The new Milk & Honey soft-opened a few weeks back in Murray Hill, and barman Sasha Petraske, who essentially ushered in a new age of cocktail culture when he opened the highly influential original Milk & Honey on Eldridge Street the last day of December in 1999, has done a lengthy, great, and revealing interview with Difford’s Class magazine on cocktail culture, the imitators, and the unexpected problems that occur when you use expensive metal straws.
1. On the imitators: “There are so many people who do stuff that’s just a joke, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of them trace that lineage to my bars.”
2. On why talking about drinks is like dancing about architecture: “Cocktails are not worth intellectualising, they are just something to be experienced. The fact that people talk about cocktails like one might talk about like wine, which you have to grow, is laughable. A cocktail is a simple thing - what matters is if you make it right.”
3. On the frauds: “Cocktail bartenders should drink cocktails. If you prefer a beer, you are a hypocrite and are morally wrong. You probably make bad cocktails too. It’s like being an acupuncturist and going to see a western doctor when you get sick.”
4. On rewarding the guy at the old Milk & Honey who had to travel through all sorts of subterranean passageways in order to refill the ice bucket: “[T]he guy who did that was on double the average wage of a kitchen porter.”
5. On how Angel’s Share sustained Milk & Honey, not the other way around: “I liked to think the tradition of cocktail bartending started in quiet environments and was kept alive in Japan during Prohibition. I’ve since learned that that culture only developed there during Japan’s post-war reconstruction — regardless, I’m very thankful to whatever entrepreneur came to Manhattan and opened Angel’s Share. It was exactly what I wanted in a bar.”
6. On the consequences of buying expensive straws: “I wanted the very best ingredients and the cheapest prices. Drinks were $7 originally, but we were paying $5 for handmade metal straws. You can’t actually sell drinks like that for $7 and I gave up on the idea of being an inexpensive bar relatively early in Milk & Honey’s life, and the prices went inexorably up.”
7. On getting back into the game by working behind the bar, from 1:30 to 4:30 a.m. five nights a week: “I cannot overstate how thrilling it is, my heart jumps in the same way it used to.”