Richard Boccato Discusses the Cocktail Collective at Forty-Four, Why Ice is Hot & the Best Old Whiskey-and-Beer Joints in Town
Richard Boccato has been a busy man this past year. He and partner Giuseppe Gonzalez opened the tiki bar Painkiller on the Lower East Side, he continues to run - and reinvent - Dutch Kills in Long Island City, and he's gearing up to launch the Tribeca outpost of the popular Weather Up cocktail bar in Prospect Heights. Oh, and he also managed to find time to join the all-star team of bartenders known as the Cocktail Collective, with whom he designed the drink program at the newly opened Forty-Four bar at the Royalton hotel.
What is the Cocktail Collective, exactly?
Willy Shine from [consultancy] Contemporary Cocktails designed the bar at the Royalton - the physical bar structure - with Simon Ford from Plymouth gin and John Lermayer from the Delano [in Miami]. I don't think that they had any plans to do anything more than just designing the bar, but Willy decided that it might be a good idea to organize the talents of bartenders from all over the county, so he gave me a call and asked if I might be interested. I didn't think I could really say no to such an opportunity.
Did you actually physically get together with the other bartenders?
We went back and forth for maybe three weeks where we basically set up our plan of attack via email and wound up with hundreds of pages worth of information: cocktails, recipes, philosophies, and a training regimen. Eventually, we came up with this service manual. Then we started meeting at the Royalton and getting equipment and, the next thing you know, we had a bar on our hands.
Tell me about the menu. Is there a vision for it?
The inspiration for us right away was the history of hotel bar culture. In New York City alone, you have famous hotel bars like the old Waldorf Astoria being the most famous, The Metropole, The Netherland, The Knickerbocker, the birthplace of the martini and, of course, The Savoy in London and The Ritz in Paris. The list goes on and on. Sometime around the 1980s, Bemelman's Bar at the Carlyle had been very popular, then the hotel lobby bar began a decline in lieu of all these other bars that were popping up. So, we thought it would be a good opportunity for us to create a rebirth for that put something together that was sort of a classic menu with variations on originals that inspired us.
Do you have a favorite drink on the menu?
My favorite cocktail on the menu out of all of them? Man, I really shouldn't say one of my own, should I. I really like the Stone Place. It's Willy Shine's. It's a variation on the classic Ward 8 cocktail. He uses Jamaican rum, housemade grenadine, lemon juice, one orange wedge shaken in the shaker with the ice and some fresh-grated nutmeg. It's very delicious. And, of course, all of my drinks are amazing. But I'm not into self-promotion.
Where do you like to drink when you're not at your own bars?
I don't really go in too much for cocktails when I'm not in my bars, so for me just whiskey and beer will do. I like to go to a place called Rudy's in Midtown where they have free hot dogs and cheap pitchers of beer. I've been going there since I was a teenager. Another place I like to go for whiskey and beer is a place called Milano's on Houston. I've been going there since I was a kid, too. I guess you can see a pattern here. And, of course, I have to be loyal to my pedigree. I love going to Little Branch and I love going Weather Up and, of course, Milk & Honey. All three are my alma maters. You never forget the family.
Do you feel that as these old bars in New York are disappearing we're losing something important?
I think Rudy's is definitely not as much fun as it used to be. The jukebox used to be amazing. Now it really sucks. It's electronic and they have horrible Top 40 music playing there, but there's something about that place that's always going to be timeless for me. Milano's is definitely along the same lines. It's not going to be the same place it was when I was 16 years old. There are a lot of bars in New York City that people don't know about that they don't go to just because they're not popular, in neighborhoods that aren't visited too often. There's a place called Montero's in Brooklyn that is definitely worth the trip if you want to get an idea of what it was like to be a stevedore or a dock worker around the earlier half of the 20th century. There's places like that that aren't going to go away.