Bronx Bartender: Dan Fitzgibbons
Edible Bronx: How did you get into bartending?
Dan Fitzgibbons: I came to New York from Australia for a girl but that didn’t go so well. But I stayed because I loved the energy and diversity of the city. That was about six years ago. Early on I started bartending at an Aussie bar in Alphabet City. I was a regular there and one day I said to the bloke running it, “I need a job, mate.” He took care of me right.
EB: Do you remember the first drink you ever made?
DF: No. But I remember the first compliment I got for one of my drinks. I made a woman a Sidecar; she thought it was great and Yelped about it the next day. She said, “The drink was amazing, the bartender although cute was too short.”
EB: What’s your favorite thing about being a bartender?
DF: There’s nothing more professionally satisfying than when your customers are having a kickass time.
EB: Least favorite?
DF: The odd hours. I work on a different schedule than my girlfriend, so we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.
EB: How long have you been at Charlies?
DF: Three years now.
EB: What do you think sets it apart from other bars in the Bronx?
DF: The way I see it is this, mate: Charlies has always been focused on being an inclusive neighborhood joint and it’s here to service the people of the Bronx. Whether it’s the people who’ve been living here a long time, the people new to the area or the people that may live here in the future, everyone is welcome. You feel a real sense of community when you’re at the bar, like that “Cheers” feel. And you can also get great cocktails in the process.
EB: What’s the process like for building the cocktail menu?
DF: I’ve done some extensive traveling all over the world and have tasted some amazing and different things, and I try to incorporate as much of that into menu here. Like now I’m using kaffir lime, which is native to Southeast Asia, for a riff on a classic Gimlet. I infuse the kaffir leaves into a tincture, and agave, which gives the drink a really bold aroma and refreshing body.
I also make an effort to look at what ingredients and flavor profiles the kitchen is focusing on and try to incorporate that in. And also what the neighborhood is saying. Customer feedback is important.
EB: What’s your favorite drink on the current menu, and why?
DF: In the winter I love drinks that give me a “cozy-at-home” feel. We have one now called Henny from the Block; it’s a fun Hennessy-based cocktail that’s my ode to the Bronx and its hometown girl, J-Lo! It’s made with a five-spice agave syrup we make in-house with clove, cinnamon, fennel seed, Sichuan black pepper and star anise. I think those flavors really capture winter.
EB: Define the perfect cocktail.
DF: I think the moment defines the perfect cocktail. I could be knocking back rum and fresh watermelon juice on an island in Thailand, a great Old Fashioned on a freezing city night, or a beer and a shot with a co-worker after a long shift; they could all be perfect.
EB: What’s your favorite drink to mix?
DF: The Manhattan. It’s simple, elegant, and if you stick to your bartending 101 skills it’ll come out amazing every time.
EB: Favorite base spirit, liqueur, ingredient, etc. of the moment?
DF: Vodka. It’s the blank canvas of spirits; you can really put your own style into it. It’s a spirit where you need to be creative and draw on your own experiences to come up with the flavor profiles because they’re not as prolific in the liquor itself. It can be tough but it pushes you to think.
EB: Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted?
DF: Trying to infuse a cigar into whiskey. Big fail.
EB: Best thing you ever drank?
DF: Cups of tea with my mum.
EB: If your bar shifts had a theme song, what would it be?
DF: John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Of course.
EB: What’s your shift drink?
DF: Refer to the above song.
EB: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
DF: Getting out of the city to go camping and hiking. Living in the Bronx, I’m an hour away from some pretty amazing lakes and hiking trails.
Charlies Bar & Kitchen is located at 112 Lincoln Ave. in Mott Haven. Find more info at CharliesBarKitchen.com.