A Freehold landmark’s mixologist pours over where he’s been, introductions he’s made…and the future of the cocktail

by Molly Jameson • Photos By Robert Nuzzie

Typically, the, guy behind the bar has a reputation for being a good listener. Every now and then, he’s also a great talker. Joe Ammiano, American Hotel mixologist, is both. His shaker skills are simply a bonus. Ammiano, a Livingston then Chicago native, grew up immersed in the hotel industry.

“My father worked in the business,” he recalled. “From a young age, I was running around every hotel he worked at—The Plaza, Hotel New York, The Palmer House in Chicago, and The Westin on Michigan Avenue,” he laughed. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this business.” After graduating college, Ammiano jumped into the behind-the-bar scene with both feet, building his skills in renowned NYC establishments.

“I worked in the city for about four years—Hilton Times Square as the food and beverage manager, and the Gramercy Hotel in their rooftop lounge,” he said. “Hilton Times Square was family-oriented and touristy, of course, while Gramercy was more swanky, with A-list celebrities.”

He began at the American Hotel in 2009, and quickly felt at home there.

“I heard the it was reopening, and I was hired before it was even refinished,” he said.

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Avora Spread

In 2009, renovations to the Hotel, a Freehold institution dating back to 1824, were completed. Its clientele is a friendly concoction all its own, full of flavor and made up of many types—and that’s just the way

Ammiano likes it. It’s “all walks of life,” he asserted. “Blue collar workers…white collar workers. They’ll come in just for a martini I created…like a big family. It’s crazy how many people I’ve met here.”

A mixologist does more than mix drinks, it’s important to note. A savvy one endeavors to create a climate, and Ammiano takes this part of his work seriously.

“People come here to escape from stress,” he said. “I’m here to orchestrate a celebration, to console people who have lost somebody, for example…offer a compassionate ear.”

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Getting down to drinks, he notices a difference in what guests are seeking.

“People are back into classic cocktails,” Ammiano said. “The Rob Roy… Manhattans. Women are drinking Scotch.” But even standbys get personal touches: “The Cosmo is popular, but I’ll add fresh lime, not Rose’s [Lime Juice].”

Ammiano designs each new cocktail menu, and this winter he’s bringing bright, fresh flavors. His
Sparkling Cranberry Champagne Cocktail combines Prosecco, Ciroc Red Berry Vodka, and a splash of cranberry juice. Honey & Smoke warms the blood with stronger flavors of Chivas Regal, ginger beer, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of honey. Blended and served over ice, it might even help stave off winter colds. And his Rice Pudding Martini (see recipe) is easy and breezy, with sweet and tropical notes.

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When asked if he has predictions, Ammiano doesn’t hesitate. “I already know,” he said. “It’s food-oriented cocktails…‘cooked’ cocktails.” This means, in part, including elements you’d expect in a kitchen, not behind a bar. Chef-bartenders? Sounds good!

American Hotel
18-20 East Main Street, Freehold / 732.431.3220 / americanhotelnj.com