HOUSE POUR: LEGENDARY BARTENDERS OF NYC
It’s not always about the drinks, sometimes what keeps us coming back is the barman who’s pouring, shaking, and stirring them. Juggling celebrity clientele and bottles of spirits in equal measure, downtown bartenders Roger Jazilek, Peter Pavia and Peter Ruppert have spent plenty of time behind the bars of Tribeca’s Paul’s Cocktail Lounge, West Village’s Waverly Inn, and the East Village’s Lucien, respectively. We consider the three witty, delightful legends of the downtown bar scene, the integral components that give their venues’ repeat visitor appeal—manners maketh man, and man maketh the bar, right? They were gracious enough to share with us some of their loves, hates, and secrets. Sidle up!
The UK-born Roger Jazilek (pictured above, front and center) boasts some 40-plus years of experience—“Where’s my gold watch?” he jokes—that started with a private London club. His first NYC place of employ was One Fifth on Eighth Street, and he’s since worked at Il Bucco, Waverly Inn, and Balthazar.
Fun Fact: Jazilek is also a fine art painter and photographer.
What’s your signature drink?
Roger Jazilek: Margaritas. I have a fantasy of moving to the Caribbean and getting a shack on the beach and only serving margaritas.
Which classic cocktail would you love to see back in fashion?
RJ: The Sidecar. We put sugar around the rim. It’s like a margarita with brandy. I used to make those at Waverly. And Manhattans, Martinis.
Who’s your most famous regular?
RJ: Mike Myers used to come in quite a bit and get vodka sodas. I always thought he was doing research, but then he disappeared. I always hope maybe he’ll put me in a movie.
Which cocktail kills you a little bit inside when you get the request?
RJ: Anything with honey. That’s a disaster. It freezes up with ice. Any cocktail that has 15 ingredients. Especially if it’s really busy! All the good classic cocktails have, like, three ingredients. We do one at Paul’s called Bisou Bisou—‘kiss kiss’ in French. It’s rosé wine in a big snifter, Aperol, Pamplemousse, a grapefruit liquor, and prosecco with mint and strawberry. It’s a good drink and all the girls love it. It’s simple to make, but difficult when it’s really busy and there are five people screaming ‘give me three of these and four of those’ at 2:30am, but we do it.
Have you ever been told something completely insane by a guest?
RJ: Mostly people expect advice, they say something like, “What do you think about this girl, I might marry her.” Most of these people are looking to me for stories. Life stories. If I have time, of course.
What do you like to order when you go out for a drink?
RJ: I never get cocktails. After working in a bar for so many years, I only drink champagne, red wine, tequila, sometimes in a margarita, and single malt scotch on the rocks.
Hailing from Rochester, NY, Pavia was lured out of “bartender retirement” almost twelve years ago when a friend, Waverly Inn’s bar manager, offered him the gig. “I was pretty much done with bartending at that point, but there was no way to turn this down,” says the veteran of Arlene’s Grocery, Match, Match Uptown, and Lucky Strike on Grand Street.
Fun Fact: Pavia is also a published book author.
How would you describe your style?
PP: Someone said, “Peter will warm up to you eventually if he thinks you’re worth it.”
What’s your signature drink, and do you have any favorite spirits?
PP: I don’t invent anything. I stick to classics, the three M’s: Margaritas, Manhattans, and Martinis. I love Greenhook Gin. It’s distilled in Greenpoint Brooklyn and the quality of the product is excellent. It makes a fantastic gin and tonic.
What about a cocktail you dread being asked to make?
PP: The thing that’s most annoying is when a guest comes in and asks for a drink that’s on somebody else’s house cocktail list. Like something they invented at Milk and Honey and I never heard of. You’re kind of limited by the number of ingredients you have on hand.
Although I know discretion rules at Waverly Inn, can you share any wow moments or anecdotes about high profile guests?
PP: I will tell you this. Every manner of celebrity has been through that place. Politics, business, Hollywood. But the one night that really stands out [was the night] Karl Lagerfeld walked in and the room hushed. I’ve never seen that before or since. And Michael Bloomberg, regardless of what you think of him politically, is a very, very gracious man.
Born in Patterson, NJ, Ruppert cut his teeth at Meatpacking District’s legendary Pastis before shifting over to Lucien when it closed in 2014. Regulars at the cozy restaurant/bar include Marisa Tomei, Norman Reedus, Chloe Sevigny, and Sam Rockwell.
Fun Fact: Ruppert’s first job in NYC was working for director John Waters.
What is your signature drink?
PR: I love classics. Simple ingredients that are the right quality. I never try to make cocktails that outsmart the customer. Give them what they want. I like to experiment once in a while if someone wants me to be creative. But if you live in NYC, and bring your mom here, and she wants a Cosmo, make her a Cosmo! Same with your dad. If he wants a Rob Roy, give him one. I am a strong believer in classics being classic for a reason.
What about cocktails that make you bristle when ordered?
PR: The Long Island Iced Tea. I try not to be judgmental, but one time out of ten, the person who orders it is nothing but trouble. It’s one way of saying, “I want to get too drunk to hang out here or any bar in NYC.”
Which bartenders inspire you?
PR: Peter Lugers’. They’re like Disney cartoon bartenders; they’re the best! I asked for a J&B on the rocks and was told, “The only person who drank that at this bar is dead and you’ll never drink it here!” You know there’s a story involved that could take up the afternoon. It’s a hard no, and it’s because you’re not dead.
Has a guest ever told you something completely insane while having a drink?
PR: Mostly lies. People lie to bartenders like crazy. The more times they go to the bathroom, the more fantastical the story. But once someone told me, with startling sobriety, that they stabbed a person and wasn’t sure if they lived or died. They said they robbed them and I was the first person they told about it. It was falling out of his face because he was on his seventh whiskey. Normally I don’t believe those stories, but that time I did.
What’s your advice for someone contemplating a career in bartending?
PR: I think that having a knowledge of spirits and lagers and ales and wines, it’s as much of the deal as how to be personable, how to make people happy, how to create an environment. Contribute something to people’s lives, because any monkey can do this job. I could have learned how to keep books, and I can make as much money as guys doing that and live a quality of life that I like.
WORDS Lawrence Ferber
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Paul’s Cocktail Lounge