The Skylark's Johnny Swet on Why Ice Is More Than a Chilling Tool

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The Fort Knox

It was art that brought The Skylark's (200 West 39th Street, 212-257-4577) head bartender Johnny Swet to New York, but it was the bar scene that kept him here. Upon discovering his affinity for oil painting at Arizona State, Swet headed to New York to pursue his passion while maintaining the menagerie of bill-paying restaurant roles he had solidified out west. Where his eye for aesthetics led, his behind-the-bar talents followed -- from The Bowery Bar to Balthazar, and from Pastis to Freemans. When he's not curating the décor at top nightlife destinations (he's outfitted Miami's Marlin Hotel and Rex Restaurant), he's creating the cocktail lists at them, including Rogue & Canon, JIMMY, The Elm at King & Grove, and, most recently, The Skylark. Here, we chatted with Swet about his favorite at-work acronym, his flavorful approach to ice, and why his cocktails benefit from his time in the kitchen.


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A Revised Recipe: Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya's Chocolate Bruno

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Steve Hill

Leave it to proud grandmothers to pass down recipes through generations; leave it to chefs to pass them down through menus. Eric and Bruce Bromberg take the latter approach with Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya's (187 Orchard Street, 212-466-0404) Chocolate Bruno, a dense chocolate mousse they first encountered when training with chef Bruno Hess from Le Recamier in Paris.


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Why The Ship's Cervantes Ramirez Puts Service Before Mixology

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It was his post-chain-bookstore-shift ritual that led The Ship's (158 Lafayette Street, 212-219-8496) bartender Cervantes Ramirez to the bar industry when he moved to New York from Santo Domingo. "I was a regular at Von, and the staff invited me to join as a bar back," he explains. "From there, I worked my way up to be a bartender." Ramirez quickly climbed the ranks at a handful of the city's top cocktail joints, including Milk & Honey, Little Branch, Freeman's, PDT, Silver Lining, and Cafe Select. In June, he helped open The Ship, a neighborhood bar in Soho that offers approachable takes on classics with a subtle nod to nautical components (think Island Old Fashioned with aged rum, velvet falernum, and cane syrup). Here, we chatted with Ramirez about why glassware matters, why ego doesn't, and why you'll see him smiling behind the bar -- a lot.


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In Season: Brown Sugar Corn Cake at the Gander

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The Gander's brown-sugar corn cake
We couldn't have our cake and eat it, too -- until we learned that Christina Lee, the pastry chef at the Gander's (15 West 18th Street, 212-229-9500), was putting vegetables in hers.

Summer was on the mind when Lee conceived of the brown-sugar corn cake, with plum, lemon verbena, sesame flax pecans, and ginger. "With summer comes fresh sweet corn, and delicious cornbread," Lee says. "I wanted to make a version of this, but something more moist and sweet."

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Employees Only's Steve Schneider: Why It's Important to Take Pride in What You Do

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Photos courtesy Employees Only
For Employees Only (510 Hudson Street, 212-242-3021) bartender Steve Schneider, pouring drinks began as a side gig. The New Jersey native joined the U.S. Marines after high school, but when an injury put a halt to his military career, he revisited the bar with the same purpose and orderliness that his infantry days had instilled in him. "I have a responsibility to show up and try my best to be a good employee from open until close, because the man next to me is doing the same thing," he says. "It's all about discipline."

If you don't catch Schneider behind the bar of the West Village cocktail haunt, head to your local video store (or, uh, video streaming site) -- 12 years of dedicated service earned him a leading role in last year's Hey Bartender, director Douglas Tirola's documentary surrounding the ins and outs of the modern barkeep industry. Here, Schneider discusses his approach behind the bar, where he finds inspiration, and what he has learned about himself -- and others -- while slinging spirits.

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Meet the Ladies Behind the Boozy Prohibition Bakery

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Oysters and Champagne, tacos and tequila, port and cheese -- when it comes to food and drink, some pairings are unbeatable. When Prohibition Bakery (9 Clinton Street, 646-596-8294) owners Leslie Feinberg and Brooke Siem opened doors to their Lower East Side brick and mortar in June of 2011, they added their own contribution to this list: cupcakes and booze. "Leslie and I never had a grand plan to open up a boozy cupcake shop," Siem explains. "We just started baking and drinking in my apartment to pass the time, and it grew organically from there."

Here, the duo chats about how the Cosmo started it all, whaand how they "respect the booze," and what they're pouring themselves mid-bake shift.

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A Primer on the Old-Fashioned

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Daniel Krieger
Robert Simonson

It didn't take much for The New York Times spirits writer Robert Simonson to fall in love with the sazerac -- all he needed was a first visit to New Orleans in 2006. It took a little bit longer for him to embrace the old-fashioned. "The old-fashioned used to show up as whiskey with some cheap ice in it, muddled orange and cherry, and maybe even a little soda water on top," he explains. "It was kind of watery, kind of sloppy, and not very precise. You sort of understood why your parents and grandparents drank it, and you didn't -- it wasn't a very cool drink."


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Ward III and Rum House's Kenneth McCoy: Why "the Cocktail Is Just One Part of the Bar Experience"

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Public House Collective
When his contemporaries spent "take your kids to work day" spinning in Dad's desk chair and meeting the third "Steve" in the office, Ward III (111 Reade Street, 212-240-9194) and Rum House (228 West 47th Street, 646-490-6924) head bartender and chief creative officer Kenneth McCoy went to a Midtown East bar and shook hands with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Meatloaf, and The Who. "My dad had five bars in the city in the '70s and '80s, so I grew up in this business," McCoy says. When he decided to pursue an acting career, bartending naturally accompanied him, leading him to roles at The Bridge Café, Layla, and Hudson Hotel before he took a position at Tribeca's Ward III when that place opened five years ago. Here, we talk with the Queens native about why the bar is like a house party, how The Clash inspires him, and why you should chat with the folks sitting next to you.

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Wayfarer Pastry Chef Aleishe Baska Breaks Down the Semifreddo

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The Passion Fruit Semifreddo at The Wayfarer

As we edge our way into summer, consider the semifreddo. This dessert's name translates to "half frozen" in Italian, and it's a dish that's not too hot, nor too cold. Therefore, according to Wayfarer (101 West 57th Street, 212-691-0030) pastry chef Aleishe Baska, it's just right. "I love their versatility -- they can be fruit, nut, or chocolate-based," she explains. "I usually describe them as frozen mousse because it best captures their light and airy texture." Here, we gain more insight from Baska on the Goldilocks of desserts, in addition to how she puts her own spin on the classic.


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Why Bartending Is Like Talking Shop, Per Damon Boelte

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Daniel Krieger
Damon Boelte
When Damon Boelte bought his first cocktail book at 12 years old, it was just the beginning of what would become an insatiable curiosity. "Nowadays, there are a lot of people who remind me of me when I was a kid," he explains. "They're not necessarily into cocktails to be a bartender, but they're enthusiasts. And that's exactly how I started out -- albeit nine years before I was legally able to drink."

That enthusiasm led him to ring up a $1,000 tab for Frank Castronovo during a shift at Red Hook's LeNell's, a thoughtful solution to Castronovo's quest for high-end whiskey. "He was like 'I like your style, but I'm putting some of this back,'" recalls Boelte. A few weeks later the Franks recruited Boelte for a consulting gig at Frankies 457, which soon led to a head bartender position at Prime Meats (465 Court Street, Brooklyn, 718-254-0327). When he isn't making drinks, Boelte is writing about them and talking about them each Wednesday on Heritage Radio's The Speakeasy. Here, we chat with the Renaissance Man about how his show informs his life behind the bar -- and how he found time to break a hot dog eating record.

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