Raphael Reyes

- interview by Sara Gorelick

Raphael Reyes lives his life by one saying: "Find a job you love and you will never have to work again." A bartender for 7 years, he has held every position in the hospitality business from fine dining to lounges, clubs, sommelier, teaching, managing and is currently in his favorite niche: creating cocktails at 1534 in New York City.

Everything started for Raphael in a small Latin fine dining restaurant in New Jersey with his friend Fabian. The pair would sell Mojitos and use fresh ingredients and purees, turning some really innovative ideas out like pressing sugar cane sticks and shaving fresh coconuts. "This was six years ago when I had never heard any of the movement or knew about cocktail bars. We were just doing it because it was fun and different." Then Raphael started getting involved and realized there was a whole world at his fingertips. "As it always happens, somebody gives you a hand and you go from there."

Raphael always knew he wanted to be in the hospitality industry. He loves that every day is a new day and constant interaction with people. "I love the reward of giving them a great experience. I will never be able to work in an office in a 9-5 job. This is a lifestyle and your body schedule is different...waking up early is probably the worst thing you can ask."

Having the experience of meeting people in New York, getting to work with them, drinking with them and turning them into best friends has been a surreal experience for Raphael, and one that he is incredibly grateful for. A true student of the bartending world, he looks up to people in the industry that he can identify himself with. "They are great people that share the same passion, with no ego, willing to teach and willing to learn from somebody else everyday and like to have fun. I can't respect someone that believes himself too 'big' to teach or knows it all."

Raphael's favorite cocktail that he has created that has never failed him is the Smoky Brown's.

Smoky Brown's
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1/2 oz. Maple Syrup Grade B
  • 3/4 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
  • 2 oz. Elijah Craig Bourbon
  • Rinse of Laphroaig
  • Lemon oil

Pour ingredients in a chilled mixing glass. Build and stir over ice for around 30 seconds. Pour over a Laphroaig-rinsed double old fashioned glass with a big cube of ice. Garnish with a lemon peel pressing the oils into the drink and finish with a mist of Laphroaig on top.

When it comes to ingredients, Raphael loves working with a kitchen and seasonal chefs that bring in new ingredients. "I'm the kind of guy that if I walk in the cold room and see all the produce, I'm probably going to take the most obscure ingredients." He believes that when you make drinks for people you need to feel their mood and what kind of drinkers they are, and then go crazy as long as you know how to balance all the flavors. Raphael noted that the best drinks are all about flavor, but with a respect for classic technique. "If you look at the best chefs in the world today, they don't just follow the recipe from a classic book. They normally follow the farm and what is in season."

At the end of the day, Raphael is a down-to-earth man behind the bar who has been able to take his passion and make a living with it.

"I'm just a guy that enjoys every day of this industry. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many and now I'm blessed to work with and have great friends that share the same passion and have helped me along my way. I always say that in this industry everything you do is for someone else, and the moment you forget that then you are probably in the wrong business."