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Food + Drink

Behind the Scenes at the Best Cocktail Bar in NYC

If it's one thing New Yorkers are serious about, it's their alcohol. So we sat down with Jesse Vida, the head mixologist at BlackTail to get the inside scoop on one of the best cocktail bars in NYC.

Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.

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You work at one of the best cocktail bars in NYC. What do you enjoy most about it?

We’re not shy about wanting to be the best. We know there’s no such thing as perfection, but there is always room for improvement. So that’s how we push our staff, and every day is a new challenge. Plus, it’s just a fun space to be in.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened on the job?

Oh man, I have so many long stories. But nothing beats the time I had a guy vomit into one of my mixing glasses…

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That’s crazy! So, tell us, what are your favorite drinks to make?

Hands down, the martini. It’s an amazing conversation starter. Very rarely does somebody just say, “I want a martini” and that’s the end of it. It’s usually, “Ok, well, do you like gin or vodka? Olives or lemon twist? Dry or bitter?” And at Blacktail, I love making the highballs on our menu. The vodka celery is a pretty bangin’ cocktail.

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What are some cocktail trends you expect to see this year?

A more off-the-beat use of a popular cocktail ingredient: aquavit. It’s a caraway and dill-based Scandinavian/Nordic spirit. There’s a lot of good cocktail bars that have been using it, including Dead Rabbit and BlackTail, and it’s cool to see a spirit making a bigger splash.

How does BlackTail stand out in NYC’s epic bar scene?

It’s all about the history. The bar design takes classic pieces of 1920s Havana and implements them into our story. It’s very transporting—when you walk into BlackTail, you don’t feel like you’re in New York anymore. It’s like a tunnel into another time.

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We hear BlackTail does this special thing with postcards, can you tell us more about it?

We have 300 photos of Havana, Cuba shot by Vern Evans, and they’re exclusive to BlackTail. We took those pictures, printed them into postcards and we’ll send them anywhere in the world for you. It’s a cool way to bring back something from the past that’s very much a lost form of communication today.

What should I order on my first trip to BlackTail?

There are 56 cocktails on our menu, so we have something for everybody. The Nacional (banana, rum, fresh pineapple, lime, yuzu, gentian) is out of this world. It’s an adaptation on a classic cocktail that was named after the legendary Hotel Nacional in Havana. It’s super refreshing, tropical and slightly bitter on the finish. And because I can’t pick just one, I’d also say the rum and cola (fernet, homemade cola syrup, white rum, bitters, champagne). It’s nostalgic yet has a modern palette.

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What are your favorite places to grab drinks in the city (besides BlackTail, of course)?

Mona’s is the best little dive bar in Alphabet City. For cocktails, I love Attaboy, The NoMad, Death and Co., and Mother of Pearl. Black Crescent in the Lower East Side is also like my Cheers bar.

Which city in the world do you think has the best bar scene and why?

Call me biased, but I think New York pushes the envelope more than anywhere else. I’ve been lucky enough to travel for work so I’ve seen a lot of amazing bars, but New York still takes the cake.

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