Posted on | June 2, 2014
Written by | Alia Akkam
Clover Club and Monkey Bar alum Bryan Schneider runs the beverage programs at bustling General Assembly and 57th Street steakhouse Quality Italian, two disparate concepts in Alan and Michael Stillman’s father-son empire, Fourth Wall Restaurants.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: General Assembly and Quality Italian draw in completely different demographics and are guided by separate cocktail menus. How do you view the two?
BRYAN SCHNEIDER: If you aimed an arrow at the heart of Manhattan, I think the bullseye would be Quality Italian. I can’t imagine a better place in the world to have a steakhouse. You have tourists from myriad hotels wandering in on a tip from a concierge and whole offices coming in for drinks on the boss’s corporate card. General Assembly is further downtown, so it has a much younger crowd and there is a lot more interest in our specialty cocktails.
TBN: Do you have a unified approach for helming two very different bars?
BS: Bartenders respond well to organization. Everything has to have its place, both for aesthetics and workability. I have developed a blueprint for my bar layouts that combines the best elements of all the bars I have worked behind, from the placement of sinks to how shakers should be arranged.
TBN: Are uptown customers less exploratory?
BS: What seemed strange, novel or “downtown” a few years ago is now the standard to be part of the conversation of New York. I do think there is a little less attention span for exotic ingredients uptown, though, and wording on a menu usually needs to be simple and concise. A good majority of our guests are conducting some kind of business while they dine, so they don’t necessarily have the time or desire to learn about the history of Genever or what the solera aging process is all about in the same way as at a destination bar downtown.
TBN: What are the best-selling cocktails at each place?
BS: The far and away top-selling cocktail at General Assembly is the Loose Cannon. It combines tequila with lime, fresh-pressed celery juice and an elixir that we make in-house by macerating several dozen herbs in high-proof vodka. We serve it over ice cubes that we make by freezing the juice pressed from whole jalapeños. It’s garnished with ribbons of celery, so the whole drink is stunningly green—even the ice—which makes the cocktail spicier as the cubes melt.
At Quality Italian one of the more popular drinks is a spin on a Manhattan we call a Midtown. For that one we combine barrel-strength bourbon with some Italian liqueurs and sweet vermouth that we make in-house with grappa, a number of herbs and spices and an Italian white wine.
TBN: How did your background at Clover Club prepare you for this next chapter?
BS: Working under Julie Reiner was a pivotal point in my career. A big part of the success of that bar is the amount of creativity that Julie encourages among her staff. They are expected to come up with the majority of drinks for the menu, and the level of interest and professionalism they put forth every day because of that was impressive.
TBN: How have you had to adapt to this high-volume bar life?
BS: What Clover Club didn’t prepare me for was the intensity of working in Midtown. The culture is so different and so much more complicated. Not everyone from the craft bartending world is suited to work in Midtown, just as some Midtown bartenders would be utterly helpless behind a craft cocktail bar in Brooklyn. But I think Midtown definitely benefits from the influence of the craft culture, and the craft cocktail world benefits too as there are more opportunities now for bartenders to expand into leadership roles. It’s been great working for a larger restaurant group that is willing to take risks by expanding their cocktail program.