25 Feb Know Your Bartender I
One of the features of “The Hush” that we’re most excited about is an ongoing series that I’m calling “Know Your Bartender”. These will be a series of posts on some of our favorite barkeeps in the city. Make no mistake about this, this isn’t going to be some highfalutin nonsense about who we want you to think the newest greatest mixologists in the city are. I quite frankly give two shits if you like them or not. I’m also not interested in being unbiased here. These are going to be our friends. I will not pretend otherwise. Yes, some of them happen to be rising stars in the bar industry. Names that you “should know”, I guess. That being said I’m writing these people up because I like them as people. I am utterly unimpressed by there status in what I think is an industry that reeks of pretention. I am impressed by their lack of such pretention. I’m impressed with who they are. So, without further ado I bring to you our first subject. Kristina Magro.
Kristina, or “Mags”, or “Deb” (for some odd reason) is a bartender at Fulton Market Kitchen in the Fulton Market district. “Bartender” by choice by the way. “I hate the word mixology. I think the word in itself is pretentious. I hate when people refer to me as a mixologist. I’m a bartender. I will always be a bartender.” Can you guess why I dig this person? Despite that, this answer did surprise me, although I’m not real sure why. Kristina has pretty humble origins in the business. She started bartending at the age of 20 in a small Illinois town. Yes, there are places all over where you can bartend under 21. Mags, is refreshingly self-aware. “Some people go to college and some work in restaurants.” This answer to how she got started in the bar industry made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize that I wasted a shit load of money on a degree that helped me in no way to simply create a job for myself. This job. I digress. Mags’ story is not uncommon. You start off working in your local shot and beer place. Then you move to the big sports bar. Then, for some people, management is the next step and for others, it’s the craft. Although, Kristina does manage, I believe it’s her skill as a barkeep that sets her apart.
When it comes to her training, Mags did it the old fashioned way. She paid attention, she listened and she learned. “I feel like everywhere I’ve worked, I just tried to gain the most knowledge about what the restaurant is all about.” From “shot and a beer” sports bars, to fine dining restaurants, to higher end mixology bars, Mags has done it all. It was encounters with Alex Renshaw and Brian Sturgulewski that changed things for Ms Magro. “There’s one thing about putting up a good drink but there’s another thing about taking pride in what you do.” she says. By siting at Renshaw and Sturgulewski’s bar, Mags started to take notes and listen to what the two men had to say. “They kind of took me under their wing and just started teaching me.” According to Kristina this was simply the natural next step for her and when opportunity knocked, she answered. “When FMK came along, that was an opportunity the Brian gave me, and I ran with it.” Brian Sturgulewski is the beverage director at FMK. Now, don’t be fooled, this wasn’t some kind of accident. Kristina worked and continues to work hard for what she has accomplished. She definitely takes pride in what she does and it shows. “People think about the first few sips, but they don’t think about the sixth or the seventh, or if that drink is going to be too sweet or too tart to make it all the way through.” Mags, wants your drink to “settle” correctly the whole way through. Which, is not unlike the experience that she wants to provide people. For Mags, the drink isn’t enough, the overall experience is just as important. “The bartender has to be friendly, they have to engage in conversation. If it’s the sarcastic “I’m going to rip on you” friendly or “the girl next door” friendly, you just have to have some kind of personality.” Once again, I find this incredibly refreshing. This shouldn’t be revolutionary or even uncommon and yet, the resurgence of “mixology”, as far as I’m concerned, has come back with an incredible level of pretention. Listen don’t give me shit and look at me sideways because I’d rather do a shot of Jameson than Fernet. I give a fuck about its history it tastes like ass. For her part Kristina agrees with this. “There’s been a very unapproachable stigma that comes with mixology because there is a pretentiousness. I feel like there’s a borderline between someone being very knowledgeable and someone being pretentious and talking AT you, rather than educating you. People make their customer less educated when they should be doing quite the contrary, like being a steward of a program and educating people without them really knowing it.” To this I say CHEERS! I sincerely hope that this is an attitude that will be adopted by more and more bartenders everywhere. Remember, I really want to enjoy your drinks. I’d like to do that without also wanting to drag you into the street by your ironic beard.
Speaking of drinks, Mags whipped up some of her favorites for me. Now, if you know me, you know how much I love fall. Kristina’s drinks were for my money, fantastic representations of my favorite time of year. The first was called “My Other Car Is the Batmobile”. Yes, there’s a story behind that and if you want to hear it you’ll have to stop in and ask. This drink is a take on a ramos gin fizz. This is a creamy Spanish pear cider, Kappa Pisco, brown sugar chai tea syrup, egg white, mix that has just enough of a citrus taste to give it that brings home the gin fizz feel. By the way, for you mixologists, if I’m not explaining them exactly right, bite me. I’m not the bartender for a reason. This drink is a bit heavy in texture yet light enough in taste, making it perfect for fall. The next cocktail I imbibed was the “Literal Analogies”. These fucking names! Love it. “This drink was kind of an accident, but I feel like most good things are.” explained Mags as she whipped it up. Apparently, on her way to a cocktail contest, Kristina was missing a key ingredient. She stopped in at a liquor store to pick it up and of course they didn’t have it. So, in a panic she grabbed what she thought would be the closest thing to it. She ended up liking it better than the original.
This is a bourbon based, smoked tea honey syrup (loves her tea syrups), grapefruit, hellfire bitters, bit of deliciousness that, I shit you not, is the liquid equivalent of a fall bonfire. Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, it was the “She’s Gotta Have It” that really knocked it out of the park for me. “We’re gonna move on to desert”, was how this was introduced. This beauty is a peanut butter infused aged rum made from molasses, creamy delight. So, here’s the thing. There’s a whole bunch a crazy crap in this including a whole egg. Which by the way is fine. The alcohol kills anything bad. Don’t be a pansy. What I can tell you is this. This thing is fucking brilliant. It’s topped with dark chocolate shavings which makes this thing a creamy peanut buttery chocolate bit of awesomeness that is, once again, simply perfect for fall.
I think it’s also important to say here that I AM NOT a critic. I don’t taste I drink. You put it in front of me and I will show you the respect of finishing it. Which also means that I’m drunk at the end of these interviews and all the happier for it. Sometimes you just gotta love your job.
I had a delightful hour with Mags. You would be hard pressed to find a bartender that is as passionate about her craft while at the same time remaining level headed. She’s real.
You can find her behind the bar at FMK Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I highly recommend it friends. You won’t be disappointed.