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Portraits from the Bar

Portraits from the Bar


July 25, 2012

Illustration by Jill DeGroff Story by Richie Boccato

My mother, Marlene Boccato, is a native Brooklynite who has traversed the globe several times over and has earned several degrees from various institutions of higher learning. Somewhere along the way she managed to raise a rather reticent and rambunctious young man named Richard
during the 1970’s and 1980’s in New York City. She also happens to be the most independent, humble, and hard-working woman whom I have ever known–with the exception of my grandmother. And both of them are teetotalers. She is the salt of the earth, and a true blue collar veteran of the mean streets of Kings County.

One day during the nascent stages of my career as a barman in some of the world’s most heralded watering holes, I took it upon myself to show her some articles in which I received recognition for my vocational antics. She casually responded with the following remark:

“So you’re a bartender–what’s the big deal?”

The genuine sincerity and honest candor in her voice compelled me to immediately adopt those words as gospel. She was right; it really wasn’t such a big deal. At that moment it became clear to me that my ego was most definitely NOT the most important part of the equation between a thirsty customer standing at my bar and what they would eventually hold in their glass. That sense of importance I may have developed during my brief tenure behind the bar was immediately discarded. Forget the fanfare. I had a job to do. The truth is I should have known better. I started out as a doorman. Take it from me, there is much humility to be learned by standing alone on the sidewalk on many a cold winter’s night checking ID’s. But now I was earning a living trying to make my patrons feel good about parting with their coin in exchange for a fancy drink. If by some chance one or more of those paying customers happened to appreciate their experience to the extent they felt was noteworthy, then so be it–but no need to celebrate.

So that’s what my mother taught me about tending bar. Do a good job, and don’t take yourself too seriously. As for her thoughts on fancy ice cubes–she tells me that she thinks they are “cool.” True story.
– Richard Boccato

Jill DeGroff is the author and illustrator of “Lush Life; Portraits from the Bar”. To see more portraits from the bar, visit her online Rogues Gallery at

Portraits from the Bar


July 9, 2012

Illustration by Jill DeGroff Story by Doug Quinn

Thirty years ago when Dale and I decided to return to NY to get married (we were living on the West Coast at the time), the very first “joint” we had to visit was his favorite hang, PJ Clarke’s. Back then, Frank Conefrey manned the bar. Years later, a new bartender took the helm and Dale’s love affair with Clarke’s only grew stronger. Doug Quinn had a commanding presence. Dale marveled at his agility and speed at working a continually over crowded bar –making drinks while also greeting everyone, keeping the regulars happy, and maintaining that code of conduct that Dale holds sacred: friendliness, attentiveness, and treating customers with the utmost respect and dignity. That is Doug in a nutshell- and he takes it a step further in the way he skillfully introduces guests to one other, insuring everyone has a good time.

The recent incident at Clarke’s, in which Doug interceded when a hostile customer threatened some female guests at the bar, is a perfect example of the integrity he brings to the bar. Sadly the manager sided with the offending customer and when Doug took a stand, he told Doug to take a walk. Well, look out New York because one of our best bartenders will undoubtedly reappear before too long at a new joint we can all call home.

Here is a story that Doug once told when I asked him for a favorite tale for my book. It so perfectly illustrates who he is and why he is so loved by the community.

“One cold, damp, winter night, one of my semi-regulars, who looks remarkably like Grandpa Munster, managed to survive the evening until about 4:00 AM. I walked him out, put him in a cab and bid him a safe trip home. I gave him my business card and told him if he ever needed anything, to give me a call.

I returned to the bar, and among the napkins, matchbooks, and other discarded junk you find on the floor in a busy saloon I noticed a bank envelope. I picked it up, looked inside and found one hundred crisp hundred-dollar bills inside; ten grand in cash. Add that to what I made behind the bar that night- would have been a darn good night in any saloon. I started to think about who dropped the ten Gs and immediately thought of Grandpa Munster.

Ten minutes later my cell phone rings: “Hey Grandpa, did you happen to lose something, pal?”
“Yeah…’ he says: ‘I had an envelope with 100 hundred-dollar notes.”
“Got your envelope right here, I told him: ‘Go to sleep and come get it tomorrow, it’s safe.”

He came in the next day, took the cash, gave me a hearty handshake, and bolted. Some might say, the guy should have left a sizable tip- or ANY tip- let’s face it; I could have given myself a ten grand tip by saying there was no envelope. Who wouldn’t consider it?

The lesson is that you treat people the way you would like to be treated. That’s what I bring to work with me each day, that’s what helps create the magic.”
— Doug Quinn

Lucifer’s Whiskers
By Doug Quinn

1 oz. (30ml) Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz. (15ml) Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz. (15ml) Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz. (15ml) Grand Marnier
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1/2 oz. (15ml) Orange Juice
Shake over ice, serve chilled straight up in a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a flamed orange twist.

Jill DeGroff is the author and illustrator of “Lush Life; Portraits from the Bar”. To see more portraits from the bar, visit her online Rogues Gallery at

Portraits from the Bar


June 29, 2012

Illustration by Jill DeGroff, Story by Miguel Calvo

Wandering about the Loisada, marveling at the transformation of the neighborhood. I lived there thirty years ago, in a 5th floor walk up for which I paid $135 a month. Back in the day when Yerba Buena was something you surreptitiously procured on the street, lit up, and passed around to your buddies on the stoop.

I kept hearing about a wonderful little bar called Mayahuel and knew I must visit. Just as I was about to cross the street, I saw a familiar face. It was Miguel Calvo. I explain to Miguel my mission: I’ll take you there! says he.

So we walked up 6th street and entered this gorgeous little grotto of a bar, enveloped in exquisitely carved wood and mosaic tiled designs. Miguel ordered us two Palomas from the very capable bartender, Jose Mena, and they were sublime. He then began to tell me about his father, a story so richly woven, it could have been lifted from a Carlos Castaneda novel.

During the 1960’s, Miguel’s father, Wilfredo Calvo Bono, was an architect in Cuba who designed schools and hospitals. When he refused to join the Communist party, the government required that he work in the fields cutting sugar cane for two years. Finally permission was granted for him to leave the country. By this time his mother was seven months pregnant and would not have been allowed on the plane, so she wrapped herself in a girdle to hide her belly. Miguel was born prematurely soon afterwards. His parents immediately sought refuge with his aunt, “Auntie Doctura” a doctor who lived in Madrid. She took them in and there they lived for several years. During this time his dad, with no other means to support his family, began to make paintings to sell on the street. He painted one thing only and hundreds of them… mushrooms. Every single species of mushrooms that had ever been categorized –which he carefully rendered from a scientific volume he had procured. The paintings were small enough to fit into a suitcase. Tourists loved them and they sold extremely well.
By the time Miguel turned seven, they moved to Ohio, where his dad worked as an architect for many years. Now in his later years, his father has embarked on a most unusual project after receiving a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation – creating Mondrian-like designs chalked onto football fields by tractor, then photographed from above in a plane!

Miguel has been working in the hospitality and design industry for most of his life, from owning his first place, Global 33, to designing Stephen Starr’s first restaurant: The Continental Martini Bar.
If you were lucky enough to have attended the incredible William Grant & Sons party at the World War II Museum last year during Tales of the Cocktail, you’ll understand that Miguel creates multi dimensional events that are nothing short of spectacular. “I love the soul of an event and dreaming them up.” He tells me. “I create events where the marriage of drink, food, and design galvanize peoples’ senses.”

While completing this profile, I learned that Miguel is setting off to Colombia to work with the Wayu Indians to develop designs that have been accepted for the furniture store, West Elm. It is evident that from a creative and adventurous father came a son who not only followed suit, but continues to expand the medium- and possibly even change some lives.

Favorite Drink: the Papa Doble. “While building the rum bar at Cienfuegos, I had the great fortune to hear Charlotte Voisey explain rums in great detail. She reintroduced me to the Hemingway Daiquiri and rums in general.”

Papa Doble

2 oz White Rum
½ oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Grapefruit
1 oz Lime

Combine ingredients and shake well. Strain into chilled stemmed glass.
Garnish with a Marasca cherry and lime wheel on a pick.

Jill DeGroff is the author and illustrator of “Lush Life; Portraits from the Bar”. To see more portraits from the bar, visit her online Rogues Gallery at

Portraits from the Bar


June 21, 2012

Illustration by Jill DeGroff, Story by Carlos Enrique Cuarta

I was delighted when Francine invited me to do an ongoing series of bartender portraits for INSIDE F&B.

We all have our favorite bartenders – and most of the time they do all the listening. Wouldn’t it be nice to listen to them for a change?

So here begins a new series, Portraits from the Bar, featuring a special bartender or cocktailian each week. Let’s begin with one of Chicago’s finest mixologists, Carlos Enrique Cuarta.

Originally from Venezuela, Carlos is an active member of the USBG Illinois Chapter and a passionate supporter of many of the industry’s charitable organizations, including The Museum of the American Cocktail. In 2010, Carlos was the recipient of the Diageo Celebrate the Future Scholarship Fund, which enabled him to continue his spirits education at the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource in New York City.

Here is a little story he told me about his childhood:

“As a child I loved to negotiate- I might trade three balls in exchange for a baseball bat, a soccer ball for a bicycle seat, or homework in exchange for biscuits and sweets… All was negotiable. So one day my Uncle Ramon took me to the amusement park. He always bought me plenty of tickets for the rides but as quickly as they came into my hand, they were gone. Finally it was lunch time. My uncle drank a few beers and I had a Malta. I was only seven years old, but I understood currency and math.

Uncle Ramon, I asked, ‘What is the price of your beer?
A Bolivar, he replied.
And a Malta?
Twenty-five cents.
I propose a deal, I said. For every beer you drink while I drink a Malta, you give me 75 cents—the difference in value between the two.

He looked at me, smiled [and said] Okay, Carlitos.
By now I had drunk two maltas and my uncle four beers, so I applied my math again…
Uncle, you owe me $3.50.
But you have drunk only two maltas, Carlitos…

Ah, but you have drunk four beers so you owe me 75 cents for the first two, and a Bolivar for the other two. Whether I drink or not, you must pay the difference so we are equal in spending- and this way we can put all the money towards our next visit to the amusement park!

My uncle looked at me and laughed, You are a clever rascal, Carlitos!

To this day he recalls that moment with great delight.”

— Carlos Enrique Cuarta

By Carlos Enrique Cuarta

1 ¾ oz Diplomatico Añejo
¼ oz Spiced Rum
½ oz Cynar Artichoke Liqueur
½ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Honey Syrup
Egg White
4 Fresh Sage Leaves, medium size

Pre-chill your cocktail glass before preparation, adding ice and a little water. Set aside. In mixing glass, add two sage leaves, honey syrup, lemon juice, Cynar Liqueur, and muddle. Add Diplomatico Añejo, spiced rum, and egg white. Add ice to tin, shake well. Discard the ice and water out of the coupe. Then, double-strain using the strainer on the shaker while pouring contents through a sieve placed over the coupe. Garnish with two sage leaves. Sip and Salud!

Jill DeGroff is the author and illustrator of Lush Life; Portraits from the Bar. To see more portraits from the bar, visit her online Rogues Gallery at //