“I never see the prettiest thing —
A cherry bough gone white with Spring —
But what I think, ‘How gay ’twould be
To hang me from a flowering tree.’”
These tongue-in-cheek words first appeared in Death and Taxes, a collection of poems by noted American poet, writer and satirist Dorothy Parker. Ms. Parker was a revered wisecracker and lover of cocktails, so it’s only natural that she is much beloved by those who mix, shake and stir for a living. In fact, you’ll find a cocktail named Death and Taxes on the menu at Pouring Ribbons, a heralded second-story East Village bar in Manhattan. [The drink is composed of Dorothy Parker Gin, Clear Creek blue plum brandy, lavender-infused blanc vermouth, lemon juice, wildflower honey and grapefruit bitters.]
The creator of the Death and Taxes is Joaquín Simó, an academic turned bar ace who last fall was named American Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail, an annual celebration of cocktail culture held in New Orleans. Long before Simó turned to elevated bar tending, he majored in English and religion at Boston University. When not hitting the books, he also taught tech support to pay bills. The skills he learned from all three disciplines prepared him to do what he does now and does best—create an atmosphere of old-school hospitality and customer service. He says it all stems from his acquired ability to communicate clearly. This he does with his words and style, which evoke the flair and decorum of a well-heeled 1960s Mad Man.
Simó learned quite a bit about customer services from congenial bartenders while perched on a corner stool at a local Boston watering hole following classes. He became such an astute observer of all that was happening around him there, he was eventually offered a job. That set him on a path to Death & Co., an acclaimed New York City bar/restaurant that elevates mixology to its highest levels. Simó perfected his chops over five-and-a-half years in the trenches there.
While at Death & Co. he met two regular customers—famed mixologist Toby Maloney and Jason Cott—who launched Alchemy Consulting years earlier. The rapport between the trio led to an invite, and Simó became a partner in the company, which has created many fine bars around the country, including Violet Hour in Chicago and Patterson House in Nashville. Late last year they and a fourth partner, Tony Sidle, opened their own house of drink—Pouring Ribbons—which is fast becoming the go-to place for those who love well-made cocktails. The name of the restaurant, says Simó, derives from the twist alcohol makes as it’s poured through the air into a glass.
As you can tell from the name of their bar, these partners are somewhat scientific about the mechanics of the business. They’re known for what has been called their matrix menu. It basically involves a series of questions they ask customers to find the right drink for them. They ask probing questions such as “Do you want something refreshing (citrusy) or spirituous (boozy)?” That single question eliminates half the options, says Simó. Another question, “Do you want something with familiar flavors or do you want to be pushed out of your comfort zone?” The answer will further narrow down the search for the perfect drink, he says. It’s one more thing Simó and company do as hosts to make the customer experience easy and comfortable.
Is it any wonder why he was named American Bartender of the Year? Consider, also, that this award did not come as the result of a competition. It followed a series of votes from the public and, finally, his peers.
He’s honored, yet humble about the recognition, saying his goal has always been to be an exceptional host who creates beautiful drinks in a wonderful environment. On that note, his mission is more than accomplished.
Recipes from Simó
1.75 oz. Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila
.25 oz. Lustau Dry
3 pc lemon 8ths
.5 oz. carmelized pear syrup
Garnish: 2 dash Angostura Bitters, 3 fanned pear slices
Lightly muddle lemon 8ths. Brief shake. Pour over ice. Top with more ice. Garnish.
2 oz. Encanto Pisco
.75 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
5 drops orange flower water
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 egg white
At the bottom of the highball glass add .5 oz. Campari and soda water.
Garnish: lemon and orange peel, expressed & discarded
Shake with all ingredients without ice. Add ice. Shake again. Strain. Garnish.