Interview: New York bartender and entrepreneur Greg Seider (The Summit Bar, Prima + Manhattan Cricket Club)
What do you look for when you’re hiring a bartender?
I look for someone who can really host the bar. I don’t really care about the experience so much. I want someone who has a real kind of energy to want to learn it. I can tell they really respect what you do, like, “I want to be a part of it.” Not someone with experience who tries to screw up my style. My style’s different than most people. I care about charisma in someone who really wants to be dedicated to learning, someone with personality.
Do you still enjoy being behind the bar?
Once a week. If it’s a busier bar, I don’t want to create for the masses. I want to create at my own pace, but I don’t want to be double shifting all night. I mean, I changed the menu to give my guys more time to deal with customers. Before, there were eight, nine different drinks. It’s not fun, unless they’re making $700. I just kept the best well known, the most asked for, streamlined it, so these guys could just do that.
Do you choose the music that plays here?
We try to have a music meeting and try to put together some cool music, but it takes awhile. “Yeah, that one’s good, that one’s not.” It takes thousands of songs to get 50.
Is it hard to balance two bars?
No…Here, there’s a chef and cocktails, but my investment is a much smaller role. I literally can just remotely adjust the cocktails, so it doesn’t really take that long.
So you spend the bulk of your time over at Summit Bar?
There, and I’m opening a new place on the Upper West Side in the next month, so it’s between – also consulting projects – I’m writing a book.
What inspired the new bar? Is that with the same partner on the Upper West Side?
There’s a new partner, my friend Heath St Clair. He owns some Australian bars and restaurants. We traveled to Australia and Thailand and got inspired by the Cricket Club design, like Melbourne Cricket Club. It’s going to exist in a space above his restaurant. It’s an 1870s apartment layout. We thought it would be perfect to do a more high end, reservation only, adult playground that’s actually fun and not a reservation geeked out cocktail bar. We’ll have trios and singers and antique furniture, lively, but more in the 40-50 seat range, but more intimate.
No food, just cocktails?
There’s food, because of the kitchen downstairs, but a focused menu, just getting back to that James Bond glamorous…because there are not many places in New York that are like “New York places.” If it’s like, “Let’s go out somewhere,” I don’t know where to go, because it’s all bottle service lounges. The style of New York has disappeared. The money has shifted. All the fun, funky stuff. Like, if you want to go out and see a band or see punk rock, the way the door was run was to pick the room, not because you had a reservation because you were willing to spend $600 on a $30 bottle of vodka. Now you have douchebags in there because someone had a reservation for bottle service. Are you ever going to do that? No, not unless somebody just happened to have a table. Do you want those people in your place? No…Now all these hot places aren’t really hot places because inside, it’s just all these reality TV people and none of the funk and grit and style and coolness of New York. It’s hidden somewhere. I don’t know where it is.
What’s the new place called?
Manhattan Cricket Club…It’s a great place for someone coming from anywhere around the world. You kind have the ability to tuck yourself away. We’re not exclusive, and you still have the ability to breeze in and out.
What’s the book you’re writing?
The Alchemist. It’s kind of a tasting journey for the palate. Instead of just putting recipes, it’s more the inspiration for the cocktail and how the flavors work, and trying to help people understand as you’re drinking it, kind of give them a more culinary approach to stuff they might already have in their kitchen instead of going out and buying all these new spirits. Just go grab some fennel or cinnamon. Okay, make a quick syrup and make a cinnamon gimlet, a whole other gimlet.” You had it in the cupboard.
How much more can you take on?
I’m going to launch my beverage company, do my own line of syrups. More specifically, I’m going to base it on a sangria, because I never saw anyone doing that. More people drink wine than just spirits, so I’ve created this flavor profile that works with red, white and sparkling, or also works as a cocktail syrup. It’s easier to create a business plan when you don’t have to physically be at your bars. Hopefully the book can help launch the syrups. Then I can roll that into maybe having a sangria box. The legality of selling an alcoholic beverage takes more time. I would like to bring back the ultimate wine cooler, high sourced.
Would that be under The Alchemist label?
My beverage company is Seider House. That’s the name. I do a lot of acupuncture using a lot of herbs and have this anti-hangover blend of herbs. It actual works. It isn’t just bullshit. I’m trying to eventually get into healthy extracts. I do a lot of super foods, so I want to cross over into actually – if you have a cold, there are extracts that are potent enough – not just whiskey and lemon and honey. Actually maintain the flavor. Really source out these extracts and use natural paths. With a cold, yeah, there’s Echinacea, but there are different levels of Echinacea.
So it’s been working for you?
Yeah, personally, that’s how I cure all my friends of their colds and other issues.
Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?
If I have a drink, it’s usually an Old Fashioned. I just like that. I love my bourbons, but I don’t usually so much want them neat. Usually I drink a lot of red wines or champagne. Spirits are too heavy for me now. I drank so much over the years. I like more aperitif. I like the celebration of drinking, but I don’t like the booziness, so I drink Aperol and sodas.
If you could only have one more Old Fashioned, who would you let make it for you?
Who makes the best Old Fashioned? One of the guys at Minetta Tavern, my friend Cam, who started bartending after I left. That’s the thing. It’s a drink that’s so simple, but a lot of bartenders over-bitter it. It’s hard to get at the right temperature or balanced with the bitters. Even some of the most experienced bartenders try to get too fancy with it, even though it’s the simplest…That and a Margarita are difficult to come by in New York City. Shockingly.
Is that another favorite drink?
It’s just kind of like your test. If you can’t get that right, don’t even start adding other ingredients to drinks. I think they write it before they make the drink. All these menus, it sounds amazing, but I can’t taste anything. It needs to go back and start with three ingredients.
How are you able to maintain balance in your life?
I do a lot of Zen, spiritual, yoga, rekei and acupuncture and try to de-stress and step out. I don’t try to stay involved so much in the nightlife. I’m active in the industry. I stay more with the chefs than the bartenders…I try to cook a lot. That’s where a lot of my creativity comes from. I’ll have friends over or go over to my good friend’s house. I’ll start whipping stuff up, and that stimulates ideas to go back behind the bar. Cooking and traveling, or getting access to new flavors, it’s critical to keeping the creative flow going.