Fresh off his win for American Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Joaquín Simó, 34, talked about his final week at Death & Co. and his upcoming East Village bar, Pouring Ribbons.
Congratulations. What was it like to hear your name called?
It was a pretty emotional moment, almost at the end of a three-hour long awards show. The very first thing I did was ask for a big round of applause for the other nominees. It's always such a huge pleasure to be on any side of the bar with them. It's such a collegial profession. If one of my regulars is at a bar in Chicago I'll get a text from the bartender asking how he likes his drink and I'll do a cut and paste of a recipe and shoot it back. It's all about making a guest feel special.
And now you're leaving Death & Co.?
It's been my home for five and a half years and I wouldn't trade those years for anything. This Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be my final nights. It's bittersweet to say the least. But to finally be my own boss is an extraordinary feeling and I can start realizing my vision for what a cocktail bar can be.
What can you tell us about your new bar?
It'll be called Pouring Ribbons, referring to that moment of anticipation when your cocktail is ready and poured from a mixing vessel, the aerodynamic way it spirals down into the glass. It's a beautiful aesthetic. We'll open sometime in the fall at 225 Avenue B between 13th and 14th, on the second floor. My downstairs landlord is a liquor store.
Who are you opening it with?
Jason [Cott], Toby [Maloney] and Troy [Sidle], my partners from Alchemy Consulting.
What's your favorite drink of the summer?
For a shaken cocktail I'm never not in the mood for a daiquiri. For a stirred drink I always want an old-fashioned.
What's the most misunderstood drink?
A Ramos gin fizz should only be served during daylight hours. It's a morning drink.
You have a really impressive shake. Do you have to work out a lot for that?
I work out a little bit but don't do heavy weights. It's good for discipline. If I wake up at 10 a.m. to work out it's much less likely I'll be out until 5 a.m. Keeps me on the straight and narrow, which is good.
Have you ever gotten carpal tunnel syndrome?
I've battled my litany of injuries, sore shoulders and elbows. You can read about it in a piece Robert Simonson wrote for the Times. I've had to change my shake. It used to be over my right shoulder, like a piston back and forth. The funky chicken wing thing is a lot easier for me.
You were an English major so I have to ask about your summer reading.
The Art of Fermentation. I'm a big geek. I'm also reading a history of the Glock pistol. It's fascinating. And 1491, a history of America pre-Columbus.
Are you writing anything?
I haven't focused on that for a long time. I initially thought I was going to be an academic, do post-modern theory, patches on the elbows of my tweed jackets. I went to Boston University and then started working in bars in Boston. The closest I've come to using my English major was contributing to the Food & Wine cocktail book. More than anything else my major gave me the ability to communicate effectively. I can quickly summarize long and tedious tales, be articulate and specific when doing staff training. It gave me the right tools. I get resumes all the time that have spelling and punctuation errors. Those people don't get hired. It shows a lack of professionalism. If you can't spell there's spell-check. If you can't punctuate, find someone who can fix it for you. If this is your opening gambit and you're stumbling this badly, what's your attention to detail going to be like behind the bar? The devil is in the details.
It doesn't sound like you'll be resting on your laurels.
When your peers acknowledge you and you see all the other winners it makes you want to go out and try even harder. The notion of being content with where I am is a foreign idea. I'll rest on my laurels when they're considerably greater.
Photos by Danny Miller of Primus Studios