Raising the Bar

The city's cocktail culturati gather to exchange recipes.Photo: Jeremy Liebman

With the rise of $15 cocktails, a group of service professionals formerly known as bartenders are having a rock-star moment. Now called mixologists, they’re cashing in on the city’s endless thirst for pomegranatinis by working corporate jobs, writing books, and teaching classes.

“I’m getting older, and I was thinking, How much longer can I bartend?” says Rainlove Lampariello, who created Lure Fishbar’s sake martini (with litchi purée and muddled fresh cucumbers) as well as Lever House’s pineapple-sage daiquiri. “My family was always asking when I was going to get a job. I finally feel vindicated, but I never would have believed this would become such a big deal.’’

Julie Reiner, owner of the Flatiron Lounge and partner in the new Pegu Club, hosts $75-a-head lectures on “The History of Punch” and “Tiki Cocktails.” “I used to think bartending was about pouring beer and serving vodka tonics,” says student Philip Ward, 30, once an aspiring painter who now frames his creations in a glass. “This new cocktail culture is borderline art.”

Also reveling in the craze are Employees Only partners Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric, who charge $5,000 for a ten-week course in which students learn how to make bitters, create booze infusions, and whip up seasonal purées. At the end is the promise of a restaurant job or a cash prize from a liquor company, but the real draw is the opportunity to debate Sazerac recipes with the guys who invented the Provençal—a blend of lavender-infused gin and herbes de Provence–infused vermouth. “A lot of bartenders hang on our every word,” says Kosmas.

Joanna Psoroyannis, who runs the packed bar at Baraonda on the Upper East Side, remembers when “we used to come up with concoctions for the fun of it. Then SushiSamba opened up and everyone went there for the caipirinhas. Restaurants realized they could lure people in with signature drinks.’’

Aviram Turgeman, who concocted a pastis-rinsed, star-anise-graced martini as mixologist for Tour de France restaurants including Marseille and Nice Matin, says chic sips come to him in his sleep. “I read about the history of cocktails during the day and dream about recipes at night,” he says.

Other drinks are born in a test tube. Eben Klemm, 34, graduated from Cornell and MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research—and now he’s overseeing cocktail development for Steve Hanson’s fifteen restaurants and one hotel. “This job is so good, I’m afraid they might take it away,’’ he confesses. “For the first time in my professional life, I’m behind a desk.’’ He also has a book coming out—tentatively titled The Personal Bartender.

On a recent gin tour of London, Klemm had an epiphany about his newly fashionable profession. “I thought, This must have been what it was like for chefs in New York twenty years ago. Every day I think, How did I get here?

Raising the Bar