Streets bartender George Duval didn’t enter the bartending world for the money. “Primarily, we are in the hospitality business,” he says. “When working in a tip driven business, you are judged on your performance, and each guest is auditioning you for a chance to earn their hard earned dollars — how do you stock the cards in your favor? Service, Service, Service.” The Hell’s Kitchen native has carried that philosophy with him to bars and restaurants throughout NYC, from the 40/40 Club and The Top of the Standard, to Cookshop and Haru Sake Bar. Most recently he’s helming the bar at Streets, the global street food venture that opened doors in Williamsburg earlier this year. Here, Duval explains the commonality between bartenders and Broadway, why math matters, and the beauty of behind the bar chaos.
BoozeMenus: What kind of research went into the drinks list at Streets?
George Duval: The menu at Streets was a lot of fun to create. We did a series of tastings where I was given the freedom to create and introduce an array of cocktails. Every Monday for about a three month period we would have a cocktail tasting and food pairing. I would start off by spending the weekend prior sourcing ingredients, glassware and tools. I would then prep all of my ingredients leading up to the days of the tasting. Whether I was making a puree from scratch, infusing a spirit or prepping an intricate garnish, I had complete creative control, which any creative person can tell you is awesome.
BM: What is your general process for creating menus?
GD: When I think about creating a cocktail menu, whether for Streets, Soco, Cookshop, BLT, or even Marc Forgione, I am looking to make it as fresh and tasty as possible. I am looking to make sure that every ingredient used in my cocktail is premier, and that it goes well together. If you find a cocktail of my design, you will see that it is not only well balanced, but that it also tastes like the actual fruit, vegetable or other ingredient it is named after. For instance, our "Concord Grape French 75” not only has a homemade grape puree, but is also topped with a grape foam, which really elevates the classic cocktail. Once I have worked out the nuances of the cocktail in my head, I then begin to think about the glassware and how I want that drink to be presented. For example, our "Blackberry Lemonade” is served in a sugar dispenser, and our Mezcal Libation is garnished with a candied cricket.
BM: Which cocktail was the most fun or challenging to create?
GD: The "Green Tomato Bloody Mary.” The challenge was to create our own variation of a Bloody Mary that was fresher and tastier as all hell. So I thought about a Bloody Mary and how I could make it better by either enhancing the typical ingredients used or swapping them out. I wanted to make a green Bloody Mary with tomato, and I had to be sure not to add any red hot sauce and to steer clear of any other color altering ingredients. The last very important aspect of creating a cocktail list, and I try to teach this to all of my staff, is to know the math. You must know your measurements to make a cocktail that you can teach others and make consistently.
BM: The restaurant focuses on global street food - how did you use that notion to inspire your drinks?
GD: I used the notion of Streets’ international expressions throughout the cocktail list, whether it was through a particular spirit used or an ingredient. I wanted it to be a reflection of the cocktail culture on an international level. You will find with drinks like our "Pickle Back" cocktail a refinement of many nostalgic drinks or drinking patterns.
BM: Have any personal encounters with street food influenced any of the drinks?
GD: Yes, I am a foodie. I know, I know — everybody says it, but I enjoy trying new things and experiences. I frequent food festivals and I am not afraid to try something new. Also growing up in New York, every summer we would have a ton a food festivals. One in particular is the 9th Avenue Food Festival. It was fun as there was not only good food and drink, but it was a chance to see everybody from your neighborhood. My family also would set up as vendors and serve Spanish food. These experiences directly affected my creative process for Streets, and I went into this project trying to bring to life some of those same feelings.
BM: What do you enjoy most about the Brooklyn bartending scene?
GD: The Brooklyn bartending scene is amazing. I have seen it really grow leaps and bounds over the last few years. It is great to see how it is developing and coming along; from a place to only get a drink at a great price, to getting a good drink at a great price. Growing up in New York I recall seeing the perception of Brooklyn change. The amount of exposure, experiences and offerings have definitely grown.
BM: What's been your favorite food/drink pairing at the restaurant, and why?
GD: I really, really like the Bake n’ Shark. I think the homemade bread and spices pair perfectly with our Mezcal Libation. The heat and smoke of this cocktail go extremely well with it. Be sure to try next time you visit.
BM: What do you crave post-work?
GD: I usually crave a good time. People don't realize that even though bartending can, and usually is, done in a fun environment, it is still work, so afterwards, I am looking to decompress and reflect on the past performance — I suppose like a Broadway actor would reflect on their past night.
BM: Who, what or where inspire you in your work?
GD: I'm inspired by fellow artists in various fields. Being able to work with chefs such at Marc Forgione, Laurent Tourondel, Marc Meyer, and mixologists at the The Standard, Cookshop and various other establishments really helped me along my career, and gave me the tools to create and awake the creative beast inside.
BM: What is your favorite time of the shift and why?
GD: Prime time. There is nothing like organized confusion. It's the stock exchange during a new offering at market surge. Chaos abounds, but within it there can also be a sense of tranquility. It sounds nuts. It’s like a New Yorker who leaves the city and is home sick for the sirens and commotion.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos From Left: Cocktail courtesy of Streets; Table Setting courtesy of Streets; George Duval courtesy of George Duval)