Pretty in drink

Leave the whites to the chefs-the mixologist is the food world's fashion icon of the moment. Here's what it takes to be a cocktail geek...or just look like one.

Photograph: Beth Levendis

Behind-the-bar style hasn't been so distinct since the 19th-century. "Bartenders were once superstars," says Imbibe! author David Wondrich. "They wore stickpins in the front of their shirts and diamond rings on every finger." Today's look—equal parts saloon hand and Prohibition-era drinksmith—has been forged by latter-day liquor mavens as part of the revival of a bygone booze culture. But don't expect to see it on female pros. "Women weren't bartending back then," explains Flatiron Lounge owner Julie Reiner. "I'm not going to be wearing any Victorian garb." Foppish as the getup is, it does combine both utility and show. Below, Toby Maloney, the beverage director at Rusty Knot, models his own clothes and deconstructs the fashion—with a little help from Reiner and Wondrich, as well as Milk and Honey owner Sasha Petraske and barman Jim Meehan (PDT).


Photograph: Beth Levendis

Hat


Though they are considered taboo among barkeeps, Maloney assures us that this stingy brim hat (named for its narrow rim) is strictly an outdoor look. Says Reiner: "It is considered very rude to wear a hat behind the bar. Back in the day, to wear one inside at all was considered absolutely insulting. If you're going to wear the period outfit, then you should also take that into consideration."

Facial hair


"This is a real 19th-century thing: artistically cultivated facial hair," explains Wondrich. "It's not about the shape of the hair so much as a profusion of it. There should be a lot, but it's got to be sculpted a little bit. You can be creative—the muttonchops, the long, pointy waxed mustache—but it can't look hippie and it can't look too restrained.... Dal would have made a great bartender."


Photographs: Beth Levendis

Vest


"One of the main reasons to wear a vest is that if you're wearing a tie, it doesn't dip into the cocktails you're making," explains Meehan. Petraske, who is often credited with reviving the classic look among the New York crowd, adds, "You should certainly have a tiepin if you are not wearing a vest. Tucking the tie into the top of the shirt is not okay."


Photograph: Beth Levendis

Tie


"The tie is purely ornamental," says Maloney. "I prefer a wide tie with a double Windsor knot. It needs to look like an hourglass... It's all about the 'Vicious V' [the V-shaped indentation achieved with a perfectly knotted tie]. If you don't get the V, you retie it, even if you're late."

Shirt


Maloney opts out of a bartender standby, the arm garter: an elastic or metal band that would allow him to hold up his sleeves without rolling them. "They remind me of a time past when men accessorized in a way that was functional," says Meehan. "It's gotten lost in the spandex society." There's a standard for when the sleeves are down, too. As modeled here by Maloney, Petraske advises that "two-and-a-quarter-inch cuffs are the way forward." Cuff links, like the ones seen here, complete the look.


Photograph: Beth Levendis

Watch


Yes, there's a watch attached to the end of that fob. And like most of the getup, it's not just ornamental. "This keeps it safe and away from and abuse," says Maloney.


Photograph: Beth Levendis

Pants


"I'm a big fan of Hollywood trousers—they come up to your belly button, are quite baggy and don't have belt loops," says Petraske. "A lot of our bartenders have them made at inexpensive places on Forsythe Street. Pleats are a must unless you are incredibly skinny. The worst possible look is when the shirt becomes slightly untucked. With the old-style pants that can't happen." Wondrich sees it differently: "You're behind the bar, so people don't see your pants unless you're doing the Tom Cruise, jumping on the bar and shaking. That would be frowned upon—a certain dignity is required."


Photograph: Beth Levendis

Shirt stays


"Toby was the first to tell me about the shirt stays," Meehan recalls. "You attach them to the ends of your shirt and to your socks.... [They] keep the top in place when you are shaking or reaching for bottles on high shelves. I buy mine at the police supply store. Brooks Brothers doesn't have these things."

Shoes


"The two-toned shoes are not practical," says Reiner. "You need something that can get completely soaking wet and destroyed." Maloney confirms: "You wear your nice shoes in and out [of the establishment], but you don't want to ruin them. Behind the bar I wear the biggest, clunkiest, steel-toed Red Wing boots I can find."

But wait, there's more! Click to see what's in Maloney's bag of tricks.

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