By Jordana Rothman and Chris Schonberger
Cocktail pioneer Dale DeGroff is fond of saying that people visit the bartender, not the bar. In that spirit, we present the men and women who make our favorite cocktail joints shine.
The talent: Frank Cisneros
Where to find him: Fridays and Saturdays at Dram (177 South 4th St between Driggs Ave and Roebling St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-486-3726, drambar.com); off and on at the Drink (228 Manhattan Ave between Grand and Maujer Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-782-8463, thedrinkbrooklyn.com)
Why you’ll dig him: Stroll into Dram or the Drink, and you’ll notice a few things missing: No velvet rope. No reserved tables. No $16 drinks. As a key conspirator in the creation of both paradigm-shifting spots, Cisneros has a lot to do with that. Despite his reverence for classic tipples, the pragmatic barkeep knows that stuffy exclusivity doesn’t always help to get the party started—an instinct forged while experimenting with beakers and infusions at the divey Bushwick Country Club. He went on to solidify his skills working with Damon Boelte at Prime Meats, but now he’s found his calling: bringing great cocktails to the masses.
He says: “If you want to do bartender’s choice, that’s cool, but keep it reasonable. Don’t say, ‘I want something sweet but savory but spicy but sour…with vodka and chocolate and tuna!’ No one is that good.”
We had the pleasure of having Frank Cisneros visit us here at New York Bartending School for a seminar On Bols Genever. He is not only a Brand Ambassador for Lucas Bols Spirits but also Mixologist/Bartender at Dram and The Drink. We had a great time and I’d highly suggest visiting him at either of the bars he works at. Find out more info below on each bar. Cheers.
This airy Williamsburg bar is New York’s first truly progressive cocktail joint—a casual mixology haven with stools to spare for drinkers of all persuasions. The lighthearted but exquisitely executed menu changes according to the whims of Dram’s precocious barkeeps. The Mighty Tux is a botanical balancing act, with crisp gin, bittersweet maraschino liqueur, and both dry and sweet vermouth lending body and depth. There are classics, too—like a beautifully integrated Sazerac—but you can also take your boozing cues from the neighborhood dudes draining $4 Porkslap ales or sipping from a smart collection of international wines. It’s this egalitarian tack that will keep the place packed—whether or not its patrons appreciate Italian bitters and Kold-Draft ice cubes.
New York City has officially established itself as a cradle of enlightened tippling, with nerd-baiting bars popping up faster than flyaways in a handlebar mustache. But this egalitarian drinkery has bested them all, earning your votes over haute cocktail dens (Weather Up Tribeca) and tropical boîtes (Lani Kai, Painkiller). Credit owner Thomas Chadwick and barkeeps like Frank Cisneros, whose meticulous hands turn out flawless drinks: classics, such as a sublimely balanced Hemingway daiquiri, and vivid original cocktails that toe the tiki line as gracefully as they deploy Italian bitters and eaux-de-vie. Huddled in a deep window seat, you marveled at colossal swizzles; at glacial ice cubes softening your rye old-fashioned’s exquisite sting. And yet for all its finesse, Dram is still a damn fun place to hang out—it has an earnest x-factor that, more than any behind-the-bar wizardry, truly makes the place crackle. 177 South 4th St between Driggs Ave and Roebling St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-486-3726, drambar.com)
Williamsburg has long been a stronghold of the old-timey fad—witness the 19th-century-style saloons crowding the neighborhood’s noisy avenues. So it’s unexpected that the area is the site of a watershed moment in the most durable arm of the retro trend: the speakeasy. The opening of Dram signals a paradigm shift in the world of thoughtful boozing: Here we have New York’s first truly progressive cocktail joint—a casual mixology haven with stools to spare for drinkers of all persuasions. It’s instantly apparent that there are no clandestine conceits at Dram: Giant windows lined with deep benches open onto the street, and while the music can be heard from a block away, it’s reggae and indie rock spilling onto the sidewalk—not ragtime. And then there’s the list of summery cocktails that changes according to the whims of Dram’s precocious barkeeps. (Full disclosure: This reviewer was recognized at the bar during our final visit.) Lighthearted but exquisitely executed, the menu is an antidote to the seriousness that defines the haute cocktail scene. Rust-colored with Angostura, the tiki-leaning Behind God’s Back gets its warm, nutty flavor from aged rum, cane syrup, pineapple, cinnamon and milky house-made orgeat (a syrup made with almonds and orange flower-water). The Mighty Tux is a botanical balancing act, with crisp gin, bittersweet maraschino liqueur, bitters, and both dry and sweet vermouth lending body and depth. There are classics, too—a beautifully integrated Sazerac; a bitter Negroni bobbing with a giant spiral of orange zest. The cocktail geeks swishing jenever at the bar share real estate with neighborhood dudes draining $4 Porkslap ales and couples sipping from a smart collection of international wines (one of Dram’s barkeeps, Frank Cisneros, is also a sommelier). It’s this egalitarian tack that will keep the place packed, whether or not its patrons appreciate Italian bitters and Kold-Draft ice cubes. And though the bar currently offers no food, its proximity to fried chicken joint Pies ’n’ Thighs makes it an easy place to while away an evening, hopping back and forth across South 4th Street. While some cocktail aesthetes may still be clinging to speakeasy culture, for the rest of us, accessible Dram is a giant step forward.
Dram voted “Best New Cocktail Bar”
This maritime tavern trains its focus on the communal pleasures of punch. Frank Cisneros (Dram) is behind the nightly punch-by-the-glass specials as well as large-format bowls for groups, including the Crusade—a fruity marriage of Old Monk Indian rum, citric rooibos Earl Grey tea from South Africa and a boatload of spices. Tea-stained navigational charts on the ceiling and nautical bric-a-brac rachet up the seafaring spirit, but the prices are a draw for landlubbers as well. Even the most basic well drinks ($6) deploy quality spirits such as Rhum Barbancourt, while five wooden taps dispense pedigreed suds—like Maine’s Geary’s Pale Ale—for just $4.