After doing my first post in the series, Banter with Bartenders, I came up with a mental list of bartenders that I’d like to interview, but today’s post came about organically. It was a Friday night and I wanted to go out for a cocktail and dinner in my neighborhood. I didn’t want to walk too far in the cold, so my husband suggested a bar in the Lipstick Building. I had walked by this place many times and never took note of it. After all, it was a bar carved out of a piece of a lobby of an office building. Nothing promising there.
I imagined it would be loud and difficult to have a conversation as the space was cavernous and made almost exclusively of glass and stone. I figured it was just a convenient place for after work Happy Hour – draft beers, ordinary wines, and cocktails made with bottled sour mix. I was wrong.
I entered Crimson and Rye and sat down in the empty seat next to my husband which was right in front of the bartender’s prep station. Lemon grass and other herbs, about 20 different bottles with hand written labels featuring familiar names like Antica Formula and Falernum on them were neatly lined up. The bartender was completely immersed in his work, carefully crafting each cocktail, swiftly moving from bottle to ice to shaker then glass. A lemon twist was treated with exceptional care to ensure its oils were applied to the glass. Tweezers were used to pluck Luxardo cherries from a jar. After watching the bartender go about his business for a few minutes, my mental alarm sounded… “DING DING DING!”… I need to find out about this guy and do a post on him! I immediately ordered a Vesper and took the opportunity to introduce myself and request an interview.
The next day I returned to Crimson and Rye which, as the name suggests, is a whiskey bar with over 50 kinds of whiskies that’s dedicated to craft cocktails. It was opened by renowned chef Charlie Palmer in July of 2014 who said (in an interview with the Wall Street Journal), “I wanted to create this craft bar right in the middle of the area so it’s convenient for people who work here.” A craft cocktail bar right in my very own “backyard” and I didn’t even know it. And the bartender who impressed me so was Mcson Salicetti, who I learned is a “Bar Manager – Mixologist and Beverage Consultant” and very passionate about what he does.
Q1: What was the first cocktail you ever made?
Believe it or not, it was actually a mojito. (laughs) A mojito is actually funny because I was working as a bar back when I was 17 or 18 (I had a fake ID) and one day the bartender didn’t come to work so I had to fill in. At the time, all of the ladies were asking for Cosmos and I said, “Ladies, I’m sorry, but tonight is very special, I’m Latino and we’re having Mojitos!”. It was the only thing I knew how to make really well so I basically didn’t give them any choice!
Q2: Bartender or Mixologist? Which do you prefer?
Bartender. I’ve always been a bartender. A bartender to me has always been somebody that entertains you. Makes you smile, or just leaves you alone if that’s what you want. They give a cocktail promptly, but a good cocktail. All of those things mean a bartender. I’m a mixologist, sure, I will make you the best cocktail I can, but I will entertain you and make you smile. I’ll please you and give you what you came here for. I want you to want to come back here again, I want you to come see me again, not only for the great cocktail but for the good time you had with me.
Q3: How do you know when a customer has had too much to drink and how do you cut them off?
That’s a tricky question except for the obvious. We see this every day. There’s the passive aggressive ones, the aggressive in your face ones, the falling asleep ones. But the way I know is based on experience. Some you have to treat very softly and gently, it’s about knowing how to read your customer.
Q4a: What do you drink when you’re off duty?
Negroni, negroni, I’m sorry, it’s just negroni!! Even though I’m a scotch drinker and I love a neat single malt, for a cocktail it’s negroni.
Q4b: How do you make your Negroni?
For my negroni I use half Aperol, half Campari, three quarters Antica Formula, a dash of regular Dolin Red, about an ounce and a half of Brooklyn Gin, Junipero, or Barr Hill Gin which I like because it’s very juniper forward, and I like to add a dash of orange bitters, and garnish with either orange or grapefruit peel. It’s a drink that’s always great in your stomach if it’s before you eat, after you eat, it’s a freaking great drink.
Q5: What are five things you think every home bar should have?
Definitely a nice whisky, a nice single malt, a rye, bitters, fresh limes and herbs, any herb, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, basil. With that you’re good to go. You can make an excellent drink out of anything. If you have wine you can add herbs to wine, a little club soda and you have a great spritz, if you will. If you have sugar and lime you can always make a daiquiri, with sugar and bitters you can make an old fashioned. Oh yeah, and probably a sweet vermouth.
And, of course, I had to ask about the name. Mcson. How do you pronounce it? MAK-son. And it really is his given name. I had never heard that name before and he said, “Me neither!! My mother’s a nut! I love her!” Well, we may not have heard the name before, but I think it’s one we’ll be hearing a lot more in the New York bar scene.