- interview by Sara Gorelick
Kelley Slagle is sitting at the bar, reading the latest issue of Inc. and balancing her iPhone on her right hand. On her arm is a pink heart tattoo (which she describes as "cheery") and in her left hand is a half finished Punt e Mes and soda. She looks perfectly at home at Tribeca Terroir in Manhattan, and even as the Tuesday night after work crowd rolls in around her, she is dreaming up new and defying cocktails.
Kelley, the mixologist at Terroir, creates her cocktails with wine and beer only, a far cry from your everyday bartender. Terroir is the latest venture of Paul Greico, who also is proprietor at Hearth on the Lower East side, where Kelley tended bar. Kelley digs the scene at Terroir, which she describes as rock and roll and not uptight (like so many other wine bars). "It's a wine bar without the pretentiousness; we're not afraid of a weird-ass funky grape," she said.
As a consultant, Kelley manages the program and visits the bar a few times a week. She frequently hops behind the bar to create her favorites on the menu like the Banana Belt and Port of Funchal, although the entire list is comprised of her cocktail babies.
Kelley happened onto the scene after a stint in the California business world, and then really found her kitchen legs at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. From culinary school, Kelley got into wine and started tending bar at local pubs. "I tried to make cocktails, it didn't go so well." Experimenting on friends, Kelley started with vodka as an easy transition. "My tastes were always in liquid and beverage," she said. "I'm a beer snob."
Kelley went on to achieve her WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) and started at Inoteca, moved to Hearth and is now creating wine and beer cocktails at Terroir. "When you're in it you don't see it, but looking back it was really an awesome turn of events," she reminisced. "It all makes sense now."
When Kelley isn't behind the bar, she is teaching classes at the Astor Center. Kelley is big on education and learning, and puts real value on teaching the average consumer about wine and spirits to create a new experience for them. These days her class is called "Language of Taste," about how to speak wine in laymen's terms.
Kelley is all about using her culinary training with savory items. She likes using herbs and vermouths, but stays away from muddling. Her must-have behind the bar is really good, cold ice. She creates cocktails that are not too complicated. "Who likes to wait 15 minutes for their drink in a crowded bar?" Her number one rule is to have no more than four ingredients. She takes time before the rush to create syrups and infusions, combining components into one. But she never tries to cover anything up, and believes in letting the ingredients sing.
First and foremost, Kelley know that her job is in hospitality. Behind the bar, Kelley likes a slower service, where she can talk to people. "When you give something to somebody, explain the cocktail, especially if they haven't had it before," she said. "It's about expanding their world...you do the best you can and then they want that second drink." From her move across the country to her change from business to mixology, Kelley is thrilled with her position in the industry. "I'm very happy doing this," she said. With her laid-back ease, bar smarts and joy in working, Kelley is a gal to be jealous of, or at the very least great friends with. "It's good to be me in this world."
Banana Belt by Kelley Slagle
Add all ingredients to a highball glass, fill with ice, stir. Garnish with a Cucumber, Blueberry, Rosemary Skewer
* For fresh cucumber juice, peel cucumbers and juice with a juice extractor or run through a blender. Strain through a coffee filter two times. Add 1/2 tsp salt for every 3/4 cup of cucumber juice.
** For Blueberry-Rosemary Syrup, in a saucepan combine 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves. Over medium heat bring to a light simmer. Strain and cool.
Port of Funchal by Kelley Slagle
Add all ingredients to a highball glass, putting beer in last. Fill glass with ice and stir. Garnish with squeezed half lime.