career], or a stepping stone, or kick-started it.”
There weren’t many women in the industry when you started. what about now? “Times are definitely changing. I would say two-thirds of our staff are women; all of our upper management. Being a bartender, at least in America – and I see it globally, too – is starting to become a respectable and acceptable profession again. New York is a very small portion of the cocktail world, and it’s highly saturated. I see more women behind the bar in New York than probably in any other city.”
How do you decompress? “I travel a lot and I work a lot, but those are things that I really enjoy. When you love what you do, work doesn’t really feel like work. In New York, it’s important you have an environment outside of work that you really feel at home with. For me it’s been living on my own. I moved [to New York] with my best friend, Britney, and lived with her in a four-bedroom apartment, with two other housemates. It was so great, but at some point, I thought, I’m in my 30s now, and it’s time to get my own place. I have space for my furniture, a kitchen table, a desk I can work on, a couch I can relax on, a bed I can sleep on. I need that separation because if I’m doing work in bed then I’m not sleeping properly. I have a lot more space, and a lot of sunlight, it’s very motivating.”
Jillian Vose was in Hong Kong for a collaboration at Blue Bar, at the Four Seasons, in Central.