When bartender Nola Ortiz moved to New York four years ago, there was no plan in place. “I just knew that this was home, and I was going to make it work one way or another,” she says. Though the Toronto native had been working in hospitality for nine years, it wasn’t until her arrival in NYC that she began to consider a long-term career in the industry — a revelation she credits to the colleagues she encountered. “The people that I met in the industry were well educated, committed, and extremely passionate about the world of spirits, cocktails and service,” she notes. “I quickly jumped on to the circuit of seminars, tastings, and courses to learn as much as I could.” She knows how to stay busy, too: In addition to behind the bar roles at Mother’s Ruin, Goldbar, and Sweetwater Social, she’s the mixologist for elit Vodka, Stoli’s ultra-premium spirit that she’s highlighted most recently in The Citrus Strut cocktail at The Marmara Park Avenue Hotel.
Here, Ortiz shares her go-to classic cocktail, the industry mentors she turns to, and the NYC bars she can’t get enough of.
BoozeMenus: How would you describe your behind the bar style?
Nola Ortiz: I've been fortunate enough to work at many different types of bars with different standards of service and volume. It has made me a more versatile bartender, and I can honestly say that my style changes from one venue to the next. I tailor my bartending personality and skill set to fit the space that I'm in.
BM: What classic cocktail do you reach for on the regular?
NO: The Dark and Stormy. This is a direct influence from the guys that I work with most regularly. It's more habit than anything else. When I'm making drinks for a guest, however, I try to figure out exactly what they like to drink. I try to be creative within the framework that they give me.
BM: What’s your favorite bar in NYC to saddle up to on a night off?
NO: I enjoy supporting friends in the industry. The staff plays a huge roll in creating a fun environment, and I'll often be drawn to visit the people, over the establishment itself. That being said, I know I can always rely on Mother’s Ruin and Goodnight Sonny's, regardless of who is working. They both offer really amazing and consistent late night food and an effortlessly fun vibe.
BM: Who has been a mentor for you in this field, and what’s a lesson you’ve learned from them?
NO: There have been several mentors over the years, and I find myself learning things from a lot of people that I get to work with, even if they occupy different positions than me. The person who has had the most influence over my career and bartending style is Tim Cooper of Goldbar and Sweetwater Social. He has a wealth of knowledge and connections in the industry, and he's always happy to share both with anyone who asks. I have to also mention Remi Shobitan of Goldbar and Surf Lodge. In my first year in New York, I worked the floor at Goldbar. Even with seven years of bartending under my belt at the time, I can honestly say that I learned more from watching Remi bartend and the methodology behind how he builds rounds and multi-tasks than I had working on my own all those years.
BM: What’s your all-time favorite food and drink pairing?
NO: This changes so often for me. My mood, surroundings and appetite can influence this pretty dramatically. I've discovered that you can never go wrong pairing food and drink of a similar region. With a hearty Italian meal I am drawn to drink Nebbiolo, I drink Sherry with Spanish charcuterie, and I am just as content with a burger and beer.
BM: Where would you like to travel to next for a dining and drinking experience?
NO: I spent the last year studying wine through the American Sommelier Association. It has introduced me to a whole world of regions with exceptional cuisine. There are several places in France that I would like to visit, as well as Jerez, Spain. I've always had an itch to visit Oaxaca as well, for my love of mezcal.
BM: If you could have a bartender superpower, what would it be?
NO: I wish I had the ability to create more days in a week.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos from left: La Signora Cocktail courtesy of elit by Stoli; Nola Ortiz courtesy of elit by Stoli; Lobby Bar at Marmara Park Avenue courtesy of Marmara Park Avenue)