Junoon's John Filby On Indian Cocktails, Unruly Customers and New York's Drinking Scene v. London's

John Filby Headshot.jpg
Junoon's John Filby
If you thought fancy cocktails were something to be sipped only with house-made charcuterie, local cheese, and other dressed-up bar bites, you were sorely mistaken. Junoon, the nouveau Indian that opened off Madison Square Park last December, has just relaunched its bar as a proper cocktail lounge called Patiala, where you can sip something before dinner or even with a meal. Bartender John Filby explains.

How do you make cocktails to go with modern Indian food?

We wanted to do something with the bar that was an extension of the restaurant menu. With the whole mixology craze, a cocktail program is kind of expected now. We use a lot of the spices in the drinks that we use in the food. ... Cumin, curry, sage, and we do a lot of spice infusions. We really want to bring food-and-cocktail pairing to the forefront.

So, what should you drink with spicy food?

Anything sweet goes well with spicy food. In terms of wine, we have a lot of Rieslings on the menu. One drink, the Tandoori Tequila (tequila, lime, muddled tandoori pineapple, curry leaf, and pippali pepper), always pairs well with our food. Especially the Piri-Piri shrimp, which is a really spicy shrimp dish we have. A spicy drink pairs well with it.

How did you get into bartending?

I was in college when I first started to bartend. I'm originally from London, England. I really needed a job and didn't know what to do so I started bartending at a pub that my father used to frequent. It was an old guys' bar. They mostly drank Scotch; the average age of the patrons was, like, 75. Once or twice a month there was a funeral. When I finished school and came to the States is when I got more into the cocktail side of it.

How do the London and New York bar scenes compare?

I was working in a pub in London, so there wasn't that much to it. American bars are a lot more cocktail-based. Even though Prohibition put a hold on things here, it's much more advanced. But London does have a good cocktail scene -- it's very progressive. In New York, it's more about classic cocktails. Whiskey, bitters, sugar, like an old-fashioned. In London, you might get all kinds of fruit, syrups, and flavored spirits.

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