Oysters, Advil & Being a Gooner: Drinking with Gareth Howells

 In Drinking With

This week, we head to Forrest Point in Bushwick and get to know Gareth Howells, an insanely charismatic bloke who makes one of the very best milk punches in the land. Yup, they are legendary. Not only are his cocktail skills on point, he is also a die-hard Arsenal fan (swoon) and his British accent (double swoon) makes everything sound incredibly charming.

This is a gentleman who buys a girl flowers just cause he saw them, and brings all his friends back gifts from his travels (Ladies, he’s married, so back off) but you can get some one-on-one time if you head to Forrest Point to try his delicious cocktails and signature milk punches. Seriously, TRUST US. Now, let’s go drinking with Gareth Howells …

Favorite place to go for a drink:

This is a great question and there is no simple answer. If I am in my hood in Brooklyn, I will be chilling at the 4th Avenue Pub or if the sun is shining, hanging with my dogs at Mission Dolores on 3rd Avenue. I have been known to drop into the excellent Weather Up on Vanderbilt for a cocktail or three.

In the city, I have always tended to stay towards the southern end of Manhattan. I love the wings, beer and sports at Mudville 9 on Chambers. The place is a TriBeCa institution and I have often (apparently), been found slumping in one of Ward III’s barstools in the wee hours.

Favorite place to take an out of towner:

As a recent(ish) immigrant, I find this question falls into two categories. If my parents or family are in town I love heading to Blue Ribbon Soho. Oysters, bone marrow and fried chicken – there is no better place to chill at a bar, watch oysters being shucked and enjoy NYC service.

If the boys are in town, my dirty little secret is a brunch at Bagatelle. There is nothing like this back home and high jinx and laughter always ensue, along with a champagne hangover and severely lightened wallet.

Go to drink order:

This one is easy: Stella and a shot of Jamo. You can take the boy out of England, but you can’t take the drinking habits out of the boy.

First job in the Industry:

I started young in this industry. My first part-time job (following my weekend rounds of washing neighborhood cars), landed me a stellar job washing pots and pans at my local pub, The Cricketers Arms, on weekends.

There was nothing like being elbow deep in the grease a traditional English Roast creates twice a week. I still have a slightly squeamish relationship with Fairy liquid and marigold gloves.

First alcoholic drink ya ever had & tell us about the first time ya go tipsy:

A shandy. In the time honored tradition of underage drinking in England, I was introduced to the beautiful mixture of lemonade (English style), and lager in my teenage years. It was usually enjoyed in an undersized glass during family and social gatherings.

As for the first time I got drunk, I have a vague memory of being very ill whilst in France on a French school exchange program. Having guzzled a fair amount of red wine like it was fruit juice, I have a hazy memory of not feeling so well for a while. I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson but that may be a little premature.

What ingredient(s) or spirits are you most excited about right now with the warm weather?

I love this time of year; there is so much to play with and an abundance of inspiration to be found. I still have not managed to get over my fascination with Poitin, especially given the depth and range of expressions the boys from the Glendalough distillery have released.

I have been really impressed by some of the vermouths I have tried recently especially those by Mancino. I also recently discovered a rye-based moonshine, flavored with wormwood, made by a little outfit called Standard Spirit in Brooklyn. It is liquid gold.

I am also fairly sure watermelon will feature on Forrest Points cocktail list; it’s such a happy fruit.

Big question, Coffee or Tea?

Coffee. Cold brew or double espresso. I could not even begin to think about how much of the stuff I drink daily unless I wanted to seriously review my lifestyle. As for my favorite spot I love the brew at Laughing Man. The stuff is liquid crack.

What’s your hangover remedy?

2 Advil, a glass of water and down time with my dogs. Its amazing how a hangover melts whilst giving belly rubs to furry critters.

What cocktail trend are you feeling for spring / summer?

There are a lot of well-documented trends currently in the industry. Tiki, low proof, pre-batched, bottled – the list goes on. What I think people are really after is fun. Great drinks with great people in great environments executed at a high level with good service.

All you have to do is ask people what kind of night they have when they visit Danny, Erika and Joe at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Matt at Fool’s Gold or TJ and Richard at Mother’s Ruin. I guarantee they will tell you they had a great night and a lot of fun. Fun should definitely be this year’s trend.

Favorite industry person?

I am not going to answer this question for two reasons: A. I’ll start the list and will not be able to stop. There is so much talent both old and new to mention that it will take me all night and I will never finish this interview and B. If I try to make a shortened list I will inevitably miss someone out and one of those awkward conversations will ensue where I try to blame overzealous editing or a temporary oversight and have to try and re-build a relationship.

Bartenders have been known to be fickle beasts and not wishing to name names. But Porteus, you know who you are.

Best spots to eat when you are drinking or – let’s be honest – drunk?

I tend to become both lazy and somewhat immobile whilst drunk so I tend to eat wherever I find myself. It has been a tried and tested method for a number of years now and has served me well.

Where is your fave spot for a super chill night out or a date night recommendation?

If in the city with Lyssa, my beautiful wife, Will and the team at the Beatrice Inn are amazing as are Brendan and John at Union Bar & Kitchen (UBK) on Spring Street, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the enchanted garden at Forrest Point in Bushwick.

There truly is something magical about sitting under the Mulberry Tree watching the sunset over the Brooklyn skyline (Shameless plug I know but well worth the visit).

What are you most proud of in your career thus far?

This year has been incredible, I have had some success in competitions and been published a couple of times, which has been both amazing and humbling.

Looking back however, I am most proud of the team that we put together at Forrest Point. I still have the opening team I inherited from my good friend Dustin Olson; this is the same team who originally opened the restaurant last September. I have since been able to watch them grow from being (and they won’t mind me saying), green Bushwick bartenders into the genuine superstars of tomorrow.

Shantel Grant crushed the NY leg of the Stoli Key West Classic and has been in Florida competing in the nationals this past week and Teylor Shmirl has just been picked up for the upcoming ‘Girls with Bols’ promotion which will be showcasing the best up and coming female bartenders in the business.

I am very proud and privileged to have these bartenders as part of the team here at Forrest Point.

Do you have a mentor(s) or someone you look up to in the industry?

What a loaded question. If I’m honest, I have every customer I have served and everyone I have ever worked with to thank for where I am now. But I guess there are a couple of people I should mention. When I first moved to New York, working in TriBeCa, the transition from bartending in the UK to the US was a little harder than I imagined.

Luckily I had Kenny, Mike, Abdul and at the time Wes slinging drinks a block up the road at Ward III. They showed endless patience answering my stupid questions whilst I supped a beer at the end of the bar and they offered a true insight into the craft, showmanship and technical ability needed to make it New York. I shall forever be grateful.

The next person who springs to mind is Colin Asare-Appiah. This guy has always looked out for me had had the best service related advice, usually offered at the most inopportune time, in the most hysterical way possible. Just a shame he supports Tottenham. Gooners for life…

Straight update and shameless plug time: what are you working on these days? Let’s hear it.

Right now we are about to release a few new cocktails at Forrest Point then I will be back on the Milk Punch development trail. Got some big things planned so watch this space.

If you weren’t part of the crazy booze biz, what would you be doing?

The family business back in the UK is Environmental Engineering so I imagine my old man would have me topping up his pension by digging ditches, getting wet and cold in the middle of a field and not letting me drive the JCB. And on the weekends I would still be bartending.

Keep up with Gareth’s “thirsty” adventures on social media: @smokeymcgowan or @forrestpointbk

Photo credit Alonzo Maciel

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