A BROOKLYN NIGHTLIFE ENTREPRENEUR SPRINGS FROM ALPHABET CITY TO CITI FIELD
BY JAMES TATE
Pouring Ribbons, the Alphabet City cocktail bar tucked into a second floor space on Avenue B, was announced by owner operator Joaquín Simó in 2012 while he stood on stage in New Orleans to accept the annual Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards title of American Bartender of the Year. For the previous half decade, Simó a Downtown Brooklyn resident since 2005 had worked as a member of the inaugural staff at the wildly influential East Village institution Death & Co. and, in his words, had hit his pinnacle as a bartender. “It was the right time for me to springboard into my own project,” he said. “The amount of creative freedom I was given ended up being the compelling reason to leave Death & Co., a bar that I love to this day.”
When Pouring Ribbons launched several months later, it was equipped with two features that Simó would quickly jettison a rotating seasonal menu, and Simó himself behind the bar.
“What I didn’t realize is that it’s hard to work on your business when you work in your business,” he said. “So, two years ago, I took myself off the bar schedule, and I decided we weren’t going to do seasonal menus, which I got bored with. [Instead], we were going to do themed menus.” Pouring Ribbons’ menu, he explained, was already much discussed for its placement of recipes on a scale from “Refreshing” to “Spiritous,” and from “Comforting” to “Adventurous.” “It’s a means of communicating what the drinks are without assuming the guest knows as much as the server.”
“I wanted something beyond seasonality,” said Simó. “The first year we did a ‘Roads and Travel’ theme, and had drinks inspired by Route 66 and the Silk Road. The second year we did ‘Creatives,’ looking at the influence of Gothic writers and revolutionary artists. It was fun to figure out how to translate an important visual artist into a liquid. For Jean Michel Basquiat, there was a riff on an Old Cuban, one of Audrey Sanders’s modern classics [Sanders is a veteran bartender at Brooklyn Heights’ Waterfront Ale House]. At led to where we are now, which is ‘A Time and A Place’ and the first time and place is New York City in 1983.”
If a reader is gathering the sense that mixology for Simó is something of an esoteric endeavor fueled in part his position as deputy editor for the 2009 and 2010 Food & Wine Cocktails books be assured that he’s just getting warmed up.
“I get a lot out of doing this amount of research,” he said with a grin. “Every part of the drink has something to do with it. If guests want to find out why the Mudd Club cocktail, for example [named after the TriBeCa nightclub and famed New Wave and Post Punk venue that operated from 1978 to 1983], I can talk to them about its door guy, Richard Boch’s, memoir, The Mudd Club [Feral House, 2017] how he basically did a ton of blow, a fair amount of heroin, smoked a million cigarettes, and drank his face off while he met amazing people. The drink has smoky ingredients, from a peaty scotch to a coffee liqueur from [maker] Rabarbaro Sfumato…then there’s Gentian Amaro, a reference to cocaine because it smells exactly like cocaine, and a white vermouth because it was on White Street. It’s fun: it’s cheeky, brazen, interesting to serve, and a tasty drink.”
Such a completionist approach spurred the launch of Simó’s One Step Syrups, a line of flavor enhancing tinctures that promises to bring a craft bartending standard to larger venues such as stadiums and arenas.
“We believe that you don’t need nine ingredients in a drink to make it delicious,” he said, “but how do you streamline this in a way that gets seasonal or event bartenders halfway to meeting us? Most classic cocktails are three ingredients. Your daquiri is rum, lime, and sugar; a sidecar is brandy, curacao, and lemon. If you can balance them, you can find the heart of a cocktail, and if you follow our recipe you should be 85 percent of the way there.” So far the market has been receptive: Simó’s brand is now in ten baseball stadiums (including Citi Field), eight NBA arenas, and as many NFL stadiums.
Pouring Ribbons, 225 Avenue B / 917.656.6788 / pouringribbons.com