Growing up, Harding’s bartender Derrick Turner had high hopes of becoming a chef. All he had to do was break the news to his mother, who had different ambitions for him: veterinary school. “Now if expressions could kill, I wouldn't be here talking to you now,” he says. “But I think she knew where my heart truly was.” Post-school and in the thick of debt from even further education (i.e. The School of Visual Arts), he needed a gig — fast. When a friend told him of a barback position in Cobble Hill, he was in. “I was outside of the limelight, but always closely observing what the bartenders were doing,” he recalls. “I knew there would come a day that someone would call off or quit, and when that day came, I never looked back.” Here, the Coney Island native shares with us the best time of his shift, his favorite kinds of guests, and the cocktail that will always be so much more to him than just a cocktail.
BoozeMenus: How would you describe your approach behind the bar?
Derrick Turner: Tending is an interesting thing because it’s so easy to get into, but so hard to master. My approach is easy. You treat the customer as if they are a guest in your house, at your party. It’s that simple. We've all thrown a party at one point in our lives, and we all want our guests to be comfortable. Make them happy, and they'll always come back.
BM: What is your favorite time of a shift?
DT: The beginning of a shift. The best way I can describe it is like clutching the gears to go faster. When you first come in, you're not moving that fast, but you’re still moving. People start trickling into the bar, you clutch again, and you move faster. When the sun goes down, the bar is full and you're running at 210 miles per hour — and I've never felt better.
BM: What’s an ingredient, tool, or technique that you’ve been loving lately?
DT: Lately I have been going crazy over produce. If you can eat it, I want to use it in a cocktail. There’s a genius by the name of Matthew Biancaniello, who has revamped my outlook as to how to use unconventional produce in cocktails.
BM: Who’s someone that you’d love to make a drink for?
DT: It’s always the most entertaining to make drinks for people on Tinder dates. How do I know it’s a Tinder date, you ask? I eavesdrop — bartenders are always listening. Tinder dates are fun because I'm the bridge between the two people. They don't know each other, I don't know them, so we’re all on common ground.
BM: Which of the original cocktails on the menu are you most proud of, and why?
DT: The Dirty 6. I'm a tequila guy, and I wanted to make something that was refreshing and recognizable, but different. I combined pineapple, pink peppercorns, reposado tequila, lime, and agave. It’s a glorified margarita but it’s like nothing you've had before.
BM: What's a favorite story or inspiration behind one of the cocktails?
DT: One of the first cocktails I ever created was the Black Forest. Black Forest was a cake with berries that my stepdad used to buy me for my birthday. Pure deliciousness. After his passing in the 9/11 attacks, I wanted to make something to remember him by. And that was the beginning of the cocktail.
BM: Do you have any go-to behind the bar tricks or techniques?
DT: Ask anyone what I love to play with, and 90% of them will say fire. I’ve always had a fascination with flames, so I've inducted it into my bartending goodie bag. Smoking a cocktail, or even the ice, creates a complex profile that many bartenders are now adopting.
BM: What’s something you hope to learn over the next year - whether it be related or unrelated to bartending?
DT: Bartending for almost 11 years has taught me a lot — I’ve learned a lot about myself. But the behind the scenes as to how a restaurant ticks is something that I need to learn — the small things and how to successfully keep things flowing. I understand how to make it happen, but I would like to learn every in and out of all possible situations.
BM: What’s your favorite NYC neighborhood to spend a day in, and what are you doing?
DT: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass or D.U.M.B.O is my favorite neighborhood to visit. It’s always scenic, but also busy at all times. I’ve been coming to this neighborhood before it was the bustling community it is today. Do yourself a favor and visit it sometime.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos from left: Interior, Derrick Turner; Cocktail)