We’re once again coming to you from New York City for this week’s article, and the bar we’re featuring this time is a highly-regarded West Village haunt hidden behind what appears at first glance to be a small palm-reading establishment. Employees Only is a little different from Death and Company, featured last week. While similar in size, it’s far more active, because it allows patrons to stand, rather than only letting in enough people to fill its seats. As a result, it can get crazy in there, but don’t let that stop you from visiting; the craziness is half the fun.
Employees Only was founded by a group of bar veterans, and they’ve trained their staff well. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting principal bartender Steve Schneider, a former marine who now slings cocktails at about a hundred miles an hour, pouring, mixing, and shaking with both hands simultaneously (he’s won several “fastest bartender” championships, won the Cocktail World Cup in 2012, and was the subject of a documentary in 2013). Don’t let the speed fool you … the cocktails here are beautifully balanced and expertly crafted, all without using jiggers for measurement. Nearly everything is done with speed pourers and careful eyeballing of proportions, along with ubiquitous tasting – we saw Steve use a straw to take a tiny taste of every single drink he made while we were there.
The other bartenders were just as fast, and the three moved behind the bar in something that almost resembled a dance. It really was remarkable, like attending a show. It’s a very different and much more active scene from most of the other watering holes I’ve spent time in, and was a welcome change of pace. If you’re in town, make sure to stop by. They take reservations for tables, or you can try your luck at snagging a seat at the bar (or standing behind it).
I’m featuring two drinks here today because both were absolutely delicious. One of these drinks, the High Octane, is spirituous, spicy, and complex – sort of a Manhattan / Old Fashioned hybrid that really brings more to the table than either of those cocktails. The Lazy Lover is a citrusy cachaça drink that uses two herbal liqueurs with surprising effectiveness. The jalapeño-infused green Chartreuse, in particular, is a revelation, giving the drink a spicy kick without masking the other flavors. I’ve included Steve’s instructions below for how to do the infusion.
The drinks at Employees Only are a result of the efforts of the entire staff, with rigorous testing and iterating done by everyone involved to settle on a final recipe. This results in cocktails that manage to walk a high-ingredient tightrope with perfect balance. As with the Death and Company article, I’m including the exact liquor specifications, but unlike that article, I’m not making any less-expensive suggestions in parentheses. The reason? Most of the ingredients here aren’t particularly bank-breaking, and a huge chunk can’t really be replaced (e.g. there’s no substitute for Benedictine). If you happen to have a different rum or cachaça on hand, though, feel free to use them!
- 1.25 oz. Don Pancho Origenes 8 Year Rum
- 1.25 oz. Cocchi Torino Sweet Vermouth
- .75 oz. Grand Mariner
- .25 oz. Laphroaig 10 Year Scotch
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 2 dashes Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled, ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
- 1.75 oz. Leblon Cachaça
- .5 oz. Benedictine
- .25 oz. Agave Syrup
- .25 oz. Jalapeño-infused Green Chartreuse
- .75 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.
To make the jalapeño-infused green Chartreuse, cut two jalapeño peppers into slices about 1/8th inch thick, and combine them in a saucepan with a full 750 ml bottle of green Chartreuse. Warm over low heat until just below a simmer, kill the heat, let cool, and strain back into the bottle. If you’re only making enough for a single cocktail, then one or two slices of pepper should do it.