Behind The Bar ~ Irvington

Irvington head bartender Joanie Caguiat’s first industry job was at the W Hotel in San Diego, her hometown. She worked her way up from a hostess to a bartender, and after a few years, she decided to make the leap to NYC. “I never lived away from home, so it was a big deal to leave,” she says. She landed a job at a sports bar uptown, and soon enough received an offer from what was then Olives. “I contemplated moving back home, but as soon as I landed the job, everything kind of fell into place,” she explains. For Caguiat, falling into place took the form of her joining the Gerber Group, where she now helms the bar program at Irvington in Union Square. Here, she chats about her go-to cocktail tool, the role models in her life, and the winter spirits she calls upon.  

BoozeMenus: How would you describe the approach you take behind the bar?

Joanie Caguiat: My approach behind the bar is to make sure that someone is working on service bar and the other bartender or bartenders are taking care of the guest seated at the bar. I like to make small talk with everyone to form some sort of "relationship" with them, make sure that everyone's drink is full, and that the guests are happy.

BM: What bar tool could you not live without?

JC: I'm going to have to say my stirring spoon, just because a lot of our cocktails are stirred and it helps to make a better drink.

BM: Biggest lesson you've learned in this industry?

JC: Biggest lesson learned is how to treat people in the service industry. From the bartenders and servers, to the runners and bussers and everyone in between. Be kind and generous, and always say please and thank you. Most importantly, be patient. 

BM: Where are you more likely to be found on a night off — at a cocktail bar or dive bar? What are you drinking?

JC: On my nights off, depending on the time of year, you'll probably catch me at some sort of sporting event or some kind of local sports bar. I'll sneak a cocktail bar in there depending on my company. But every now and then I'll do a nice dinner or just stay at home with a glass of wine. I'll usually start off with a Johnnie Black on the rocks and then switch over to beer. But if I'm doing dinner or a just a chill night, I like to stick to red wine.

BM: Who serves as a role model in your life?

JC: I would have to say that my mom and my sister are two of the role models in my life. While they're both in the medical industry and don't quite understand my direction in life, they still support my decisions, as long as I am happy. I aspire to be the strong, caring, loving, successful women they are. Another person I look up to is our director of operations, Oliver Kroll. The man is a machine and is one of the hardest workers I know. He's so knowledgeable about the service industry, and his passion for it is inspiring. 

BM: What's one of your proudest moments or best memories behind the bar? 

JC: Once, a hotel guest came down and bought the entire bar a round of drinks, closed out, and left a $1000 tip — easiest money I've ever made. The proudest moment, though, would have to be actually getting Irvington up and running. It was a grueling training process and not a lot of money while doing so, so when we finally opened, it was really cool to see it all come together. 

BM: What are your favorite flavors to work with these months?

JC: During this time of year, I like to work with bourbons and scotches. It makes me feel warm inside, but I also like to give them a lighter feel and make it easier for the non-bourbon or scotch drinker to enjoy.

BM: Which cocktail most speaks your name on the current list?

JC: That would have to be the Last Word. It's made with Hendrick's gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino, and fresh lime juice. It's super fresh and light, but it has a unique taste to it.

BM: What’s the best cocktail and food pairing you’ve tried there recently?

JC: Best pairing to date is our new Kobocha squash flatbread, with maitake mushrooms, pecorino cheese, fried sage and truffle aioli, and the bottled Moscow Mule. The ingredients we use — fresh pressed ginger juice from Liquiteria and fresh lime juice — help to cut the sweetness and richness of the flatbread. The bottled negroni works, as well — its slight carbonation and bitterness makes for a good pairing. 

BM: If you weren't bartending, what would you be doing?

JC: If I wasn't bartending, I would like to be working for a professional sports team, preferably in Major League Baseball. I'm a huge sports fan and love being around the game in any capacity.


By Nicole Schnitzler

(Photos from left: Bottled Moscow Mule; Interior; Joanie Caguiat)