"Last Call" Unveils in New York

- by Selena Ricks

Ever wonder what it's like to be a bartender in New York City, where the crowds are thirsty until the 4 a.m. closing time? The gang of misfits (or mix-fits, as they are sometimes known) that staff some of the city's best bars are the subject of a short documentary, "Last Call in New York," which screened during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.

Produced by 4th Row Films and sponsored by Tequila Don Julio, the film had a one-time-only screening at the Crosby Street Hotel on May 14. The footage, from a project currently in development about the national growth in cocktail culture, may be part of a longer filmed to be shared with the public in the future.

Even if you weren't there, the story of the film was intriguing enough to recap, paying tribute to the way cocktail bartending in New York City is a craft passed from teacher to student. Dale DeGroff, who pioneered a gourmet approach to classic cocktails while at the Rainbow Room in the late 1980's mentored future bar owners such as Dushan Zaric, who co-opened Employees Only in 2004 and Audrey Saunders, who went on to open Pegu Club in 2005. Other mentors in the family tree of New York bartending depicted in the film include Julie Reiner of Flatiron Lounge, Jim Meehan of PDT, and Sascha Petraske of Milk & Honey.

Mixed in with interviews of the city's star cocktailians were encounters with bartenders at some of New York's "old-school" bars such as PJ Clarke's, 21 Club and McSorley's Old Ale House. These bartenders drove home the point that cocktail trends are not as important as the customer experience.

Naturally, tequila cocktails were on hand pre- and post-screening to keep guests in good spirits and remind them just how spoiled New Yorkers are to have such quality cocktails available. Particularly crowd-pleasing was the "Scene Stealer," featuring Don Julio Anejo, pineapple juice, lime juice, simple syrup and fresh rosemary. The evening was a refreshing pat-on-the-back for the bartending profession, which up until recently was not regarded as a desirable career.