When I first met Kevin Denton, I had just moved to NYC from Vegas and didn’t really have any idea what I was about to experience. After a few hours at the bar (Denton was heading up the bar program at Wylie Dufrense‘s Alder at the time), and round after round of Denton’s “Bartender’s Choice,” I left drunk – and impressed.
In the last year Denton, has left the Alder and is now the National Mixologist for Pernod Ricard USA. We recently ran into each other at a “Negroni Week” event and since he was probably one of the first bartenders in NYC that I experienced really high quality craft cocktails, I thought that it only fitting to sit down with him to talk the what, where and how of drinking in NYC.
Favorite NYC place to hang out over a’re not working?
I’m forgetting a ton, but I love Mayahuel, the bar at the NoMad Hotel, the lobby bar at the Edition Hotel, Ba’sik in Williamsburg, Grand Army, The Magician, Daddy-O. It all depends on where I am and who I’m with.
What is your GO TO drink when you are out?
It totally depends on the time of day and my mood. I love agave spirits- give me Margaritas and Paloma variations all summer long. Boat drinks for the beach, Mexican beers for weekend BBQ’s. Gin and Soda is my go-to night time drink. And I never say no to Champagne.
What was your first job in the industry?
I worked for a fantastic bar/restaurant in college called Rulloff’s (which was named after the nefarious Edward Rulloff who drowned his family in Cayuga Lake – fun fact: he was the last man executed in NY State). I worked back of house first, then moved on to become the door guy, barback and by the end of my tenure was bartending on the weekends.
What was your A-H-A moment, was there a moment when you realized that this was absolutely for you?
It was at friends and family for the opening of Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg. I wasn’t even working there, I was between jobs at the time. I tasted a Last Word and the floor just went out from under me. I needed a gig, so I bribed the bar manager with a bottle of champagne I nicked from Wylie Dufresne’s wedding (don’t worry, he knows the story). I was behind the stick the next day and haven’t looked back since.
And I never say no to Champagne.
Do you drink coffee or Tea? Where do you go and how many times a week?
More coffee, but I love the ceremony of tea. Abraco in the east village is my favorite coffee spot. Sadly, I only get there on the weekends nowadays.
What’s your hangover remedy?
Who gets hangovers?
So what are you into right now when it comes to cocktails?
The field is so diverse and dynamic right now. I’m mostly in to seeing what everyone else is doing. The talent out there is superb. That said, I love rare citrus in the winter, wild honey, lesser known aromatic plants. Whatever I’ve never heard of before.
When you are creating cocktails do you think of the liquor you want to use first or the taste that you are going for? Like what is your process?
My mentors in this trade (and I’ve had exceptional ones) always impressed upon me that “delicious” should be the main goal. If I have the idea to make a watermelon drink, say, how do you make the watermelon drink taste like an idealized version of itself. What does the pith smell like? What is the texture? How do I mimick the color, but idealize it? That’s sort of where
I start. Sometimes I just get hung up on a concept as well, like my Pastrami n’ Rye cocktail at WD-50. There was also my obsession with making something blue naturally (sorry, no curacao). That led me to all sorts of great insights. I try, in life and cocktails, to be more about the journey, rather than the destination.
Proof that I am a huge dork: blue doesn’t really exist naturally in food (think about it). Clitoria flowers in a high ph solution make blue naturally without imparting flavor. I can finally rest easy knowing I can make all-natural Velvet Jacuzzis. #nocuracao
A photo posted by Kevin Denton (@kevindenton2001) on
What is your favorite spot when you want to be low-key or date?
I love Maiden Lane on a weekend afternoon. The bars at Betony and Estela are great to share snacks with outstanding drinks. Bar Sardine is just one of the most magical corners in New York City. Trashy margaritas sitting outside Tortilla Flats is surprisingly romantic.
And I have to say, the back room at Botanica is a lovely date spot for the right person.
Hidden NYC gems or dive bars.
I’ll never tell.
What are you most proud of in your career thus far?
Unequivocally, the proudest I have ever been is watching the women and men that I have trained and mentored over the years go on to run programs of their own. I don’t have kids of my own, but I can sort of fathom what it must feel like to watch them grow up and succeed. What a satisfying notion.
Connect with Kevin Denton
Photo Credit: Shoots and Roots Bitters
Our Best Stories Delivered Daily