The greatest bartender in New York City – Steve Schneider of Employees Only.
Two cities, two very different superstar bartenders.
Just back in the UK after our honeymoon, I wanted to let you know about a couple of the best bartenders that we’ve seen on our travels. They are by now means the only great bartenders, but they are the stand outs. Here’s what the Big Apple had to offer.
New York – Employees Only
So first on our trip was New York, and once we’d taken a taxi ride from JFK Airport to our hotel on Central Park, we took a short walk into the heart of the city, Times Square. It was great to see such an iconic landmark in person, something you see on TV and in movies all the time. However we were on a mission for our first night, and the target was Employees Only, as we knew that Steve Schneider was only going to be there for that one night during our stay.
So we took a short subway ride downtown (having finally worked out how the tickets worked and what we actually needed) and walked over to Employees Only’s nameless facade. Its a testament to the word of mouth that this bar clearly gets that without even having the name above the door, or really any indication that it was even a bar, there was a line out of the door and a quoted wait time to get in of 45mins to an hour, even while some in the queue were questioning if they were in the right place at all!
The doorman was friendly and dancing with the guests in the queue line and was even recommending other places people could get a good cocktail while they waited, but no-one was leaving that line. The female manager/host was very friendly and took our coats as soon as we got inside the packed bar, the plaque on the wall said maximum occupancy of 74 but with the venue’s small size and popularity it felt far busier than the numbers would have you believe.
Steve Schneider spotted us a couple of people deep from the bar and greeted us, taking our order while serving other guests – the bar is lined with stools and everyone was clearly having a great time! We ordered a Ready Fire Aim, one of Steve’s signature serves and for my new wife we ordered “something creamy” – and were served a perfectly balanced Brandy Alexander straight up.
Watching the bartenders serve at Employees Only is like watching a ballet, with every bartender seeming to have a sixth sense awareness of where the others are, darting past each other but never getting in the others’ way. The bartenders also have a unique free pouring style, eyeballing the liquids to judge their proportions rather than timed free pour or using jiggers and of course tasting every drink to ensure their balance is correct.
The bar top is covered with dash bottles of bitters, shrubs and the like along with the usual bevnaps and straws, though EO keeps the straws in glasses rather than caddies which I though was an interesting choice. The whole team from the principle bartenders, apprentice bartenders and bar backs do an amazing job of keeping the bar clean and tidy even when the bar is at full capacity as we found it. The back bar has a huge selection of spirits including of course the 86 company spirit range as well as their in house products all in branded bottles which looked really sharp.
Watching Steve work, he’s a wonderful host to the guests at his bar and has a huge smile on his face all night long. While we didn’t stay too long (it was around midnight when we made it in and we’d already had a long day of travel over from the UK) it takes no time at all to see why Steve and the Employees Only team have built such a reputation in the city.
Employees Only have just announced plans to open additional bars in Austin Texas, Miami Florida and Singapore, and we wish the team every success in the expansion. If you want to keep up with Steve Schneider and his jet set bartender life, check out his podcast!
New York – Honourable Mentions
By no means was Employees Only the only great experience we had in New York bars, though I have to say it was at the top of my personal must see list before we arrived in the city. We also had great drinks at Dead Rabbit as expected, on the southern tip of Manhattan – Jo had a White Russian (can you see a trend for creamy drinks?) with Galliano Ristretto and I had a twist on the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, the Red Light Lizzie, a mix of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, Lime, Barritts Stone Ginger Beer, Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters. (Here’s their menu)
We took a trip to find PDT (Please Don’t Tell) through its Hot Dog shop phone booth, but with a 2 hour wait (because we’d failed to book and it was super popular) we didn’t get a chance to have a drink there. If you’d like to actually get in, give PDT a call, I believe the phone lines open for reservations at 3pm on the day, nothing in advance.
After our PDT failure, we took a walk around to the Suffolk Arms, which I’d heard about on the Steve Schneider Show Podcast and turned out to be a delightfully calm and pleasant experience. We did attend on Sunday night so you would expect the bar to be more calm, but the service was incredibly attentive, and we actually met a British bartender named Nick, who’d previously worked at a number of prestigious bars including (I think, but I’d had several cocktails) LAB Bar in London in the past. While we sipped on our Negroni Swizzle (mine) and a White Russian (guess who) which was served on a huge ice rock with a floated layer of cream, Nick shared his story with us and made us feel super welcome.
Finally we have to thank McGee’s on 55th St, the bar that inspired MacLaren’s in How I Met Your Mother, and on Monday nights they have a special cocktail and drinks menu to match the TV Show. Were they making complex craft cocktails? No. Did they make us feel like VIPs? They did, and thats’ all you can ask. Thanks to all the team!