As far as cocktail bars in NYC go, Employees Only is basically the best of the best, and Steve Schneider is one of the rockstar principal bartenders who helped this West Village spot score the title of “World’s Best Cocktail Bar” at Tales of the Cocktail. We caught up with Steve – a former Marine and the star of the craft cocktail documentary “Hey Bartender” – about his favorite drinks and places to go in NYC.
Favorite NYC place to hang out over a drink?
Bars are like camera lenses for a filmmaker. You use different lenses for the shot you are going for. Sweetwater Social is a new standout for me. I can watch the game, have some of the best cocktails in town or simply enjoy a shot and a beer by some great bartenders. We’re talking about bartenders bartenders, not that pretentious stuff. Partners Tim Cooper and Justin Noel simply understand the business. They staff their bar with like-minded people. I can sit with Tim for hours and chat about all aspects of the bar business. He’s as real as it gets and is hands down on the top of my favorite bartender list.
If I have friends visiting from out of town, I always take them to Raines Law Room on 17th and 6th. I love the concept, drinks and service there.
I don’t know, there are so many great bars. I tend to pick a section of town and then make my rounds based off of that.
Like the bars, there are different drinks for different moods, seasons and companies. With that said, I’ll never turn down a fresh Margarita made with Mezcal.
Drink trend you wish would go away?
I never like answering questions like this. Our job is to serve our guests what they enjoy as good and as fast as we can. If certain trends work well for some people but not others, I have no right to wish that any trend “dies”. I’m a positive person — every bar is different and I wish nothing but the best for everyone. Do what works for you and your guests and I’ll do the same. If I don’t like it and if my guests don’t buy it, then I won’t do it. Simple as that.
First alcoholic drink you ever had?
First time I got drunk was in high school over a bottle of Bacardi. First cocktail — Negroni. Both were awesome.
Coffee or tea? Fave cup (from where)? How do you take it? How many a day?
Don’t drink much of either but I would say tea. Type of tea? I guess I prefer anything floral and fruity over smoky. I’m a simple man. Green tea and roses and fruit and stuff over lapsang or however you call it. McNulty’s on Christopher St is where I get all of my tea for consumption or for infusions. They have a ton of coffee and tea and the staff is very nice.
My Serbian brothers at Employees Only can make some damn good coffee though.
Favorite bartender/mixologist/sommelier/ drinks service industry person? Why?
This industry is a character based industry. With so many greats, it’s impossible to single out one person as my favorite — the list is too long. Also, the whole camera-lens analogy applies to bars and bartenders as well. I feel there is a certain level of bartender and once you achieve it, no one is best, only different.
But, not to leave you hanging, I think Joaquin Simo from Pouring Ribbons has a brilliant mind is very easy to talk to and can explain complicated ingredients or drinks to even the most novice drinker.
I mentioned my man-crush on Tim Cooper from Sweetwater earlier and there’s this one handsome dude whom I consider a really good friend down at PDT named Jeff Bell, who is really amazing and consistent behind the bar — pretty much the epitome of class.
Sam Ross from Attaboy always makes me feel comfortable while sitting in front of him. He’s been bartending at a high level for a long time.
Jay Zimmerman of Ba’sik in BK is one of the most fun bartenders I have ever sat across. I can always tell when someone is genuinely happy to have me, or anyone else, at his bar and Jay Z is one of them… Hospitality at it’s finest. It’s also fun to chat about pro wrestling with him. He’s one of my only friends that know what I’m talking about.
Best pairing meal you ever had?
I’ve always been one to drink wine with food — cocktails before and after dinner. That was until Shingo Gokan (one of my favorite people ever) of Angel’s Share put on a cocktail dinner pairing event at Sakamai on the Lower East Side. I can’t confirm if that menu is available at all times but if it is, jump on it.
Where is your fave spot for a super chill night out ?
After dinner at a nice little Italian joint called Barbone on Ave between 11th and 12th. After that, I always make it one block south to a place called Boxcar Lounge. It’s fun to hear the owner, Johnny, talk about the old East Village and Alphabet City of the 90s. They have a great happy hour as well. Both venues have a garden out back.
Hidden NYC gem? (dive bar, late night eats, anything you love about the NYC hospitality scene)
Burning Waters Cantina is on MacDougal underneath a tattoo shop across from Minetta Tavern. Esteban Ordonez runs the bar there and he’s a legend. It’s my go to place and I know that I’ll be comfortable there. Easily one of my favorite spots.
Straight update: What are you working on these days?
Business, always. Our 10-year anniversary is quickly approaching I’ve been helping to plan a bunch of events. We are making a series of videos which highlights the past years which should be really funny.
Personally, outside of usual travel, I am in the process of producing mallets for ice crushing. It’s funded personally so it’ll be ready when I am. Also, the most fun of my projects, I am working on a podcast of my own discussing the business and drinks and everything else in a funny way. Basically, take all cocktail publications and bartending books and think about the exact opposite approach – that’s my bag, baby.