For this week’s nightcap we stopped by Queensborough in San Diego, CA, for a chat with owner Mike Vizcarra. Queensborough, located in the Gaslamp Quarter, places heavy emphasis on rare spirits, local craft beers, and pays homage to New York City institutions Death & Co. and Milk & Honey with twists on some of their classics. Join us for a drink as we chat with Mike, and find out his biggest bar fail.
NightOwl: Tell us about Queensborough and your bar inspirations.
Mike: Queensborough is a cocktail lounge in the heart of the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego. Our cocktail program emphasis is on the classics like Old Fashioneds and Negronis and also slight riffs on NYC-inspired cocktails like the New York Sour, Manhattan and Brooklyn cocktails.
NightOwl: What’s the crowd like?
Mike: Our target demo is the slightly older patron who’s graduated from the sensory overload of large nightclubs with LED walls and sparklers but still wants a nightlife element. If a guest wants to get a bottle of Titos or 1942 we can absolutely accommodate, but if a group of conventioneers want to do rounds of old fashioneds we can do that too.
NightOwl: Queensborough places heavy emphasis on rare and obscure bourbons and ryes, Scotch, Irish and Japanese whiskeys. What’s the most obscure bottle you have, and what do you create with it?
Mike: I would say the St. George Spirits Baller. St. George is a micro distillery up in the Bay Area (Alameda) and they make some amazing stuff. Baller is their take on a Japanese-style whisky and as a huge fan of Japanese whisky I would have to say they nailed it. Esquire Magazine named Baller one of the “27 things you must try before you die.” It’s lights out!
NightOwl: You also feature 18 draft beers exclusively consisting of San Diego-based brews. Why only local?
Mike: San Diego is often referred as the “Napa Valley of Craft Beer.” We have some of the best breweries in the world right in our own backyard, so it only makes sense to feature them as much as possible.
NightOwl: How do you pay tribute to the great cocktail institutions of NYC?
Mike: We feel the best way to pay homage to the Death & Co. and Milk & Honeys of the world is to showcase some of the cocktails that originated in those bars and make them to their exact specs like the Penicillin and Oaxacan Old Fashioned. There’s a reason those cocktails are mainstays, because when made properly out of respect they’re amazing.
NightOwl: You’re known for unique twists on classics like the Gold Rush, Penicillin and Manhattan. Tell us about that.
Mike: One of our most popular cocktails is the “I Only do Brooklyn on the Weekends” which is a spin on the Brooklyn cocktail, cousin of the Manhattan. A traditional Brooklyn usually features rye whiskey, dry vermouth, Luxardo and Amaro CioCiaro. We decided to use a great local rye whiskey called Henebery and Amaro Montenegro instead of the CioCiaro. It’s a cocktail that hits all of the notes: spice, slightly sweet, slightly dry and slightly bitter. For a nationwide Fernet Branca event we did a rendition of our Brooklyn on the Weekends cocktail called the “Adventures of Fernet Fairlane.” Another spin on the Brooklyn cocktail is the Bensonhurst (a borough of Brooklyn) with the ingredients of rye whiskey, dry vermouth, Luxardo and Cynar. We swapped out the Cynar for Fernet and increased the measurements to give it more assertive bitterness. Andrew Dice Clay’s character in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was from Bensonhurst, hence the name The Adventures of Fernet Fairlane. Again always trying to historically pay tribute to NYC.
NightOwl: You’ve operated bar programs and concepts at several successful spots including Seven Grand, Draft, Fluxx, and Searsucker. What’s one thing that always remains constant when developing a new place?
Mike: You have to stress consistency. Consistency in quality and also how the drinks are made. I always use Seven Grand as a good example. There’s a reason people frequent Seven Grand and all of the other 213 Ventures bars whether here in SD, LA or even their bars in Austin. No matter what day of the week, time of day or bartender making the cocktail, the old fashioneds are the same every single time. People value consistency and that’s what keeps them coming back.
NightOwl: Apart from you guys obviously, who is making the drinks you find most interesting and innovative right now?
Mike: There are so many amazing cocktail bars here in San Diego. Some of the ones that stick out for me are Craft & Commerce, Hundred Proof, Campfire and the tasting room at Cutwater Spirits.
NightOwl: Tell us about a cocktail experiment that failed spectacularly.
Mike: When I was working at a craft beer bar a few years ago, a group of patrons wanted a bartender’s choice beer cocktail. I had been researching beer cocktails and came across one with vodka, lemon, ginger liqueur, egg white and stout that sounded really good. I made them a round but forgot to take into consideration it was the middle of summer at the beach and it was hot and humid. The cocktails separated rather quickly from the egg whites, beer and citrus and the texture took a turn for the worst.
NightOwl: When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink and where?
Mike: It depends on what mood I’m in, where I’m at and who I’m with. If I’m out, I usually frequent bars where I feel comfortable and know a few of the people working so we can catch up. An old fashioned at Born & Raised, a Scotch on the rocks at Seven Grand or sometimes a nice sour from Avery or IPA from Modern Times at home with my wife.
NightOwl: Name three people, living or dead whom you would like to have a drink with, and what are you drinking?
Mike: Bruce Lee, Prince and Bill Murray. Suntory Hakushu sherry cask or Yamazaki 25 year because the Japanese make the best whisky in the world. Kanpai!
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