This week, we go drinking with one of my absolute favorites studs in the bar game, Mr. Justin Noel. This accomplished fella started out bartending at the tender age of 18, working at nightclubs in London and has been behind the stick on four continents, in over ten countries and counting. Not only is a true talent with a great smile (yes ladies, he is single) but he is also quite the athlete having played professional soccer in his younger days.
Nowadays, Justin can be found at the helm of Sweetwater Social, slanging Espolon Tequila or shaking for Contemporary Cocktails around the country. We already established that Justin is quite the charmer, but he is also extremely talented and very serious when it comes to business. So ladies & gents: let’s doing drinking with Justin Noel.
Favorite NYC spots to hang out when meeting someone for a drink or ten when you’re not working?
My favorite places in NYC vary with the season. During the summer, I love the Frying Pan and Grand Banks – love being on the water. During the fall and winter, I like to not stray too far from my apartment in Williamsburg. Love Huckleberry, Lady Jays and Ba’sik.
Favorite place to take an out of towner for a cocktail?
I love taking people to see my friends. It makes people feel more at home when they can put a face to a venue, and most of my friends love meeting new customers and out of towners. I like taking people to:
- Employees Only – a staple
- The Wayland
- Mothers Ruin to end the night right
What’s your go-to drink order?
As a National Ambassador for a tequila brand most people assume it is a margarita or paloma, but usually my go-to drinks (when I am drinking) is a beer or a fino sherry and soda with a lemon peel. If I am doing cocktails, I love a pisco sour.
First job in the industry?
My job in the industry was barbacking at a bar in England, Raoul’s. Those were the days of Sour Apple Martinis and Sex on the Beach. Fun was the name of the game back then.
First alcoholic drink you ever had?
My first drink was wine from my parents. First real drink I had was when I was 11 and stole some Frangelico from my parents collection.
What were you drinking the first time you properly got drunky?
It was when I was 12 or 13, and I stole vodka, once again, from my parents liquor collection. My friends and I traded vodka for some beers. So shots of vodka and beer were my first drunk experience.
With the change of the season, what was your summer drink and what do you look forward to drinking in the fall?
I love Fino sherry and soda with lemon or rosé. Cocktail-wise, a daiquiri makes me very happy. Now that is is fall, I like to go to reposado tequila and soda with a lime and bourbon Old Fashioneds. I can drink bourbon (Elijah Craig 12yr or Hillrock) on the rocks all night during the fall.
Coffee or tea?
I spent a lot of time in Europe and the South Pacific when I was younger and again in my 20’s. England and Australia being a big part of that time, so tea more than coffee. I do love an espresso after dinner, but I drink a cup of English Breakfast every morning. Usually with a little bit of honey and a lemon. No milk. I usually have 2 cups of tea a day. There’s a great tea house in the West Village – Tea and Sympathy that is a great lil gem.
What’s your hangover remedy?
Alka Seltzer and shitty mexican food or lemon juice in water and an emergen-C and some greasy bacon and cheese thing.
What cocktail is the benchmark of a good bartender?
I feel any good bartender should know about 20 go to drinks and should not even bat an eyelash when they are requested, but one should definitely know how to make an old-fashioned, a negroni, and a manhattan. Those should be no brainers for a good bartender
If someone wants to impress you, what are they pouring / making?
I am more about the showmanship than I am about a specific drink. I am impressed when I see someone multi-tasking, taking the bull by the horns so to speak, playing host, and not missing a beat with the drinks and guests in front of them.
Willy Shine, Andy Seymour, and Sean Kenyon do this well, as well as Tim Cooper and Remy Shobhatan. However, cocktail wise I say if you can make me a bang on drink with Mezcal or Islay scotch that isn’t too sweet or hiding the nuances of the spirit then I am usually impressed.
Favorite bartender / mixologist? Why?
Man, this is hard. I have so many …. I love a bunch of people for a bunch of different reasons.
I really couldn’t name just a few.
Milos, Dev, Bratsa,Uros, Steve and Ivan at Employees Only and Macao for being amazing hosts, soccer fans, and just the boys.
Tim Cooper as a mentor and business partner.
Willy Shine, Andy Seymour and Sean Kenyon for being great mentors, teachers of how to be a proper hosts, just the shit that happens behind their bars when I work with them, etc.
Pam Wiznitzer for just being a smile and full of positivity when I see her.
Kento Goto, Jack Mcgarry, Brian Macgregor, Otis Florence, Jaquin Simao, and Gabe Orta for being some the best hosts and people in the trade. Every time I go to their bars they are just the most attentive hosts and always concerned about your experience in their presence
Way too many to list, so I’ll stop here.
Best spots to eat when you are drinking, or let’s be honest, drunk?
I love eating period. I love drinking period. These spots are my favorite to do both at:
- Distilled NY
- La Contenta
- Blue Ribbon
and my own place Sweetwater Social when I stumble in at midnight.
What’s the best selling drink(s) on your menus?
At Sweetwater Social it’s the: Ivan Drago and the Bill Murray at Bleecker Kitchen & Co – its our house frozen Margarita and the Rocky and Mule (winkle)
What’s is your fave spot date night drinking recommendation for all the lovers out there?
I like going to Flatiron Lounge, Huckleberry Bar, Dante’s Cafe, Maison Premier and Mermaid Inn.
Hidden or underrated nyc gems?
I still think Bas’k and Sek’und Sun are underrated. I love what those guys are doing. Sweet Afton is very cool as well. Lady Jays and Rosemary’s Tavern in Brooklyn are also great. Great lil gem that is hit or miss is also Nights and Weekends
What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
I have been able to accomplish a lot at the age of 34. I opened my first bar as an owner (1534 – now Shortys) at 29. I have a great bar in Sweetwater Social as my second bar as an owner at 32 and a restaurant as well.
I have represented some amazing brands and even a small owner in one – Avua Cachaca. But I would have to say getting to meet and work with Contemporary Cocktails Inc has been my proudest moment. It was from there that I have met some of the greatest and closest people in my life.
Do you have a mentor(s) or someone you look up to in the industry? Who can we thank (besides yourself) for your delicious work?
Again so many to thank and to acknowledge but my first mentor was Al Leclerc at the Ritz-Carlton in Greensboro, Georgia. He was the one who taught me to be a host and all about hospitality. It was he who inspired me to make this a career. I am also lucky in that I get to work with my mentors almost everyday.
Willy Shine, Tim Cooper, Aisha Sharpe, Andy Seymour, Steve Olsen, Dale Degroff, and Julie Reiner have all impacted my life and mentored me in various ways. Christine Moll Burke also is a huge mentor and someone not a lot of people know about who has been hugely important. I would say the business side of me has to give a huge thanks to people all of the people who have been doing this before me who paved the road so to speak, and my parents who pushed my brother and I
Which industry person is the best drinking buddy for a wild night?
Willy Shine and John Lermayer – Brian McCullough is up there as well
If you weren’t part of the crazy hospitality biz what would you be doing?
Coaching or working in soccer or hedge funds.
Straight update & shameless plug time: what are you working on these days? Let’s hear it, all of it!
When I am not traveling for clients or brands I am almost always behind the stick at Sweetwater Social on Saturdays. This year I will plan it out a bit better but it might be Fridays this year and Saturday early.
Social media handles / websites you wanna share
- Instagram: @jjnoel15
- Twitter: @JJnoel1534
- Closing Time Cocktails – Facebook
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