With a mile-wide smile and salsa-infused two-step, it is impossible to resist the charm of Darnell Holguin. An NYC hospitality industry veteran, Darnell has worked behind the bar for over eleven years, entertaining guests at notable venues including Donatella restaurant and Bathtub Gin, and was voted one of the Top 10 Bartender in New York City by Time Out NY.
This year, he was put on the global cocktail stage as the East Coast regional Champion of the prestigious Bacardi Legacy competition. Currently, Darnell is running the bar program and serving up his limitless Latin charisma at Fifty Restaurant in the West Village. Without further ado, let’s go drinking with Darnell Holguin.
Drinking with Darnell Holguin
State your name & title for the record.
Darnell Holguin, Bar Director for Fifty Restaurant and bar in the West Village.
How did you get started in the hospitality biz?
When I was 18 years old, my cousin hooked me up with a gig at a restaurant in the Time Hotel. I started out of the gate as a bartender. That job set a tone for my future in this industry. One night, there was a huge VH1 buy-out and I was relegated to barback.
I was salty because I wanted to be on the front lines, so I got drunk. Long story short, it was a bad night that resulted in someone else losing their job! I couldn’t live with the fact that I was part of the reason he was fired. From then on, I have lived by the rule that no task is too small and not to get drunk behind the stick.
What is your current go-to drink order?
Depends on the space. I’m a fan of ordering a shot and a beer. For cocktails, it is usually a daiquiri to refresh the palate or a margarita when it’s party time.
Coffee or Tea?
I enjoy both. Although, I don’t have any favorite joints to mention. The coffee or tea decision has always been circumstantial to my feeling at the moment.
What is your hangover remedy?
My favorite hangover remedy is a cold “refresco rojo” from Country Club. It’s basically raspberry soda from the Dominican Republic.
I know there more scientific methods, but this one just works for me every time.
Favorite for Late Night eats after enjoying one a drink or 5?
69 Bayard or Coppelia when I’m Downtown; Taco Mix on 116th St. in East Harlem; Patacón or Casa de Mofongo in The Heights/Inwood.
What’s your vacation no-f*cks given drink?
Piña Colada! And lots of beer, for sure.
Tell us about your first boozy experience.
My very first cocktail was actually a mojito. I was still a teenager at one of my aunt’s famous dinner parties. She invited a bartender who graciously took the time to make cocktails for all of the guests. My mom called me over to take a taste and from there, I was hooked!
What is your very last sip death row drink?
An ice cold Presidente vestido de novia (dressed in white).
If you could have drinks with anyone dead, alive or fictional, who would it be and what would you both be drinking?
This one is hard. Right now, that would have to be Rick from Rick and Morty.
Dude’s got some stories to tell.
Darnell’s Favorite NYC Hospitality Venue Suggestions:
Taking out-of-towners for cocktails for an “Only in NYC” experience?
I like to take my friends to Bathtub Gin on a Tuesday night to see Wasabassco burlesque. It’s a great show at a dope speakeasy.
Romantic “let’s get it on” date night?
Bacarro on Division street is a good one. It is a rustic Italian joint with a beautiful cove-like dining room. My lady took ME there one time, trust me, I got the message!
A Classic Dive Bar night?
Go see my boys over at Peter McManus on 19th St. and 7th ave. Family owned where everyone is welcome and becomes family.
Super crafty cocktails?
Do you have a Bar Mentor or someone who encouraged you to take bartending seriously?
Mr. Duane Fernandez Jr., opened up the doors for me to enter the cocktail movement. I had been doing high-volume club spots uptown and always wanted to learn how a proper cocktail is developed.
He told me about the community and how it was all coming together. The rest was history.
What’s the most popular cocktail on your menu right now?
Outside of the It was all a dream, the real top seller on my cocktail at Fifty is The Fénix. It’s blanco tequila, aji amarillo (a spicy Peruvian pepper), lime, honey and a vanilla tincture. It’s a delicious spicy and savory cocktail.
Who is the best drinking buddy for a wild night out?
Tara Fougner and Jesse Gibson. They run Thirsty. If you haven’t hung out with them, you’re missing out!
Special shout to any bars across the U. S. that are blowing your mind with their beverage programs?
The Baldwin and Sons just outside of Boston has a dope program. Broken Shaker in Miami has some of the best bartenders in the country. La Factoria in Puerto Rico has awesome guys who make it hype time. The list goes on!
You are always smiling and laughing … what’s your secret?
Life is never easy. So, I prefer to smile because I want to feel happy and grateful as much as possible. So I make the most fun out of each moment that comes my way.
If you had a theme song for behind the bar, what would it be?
“Rock with You” by Michael Jackson
Any advice for aspiring young guns wanting to break into the industry?
Network is net worth. Be humbled and hospitable. You never know who you meet that can open the right doors and change your life.
Spill it …. shameless plug what are you working on right now that you are excited about?
Right now, I’m gearing up for the fall season at the Fifty. I have a couple of big ideas for the future, but you’ll have to stay tuned.
Social Call – where can Thirsty readers keep up with your adventures on social media?
You can follow me @drinkandwit on Instagram.