We caught up with Jay Zimmerman from Basik and newly opened Sekend Sun in Astoria to talk about his love for NYC hospitality and some of his favorite spots in the city.
FAVORITE NYC PLACE TO HANG OUT OVER A DRINK? WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU DRINKING WHEN NOT BEHIND THE STICK?
So this is going to so sound a little lame (I guess), but my days of bouncing around and drinking til all hours of the night are mostly behind me. Usually I call it a night by 11 pm these days, so the opportunity to go to some of my favorite bars dramatically increases as I step in before they get crazy. I have a plethora of go to places, but if you had to bet, I’m most likely at Attaboy.
FAVORITE GO-TO DRINK?
I am an unabashed beer drinker. I always have been, but the answer to this question is truly situational. I drink red wine with dinner mostly, a cold, hoppy IPA if I am just hanging out somewhere, and should I order a cocktail I love a good Negroni. These may sound like lazy answers, but I only order fancy cocktails once in a blue moon and even then it’s often a classic or modern classic.
FIRST JOB IN THE INDUSTRY?
Dragging clay tennis courts at a country club when I was 14. It was a pretty fancy place and I clearly had one of the least glamorous jobs there, but I worked my butt off and learned a lot about offering hospitality to people who sometimes do not even notice you are there. It was also outside in Virginia in the summer; I was banking on at least 1-2 rainy days a week which would mean just hanging out back and getting paid. Of course, a drought and heat wave hit that year.
FIRST ALCOHOLIC DRINK YOU EVER HAD? WHAT WERE YOU DRINKING THE FIRST TIME YOU GOT DRUNK?
I have a picture hanging in my house of me sipping my dad’s Pearl beer at the beach when I was around 2 years old (before you get all excited, it was empty; i just liked the taste of the drops left over in the can). My love for the taste of beer only grew from that point. In fact, when I was 5 or 6, my doctor lived in our neighborhood. I would be taken to his house after he got home from work to get my shots and he would give me a sip of beer before he stuck me with the needle. I loved it. The first time I overindulged was probably on Milwaukee’s Best or Natural Light early on in high school, though honestly I can’t remember.
IS THERE A DRINK / PRODUCT / INGREDIENT THAT YOU JUST CAN’T STOMACH OR DON’T GET? WHY?
There are very few things I can not actually stomach, but there are some things that I have frown out of liking as much. There was one time however I had a spirit that I never, ever want to have again. It was after a really late night when I may have been over-served a bit. My friends, my wife and I all went to Wo Hop for the best late night Chinese food on earth (as one does when the sun is threatening to peak over the horizon). It was late enough that the overnight cooks were taking their lunch break and sat the largest table in a group chatting loudly and sharing dishes of remarkable off-menu food as well as an unmarked bottle of liquor. I expressed interest in the hooch from across the room, they invited me over for a shot to share with them (an incredible gesture considering the lack of ability to communicate between us). I took the shot with them and tried to remain stone faced; it tasted like arm pits. I believe it was some kind of Baijiu (maybe chu yeh ching). They laughed hard as I finished the dram without flinching….and then offered me another. I accepted, hoping to ingratiate myself to the group (stupid, I know) and drowned another ounce or two of it. I said thank you, shook their hands and quickly asked for the bill to get out of there quickly.
COFFEE OR TEA? FAVE CUP (FROM WHERE)? HOW DO YOU TAKE IT? HOW MANY A DAY?
Coffee, black and bitter. Iced or hot. I usually drink 5-6 cups a day.
WHAT’S YOUR HANGOVER REMEDY?
There is only one thing I want when I am hungover and that is sleep. Give me my bed, a forgiving wife and darkness until the pain goes away and I am all good.
FAVORITE BARTENDER/MIXOLOGIST/SOMMELIER/ DRINKS SERVICE INDUSTRY PERSON? WHY?
This list is long and ever growing. I have met and become friends with so many wonderful people over the years because of my line of work and these people keep me in a state of awe with their creativity and ability. If I had to name a few names: Kevin Denton, Tony Conigliaro, Evan Zimmerman (my brother), Naren Young, Sam Ross, Mickey McIlroy, Carla Rzsewski, Joaquin Simo, Tom Richter (my favorite bartender to visit when he is working), Todd Thrasher, John Gertsen, Chris Bostick, Eric Alperin, Sean Hoard and Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
BEST PAIRING MEAL YOU EVER HAD & WHERE?
Last year for our anniversary, Joann (my lovely wife) and I had dinner at NoMad. We were well taken care of by our friends who work there. We had a 4 million course meal with a different wine or cocktail at every turn. It was magical and revived my impression of fine dining in New York City. The best part of the whole (amazing) meal is that we didn’t walk away from the table sickly full or drunk. There is an expertise to that.
WHERE IS YOUR FAVE SPOT FOR A SUPER CHILL NIGHT OUT OR DATE NIGHT?
There is a small restaurant at the edge of Bushwisk/East Williamsburg called Il Passatore. It is quiet, romantic and cozy. the food is pitch perfect and the wine is delicious. Joann and I used to live in Siena, Italy and it is the closest we have come to being able to re-create the feeling of a small, family run restaurant in Tuscany (though the food is not Tuscan). It is hands down my favorite place to have a quiet date night and enjoy the company of a few friends or just her. It does not hurt that it is walking distance from my apartment, so the post meal trip home is quick and easy.
HIDDEN NYC GEM? (DIVE BAR, LATE NIGHT EATS, UNDERRATED SPOT, ANYTHING YOU LOVE ABOUT THE NYC HOSPITALITY SCENE)
Part of being a new yorker (if I can call myself that) is having your favorite little places in the city. Some are city standards. Some are a bit off the beaten path. I love a good dive bar and some of my favorites are Lucy’s (in the East Village) and the Turkey’s Nest (in Williamsburg). I don’t find myself at these places often anymore, but I know without question that I can always head to one of them and have the kind of experience I am seeking.
The best and biggest selling point about the NYC hospitality scene is the variety. You can get pretty much anything at almost any time of day. I have some places I consider the best in the city that I send people to, but they are my opinion and not necessarily hidden gems; for instance my favorite pizza in New York is L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst. A rare treat and a hike to get there…but well worth it.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER THUS FAR?
It is going to be hard to sound humble when answering this one, but here goes: one of the things i am most proud of in the industry is my reputation. I do not make the best cocktails, open the busiest bars or blow anyone away with my creativity, but I try to be good and nice to everyone. I never want to burn a bridge or cause friction with anyone. It seems that’s generally what people think of me (or at least I don’t hear those who think the opposite). That and unsolicited praise. When someone writes an article about one of my bars or employees or cocktails without my knowing, when someone says they love something you have created without your urging…it just feels better and more authentic.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR OR SOMEONE YOU LOOK UP TO IN THE INDUSTRY? WHO CAN WE THANK (BESIDES YOU) FOR YOUR DELICIOUS WORK?
I have few mentors who have taught me different things at different times in my career. If you see one of these people kindly thank them for me (I can never thank them enough). This list would include: T.J. Lynch, Cory Mason, Ian Schrager, Ben Pundole, Josh Wagner, Aisha Sharpe, Jon Lermayer, Evan Zimmerman, Derrek Vernon, Jamie Gordon, Jim Meehan and Allen Katz.
STRAIGHT UPDATE & SHAMELESS PLUGS: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THESE DAYS?
We have just opened out second bar! It is in Astoria, Queens and is called Sekend Sun. It is a bit bigger and has more offerings than our first (Basik in Williamsburg). I am really very proud of how it came out and the vibe we have created in a new and exciting part of the city.
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