Each week, we dive into the world of NYC bars and meet the drink-shaking players behind them. From the latest cocktailing trends to crazy stories on the job, these are the Bartender Tales of New York City.
Meaghan Montagano, bar manager, La Sirena
What is your signature drink?
The Negroni della Casa. Instead of using Campari, I use a house blend of different amaros and bitters. One is a Elisir Novasalus Vino Amaro, which I use to give a lighter, more citrus-forward profile. The drink is definitely an ode to the classic, but you can have three to five of these, whereas a Negroni can be heavy. It goes with our food really well, and it’s dangerously chuggable.
How did you get into bartending?
I grew up in the industry—my aunt and uncle owned a restaurant in New Jersey, so I started bussing tables at age 11. Later I was a fashion and advertising photographer, but the recession gave me a giant reboot. I love to cook and drink, so I found my calling through bartending.
What was your first serious cocktail-bar gig?
Hotel Griffou. It was an underground speakeasy supper club on West 9th Street. Johnny Swet did the program there—he’s like my Mr. Miyagi.
How did you go about creating the Italian cocktails for La Sirena?
A lot of research and trial and error. For example, in our Fennel Margarita, I took that classic Italian fennel flavor, thought it went naturally with Cointreau and put it into the category of margarita. I wanted to delve into the Italian cuisine but not hit people over the head with the fact that we’re an Italian restaurant, so it’s more about hints and subtleties.
What’s your favorite thing about bartending?
Every day is different and has a new set of challenges. You’re constantly on your feet and the pace always changes. Also, the people in this industry are amazing.
What’s your biggest customer pet peeve?
If I ask someone, “Would you like to open a tab?” and they say no but keep buying one drink at a time and closing out each time. When you’re slammed, this just makes your eye twitch.
Have any crazy bar stories?
Being a sober bartender, I just get to watch people get really drunk and let their hair down. When I worked at Extra Fancy, it was just a lot of people dancing, letting their inhibitions go to the wayside—it’s my favorite thing ever.
Photograph: Zandy Mangold