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Boston Bartenders Reflect on the First Cocktails They Learned to Make

Cocktail Week continues with nostalgia about martinis made for grandfathers, ubiquitous 90s cosmos, and more.

Brittany Casos"Cosmo. This was the 90s, people!" —Brittany Casos, beverage director at Coppa


Brooke Vandecar"A Black Russian for my dad. Apparently I made it just right every time." —Brooke Vandecar, beverage director at Rosa Mexicano


Greg Neises"An espresso-based cocktail named The Chocolate Covered Cherry." —Greg Neises, bartender at Tico


Patrick Sullivan"Aviation. There was a certain amount of Indiana Jones-type of archaeology (or "al-cheology") in finding Maraschino Liqueur in the mid 90s. I remember seeing a bottle on a dusty shelf in a bar in Manhattan in 1996 or so. I asked the bartender if he had any lemons in the house. Five minutes later, I'm behind the bar squeezing lemons and making my (and the bartender's) first Aviation. A great moment in my life." —Patrick Sullivan, executive director of bar operations for the Legal Sea Foods brands

Paulo Pereira"A Sidecar. I was looking through a cocktail book at my father's home bar, and this is when I decided to make myself one. If it were today, I'd probably skip the sugared rim, though." —Paulo Pereira, beverage director at Brass Union


Nick Giannotti"Sazerac." —Nick Giannotti, bar manager of The Tip Tap Room


Rob Haberek"That same poor Old Fashioned, unfortunately." —Rob Haberek, bartender at Forum, referencing the first cocktail he remembers drinking


Katie Mae Dell Isola"A Cosmo; every bartender should know how to make a perfect one." —Katie Mae Dell Isola, bar manager at Haru


Dan Greenough"Manhattan." —Dan Greenough, food & beverage manager of all Burtons Grill locations


Kevin Murphy"Rusty nail." —Kevin Murphy, operations manager of Deuxave


Ryan Lotz"A VERY poorly-made Sazerac." —Ryan Lotz, bar manager at No. 9 Park


Vikram Hegde"When I started out at the Cheesecake Factory, it was all about the Sour Apple Martini. We sold the hell out of those; sticky sweet and neon green! It wasn’t until a few years later that I tried Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli’s Prospect Park cocktail at Eastern Standard that I realized how elegant and refined a cocktail could be and still taste good." —Vikram Hegde, bartender at Sarma

Jake Kress"Margarita." —Jake Kress, bar Manager at Grill 23 & Bar


Michael Cottens"The first cocktails I learned to make were frozen drinks. I first bartended summers on Block Island, and Mudslides are the signature drink of the island there." —Michael Cottens, bartender at The Merchant


Moira Toomey"Manhattan." —Moira Toomey, bartender at Gather


Kaitlena Cash"The first cocktail I remember learning how to make was a pear martini. Well, professionally anyways. I've been making margaritas (tequila and juice) for years." —Kaitlena Cash, bartender at Anthem Kitchen + Bar


Sal Gesamondo"I don’t recall a specific drink; however, there is an instance that has been burned into my memory. When I was first promoted from bar-back to bartender, my general manager Shawn Ahern and director of operations Stephen Desousa pulled me into the office and handed me a two-page list of all different cocktails, shots, and martinis in addition to our house cocktails. Overwhelmed, I remember asking when I had to know all these drinks by. Without skipping a beat Shawn replied, ‘When do you need to know those drinks by? Two weeks ago and you better get studying.’" —Sal Gesamondo, operations manager of Tavern in the Square

Giulio Favuzza"A Brandy Alexander - I was just training to become a bartender, and a guest ordered a Brandy Alexander, which is an old drink that even the bartender I was training with didn't know how to make! We asked the guest and looked it up." —Giulio Favuzza, beverage manager of Red Heat Tavern

Lauren Hayes

"Honestly I can't remember. I do remember that the hardest thing for me to learn was to stir properly. For some reason I just could not hold a bar spoon correctly for an embarrassingly long time." —Lauren Hayes, head bartender at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain

Molly Woodhouse"At [the first fine dining restaurant I bussed tables in], I began bartending there well before the legal drinking age, and I remember the owner first giving me a crash course in the difference between a well, call, and premium spirit selection. Then showing me how to make an Old Fashioned — including the maraschino cherry — and teaching me that the appropriate portions should be counted rather than measured." —Molly Woodhouse, general manager and beverage director of Vida Cantina in Portsmouth (and an alum of The Butcher Shop and Menton)

Ian Nal"Rum Punch — rum and fruit juices." —Ian Nal, general manager and beverage director of Fish Restaurant & Wine Bar in Marlborough


Jenna Pollock"A White Russian. I saw it on a diner menu and was so intrigued. I think I drank them for like two years straight. However, I learned to make my first shot prior to that, and it was a Kamikaze." —Jenna Pollock, bar director at Nebo


Augusto Lino"Caipirinha when I was in Brazil. And in high school I was known for making an amazing pineapple and malibu." —Augusto Lino, bartender at Hungry Mother


Brian Mantz"Manhattan. This is also the first cocktail I learned how to make properly, but that was several years later." —Brian Mantz, bar manager at Wink & Nod


Colin Kiley"My first bar shift was brunch, so Bloody Mary. Hardest part was to not get it all over me. I'm still working on that…" —Colin Kiley, bartender at Puritan & Company


Libby Spencer"A Manhattan. Still my favorite." —Libby Spencer, bar manager at Deep Ellum


Tom Tellier"Jack & Coke." —Tom Tellier, beverage director for Restaurant dante and both locations of il Casale


Tyler Wolters"My first bartending job was at the Oread Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas. Its bar was called The Bird Dog, and my uniform was a pair of polyester khakis and a black polo. The manager's name was Burt, and at my first interview Burt asked me — in order — my name, where I was from, and if I knew how to make a Cosmopolitan. I had no idea what a Cosmo was, so Burt proceeded to show me. ‘You think you can do that?’ Burt asked, and when I said yes, he hired me on the spot. The only cocktails I ever made at the Bird Dog were martinis, Manhattans, and of course, Cosmopolitans." —Tyler Wolters, bartender at Firebrand Saints and Brick & Mortar

Emmet Kelty"The first cocktail I really remember making is a Sazerac. I had made a gazillion shots and drinks before this, but there was something about the process of putting together a Sazerac (thank you Brendan Sweeney) that was particularly memorable." —Emmet Kelty, lead bartender at 51 Lincoln

Todd Lipman"A Negroni — and it’s still my favorite." —Todd Lipman, head sommelier at Bistro du Midi


Christine Kerow"Pearl Harbour (vodka, Midori, pineapple juice)." —Christine Gerow, director of restaurant & bar at the Westin Waltham-Boston's Seventy at Third Avenue


Sam Treadway"Lemon Drop at the Boston Bartender School of America in Nashua, NH." —Sam Treadway, bar manager at Backbar


Seth Freidus"A Cosmopolitan when I was 17." —Seth Freidus, beverage director at Alden & Harlow


Gina Richard"I think it was an Old Fashioned." —Gina Richard, head bartender at Island Creek Oyster Bar


Will Isaza"A gin martini (Temple Bar, Cambridge, MA)." —Will Isaza, bartender at Fairsted Kitchen


Sean Woods"The Screwdriver." —Sean Woods, bar manager at Ribelle


Ian Strickland"The first cocktail I learned to make is also the first one I always teach, the Manhattan. One of my heroes, a Mr. Josh Childs, always said EVERY cocktail is a just a play on a Manhattan, and I have always agreed." —Ian Strickland, head bartender at Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar

Naomi Levy"It wasn't the first I learned to make, but it was the first that took me outside of the world of sour mix and Island Oasis machines, and that was a Caipirinha." —Naomi Levy, bar manager at Eastern Standard


Katie Emmerson"Margarita [working at a restaurant in Manhattan]. I think the first time I tried I forgot the lime juice." —Katie Emmerson, bar manager at The Hawthorne


Ezra Star"The first cocktail I remember making is a hard thing to answer, if we are not considering vodka and orange juice, or Long Island iced teas, which I made many of at house parties with friends many years ago. I would say the first real cocktail (or at least classic) was a French 75 with vodka, on a booze cruise. The guy who ordered it was probably someone I would now revere but at the time, I thought "Who is this guy ordering this bullshit?" He walked me through every step of the process, and I hated every minute of it." —Ezra Star, general manager at Drink

Paul Manzelli"Beefeater Martinis on the rocks for my dad and Southern Comfort Highballs for my grandpa." —Paul Manzelli, bartender at Bergamot


Jared Sadoian"The first house party we threw had a Jack Rose on our menu. That was eye-opening. And eye-closing, when my shaker tins separated and turned my white shirt a lovely shade of blotchy pink." —Jared Sadoian, head bartender and beverage director of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

Evan Kelly"A Rye Manhattan, and it tasted terrible." —Evan Kenney, head bartender at West Side Lounge


Jonathan Mendez"Hurricane…and I still love trashy blender drinks. #notsorry #theblenderisbroken" —Jonathan Mendez, beverage director and bartender at TRADE


Tenzin Samdo"Margarita." —Tenzin Konchok Samdo, head barman at TRADE


Michael Florence"My first real bar job was at a piano bar in a Leona Helmsley hotel in Lexington, Kentucky. Our most prominent libations were of course frozen strawberry "daiquiris," Grasshoppers, and Brandy Alexander. Mercifully a couple times a year big business horse dealers would take over my bar, and thanks to one of those guests, a fellow named John from London, in between multi-million dollar horse sales he taught me how to make a proper Manhattan & Old Fashioned." — Michael Florence, bar manager at Ole

"It was either a Sazerac or a Jack Rose. Jackson Cannon taught me how to make a Jack Rose through a video I found online. I remember being so amazed that grenadine was made from pomegranates and not cherries that I went out and made a gallon. He might have also made a video about Sazeracs because I can clearly remember an empty bottle of Sazerac 6yr rye and my Peychaud-stained fingertips." —Tyler Wang, bartender at Audubon

"The first cocktail I learned to make was a Kamikaze. We made them with my roommates in my early twenties long before I got behind a bar. We had them frozen or in shots at numerous parties and gatherings. It is a very simple blend of vodka, lime juice and triple sec." —Rob Dunn, bar manager at Lineage

"White Russian." —Taso Papatsoris, bartender at Casa B

"A Cosmopolitan." —Ashish Mitra, bar manager at Russell House Tavern

"Absolut Cosmo during the Sex and the City craze." —Erica Petersiel, general manager at No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits

"Manhattan." —Ryan McGrale, beverage director at Tavern Road

"A Cape Codder." —Tom Dargon, assistant general manager of BOKX 109

"The first time I went to Eastern Standard in 2007 and had a Sazerac, I had to learn all about what I had just drank and how to make it. They were even kind enough to sell me a bottle of Peychaud's to take home." —Alex Howell, bar manager of Bondir

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