For professional drinkers like us, ordering a cocktail seems pretty straightforward. But then we traveled to the West Village in New York City and caught up with mixologist Jim Kearns from Slowly Shirley, and we found out some of us might just be doing it wrong. Slowly Shirley is an elegant subterranean cocktail sanctuary run by owners Jon Neidich and Jim Kearns, located below the duo’s jovial restaurant and bar, The Happiest Hour. With Art Deco décor, old-school hotel service and a seriously strong cocktail game, Slowly Shirley transports guests to Hollywood’s Golden Age when glamor and sophistication ruled the day.
NightOwl: So Jim, how did you get your start as a bartender?
Jim: I moved to New York in 2002, after 10 years in the service industry in Arizona, where I’m from. I dumb lucked my way into a job at Balthazar. After a short time, they asked me if I’d ever worked behind the bar because they needed a barback. I said that I hadn’t, but I’d be willing to give it a shot. After about a year of working with the staff behind the bar, I started to bartend.
NightOwl: What are three things everyone should know about ordering a cocktail?
Jim: First off, don’t worry about what other people like. Think about what you like, along with what you’d like at the moment. People ask a lot of questions when looking at a cocktail menu that have no bearing on anything that will actually make them happy. A lot of people ask what their bartender or server likes, or what is most popular. While those answers may coincide with an individual guest’s tastes, it is unlikely, and, more often than not, will simply lead to a lackluster, mediocre experience. Secondly, make sure you know about everything in a cocktail you’re considering before ordering it. Even a small amount of a really potent ingredient can completely affect the flavor of a cocktail. Finally, decide how adventurous you’re feeling when you order. Most bars have an array of different types of drinks, ranging from the very accessible to the very challenging and esoteric. Order the right drink for you at that time of the night.
NightOwl: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure drink?
Jim: I’m pretty secure with my beverage choices. I’m not sure I can think of a guilty pleasure.
NightOwl: What drinks do you not enjoy making?
Jim: Anything that takes an unnecessarily long time to build, especially when I’m really busy behind the bar, and even more so when it’s just something that looks cool and people order it for no other reason than visual appeal. I love Mojitos and Mint Juleps, but they can often fall into this bucket.
NightOwl: What separates Slowly Shirley from other secret subterranean bars?
Jim: We aren’t secret! There’s a sign on the door, a neon sign inside, and a website. There’s also a posted email address, with which to make reservations.
NightOwl: Do you see a lot of first dates here? What do you feel the attraction is to this bar for a first date?
Jim: I jokingly make the analogy that the Happiest Hour, our sister bar, is the place for the hookup, meet up, or possibly the first date – Slowly Shirley is more of a third date spot. Honestly, though, I think Slowly Shirley is a wonderful choice for a first date. It’s intimate, romantic, unpretentious, quiet, sophisticated, and elegant. Maybe I’m biased, but I think Slowly Shirley would be a great place for a first date if you really wanted to make your date feel special, still have a great time, and feel relaxed and welcome.
NightOwl: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you behind a bar?
Jim: I had a cockroach thrown at me once. That was pretty crazy, from a lot of perspectives.
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