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A good bartender possesses both finely tuned people skills and a knack for mixing and matching flavors. Vince LaForm, lead bartender at midtown’s Lounge on 20, discusses his approach to this sometimes-underappreciated craft.
What makes a good bartender?
A good personality. You’ve got to learn how to read people pretty well. You’ve got to learn when to jump into a con-versation. If people are sitting at the bar by themselves, that’s why they’re there—to be entertained and to be talked to. You’ve also got to be quick. And you’ve got to learn when to bite your tongue; that’s pretty important.
What’s your signature drink?
The Welshman. It’s made with a small-batch Welsh whiskey called Penderyn, plus sour-apple liqueur and five-spice liqueur, fresh lemon juice and honey. It all goes in a shaker with cinnamon sticks.
What are the trends in the world of cocktails?
Artisan-style cocktails, like we do here or at Shady Lady Saloon and Ella—drinks using fresh juices and herbs. When I started bartending, it was Coors Light drafts, Jack and Cokes, and margaritas and Coronas. When I started working at Lounge on 20, I was kind of intimidated at first, learning how to use liquors I’ve never even heard of and flavors I would never even think to put in a drink.
What’s the most peculiar ingredient you’ve seen used in a cocktail?
Jalapeños, habaneros, really spicy stuff. It’s difficult to make it drinkable.
Have you ever come up with a recipe for a drink that, in retrospect, was really awful?
You come up with ideas that you think will go well together, and then you put them together and it might be flat-out awful. Like black grapes and rosemary. I thought it would be a good mix but it really wasn’t. So I decided to use thyme instead, which actually complemented the grapes really well. But that’s the fun part: getting to taste and retaste until it balances out right.