A trailblazer in the modern American bar scene, Julie Reiner is credited with shaping New York City’s booming cocktail culture. She’s the brains behind some of the city’s finest watering holes – Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club and Leyenda, to name just three. We took five with Reiner to discuss mango Margaritas, longevity in the bar world, and making tonic water from scratch…
Julie Reiner has been changing the way New Yorkers drink since the late 1990s. The Hawaii native began her bartending career in San Francisco before making her way to the Big Apple in ‘98, where she founded Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan back in 2003. From there, Reiner opened Pegu Club in 2005 as a silent partner, before co-founding Clover Club in 2008 and Leyenda in 2015. All closed their doors having amassed prestigious awards during their time.
When she’s not opening hugely influential bars, Reiner can be found imparting her knowledge as a drinks author – The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks for Every Occasion is a home bar staple – and as a judge, mentor, or consultant (her business goes by Mixtress Consulting). Her work has influenced a generation of bartenders; Reiner is one of a handful of people to scoop the title of Best Bar Mentor at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.
Most recently, Reiner released a line of craft canned cocktails, Social Hour, with legendary bartender and Clover Club co-owner Tom Macy. She’s worked closely with many big names over the years, including her mentor Dale DeGroff – known as the King of Cocktails, the bartender and author is widely credited with laying the foundations for the craft cocktail revival we’re enjoying today – plus Pegu Club founder Audrey Saunders, and the ‘Modern Mixologist’ Tony Abou Ganim.
From memorable serves and creative influences to canned drink development, Reiner answers our burning questions below – and shares a cocktail recipe to try out at home:
MoM: Thanks so much for your time, Julie! When and where did your love of hospitality begin?
Reiner: I grew up on Oahu in Hawaii and as a kid my house was a revolving door of visitors. It was as if we were running an AirBnB for our extended family and friends. Hospitality was in my blood, I helped my mom pass hors d’ oeuvres and blend up mango Margaritas and loved it. We had a limousine van so that we could tour the island all together. It was a big part of my childhood and really solidified my future in the hospitality industry.
MoM: What are your biggest creative influences in terms of shaping your bartending style?
Reiner: Early on in my career, tropical flavours were my biggest influence as I had a lychee tree in my front yard and a mango tree in the back. I naturally gravitated towards those fruits and island flavours. I met Dale Degroff, Audrey Saunders and Tony Abou Ganim early on in my career and discussed cocktails and flavour pairings with all of them in the early stages of my career. They all had great influence on me and my bartending style, as did the chefs I worked with at various restaurants.
MoM: To fast-forward to 2020 – how has the coronavirus pandemic changed your working life?
Reiner: In terms of how it has affected business: we were originally scheduled to launch Social Hour in April, just in time for the spring/summer season… and then Covid hit. We lost some of our funding, and had to regroup before we could launch. We also had to shut down Clover Club and Leyenda, which was very stressful.
MoM: How did the development process for Social Hour compare to designing cocktails for a bar setting?
Reiner: It was similar in some ways and very different in others. The biggest difference is we had to create ingredients like tonic water or ginger beer from scratch so we could adjust variables like sweetness, acidity, spiciness, etcetera. It was great to have that flexibility but it took a while to get it all right. The end goal was the same as it is in a bar, but the road we had to take to get there was different.
MoM: Could you share a story about a memorable drink you’ve made over the years?
Reiner: When we were preparing to open Clover Club, I created a cocktail called The Slope named after my neighborhood of Park Slope [see below]. It was meant to be our house Manhattan variation and became an instant classic at the bar. It is one of the only cocktails that has never left the menu. The Slope is a fan favorite with our regulars and has been featured on menus all over the world. It was even featured in a Brooklyn-themed cocktail box in France.
MoM: What key qualities does it take to forge a career in the bar industry? And, how do you foster longevity and prevent burnout?
Reiner: It’s not an easy path to be sure. In my experience, which includes many highs and lows over the years, the most important thing is pick the right partners. Also, continue to innovate and look ahead, don’t rest on your laurels. Hire well. Give people the opportunity to grow… and keep your consumption in check!
We asked Reiner to share a cocktail you could recreate at home – so below you’ll find the recipe for The Slope, a twist on the classic Manhattan. Enjoy!
Stir all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe.