Holiday Cocktails with the Urban Mixologist
The holidays are a magical time of year, with festive decorations, delicious traditional food and this Tasty Lady's favorite way to celebrate: imbibing many, merry cocktails! To get the scoop on the latest concoctions for the holidays, I went to the Spirit Master of the Bronx: Bruce “Blue” Rivera.
The hunky “urban mixologist” he knows all the tricks of the trade. A self-proclaimed “liquor nerd,” he attributes his success to “respecting the craft” and “you get out what you put in.” After all, mixology is an art form.
We met at his newest collaboration with long-time friend Brian Martinez, owner of the spectacular Travesias Restaurant. Bruce is the general manager and is elevating their drink menu to complement their award-winning international array of cuisine by Chef Dario Morillo.
How did you get into mixology?
It was never a conscious decision. I always have had a side job as a bartender or as a bouncer once I was out of the military. One time (while working as a bouncer) I got hit with a Corona bottle and almost lost my right eye, and I kinda realized I didn’t want to live like that. (laughs) Luckily, a friend had been a bartender for a long time and needed help and I expressed interest early on. I was great at hosting, great at speaking with people, I just didn’t have the technical knowledge at that time. So I got a job at an old-school Irish pub, six months, wearing a shirt and tie and couldn’t touch a bottle, loading freezers and popping beer bottles for months—you know, the old school way: You gotta pay dues—but I learned so much in the process, it validated my choice. Up until that point, bartending was a constant in my life but only part-time. One day I made a switch and did it full time and went from bartender to bar manager to general manager and mixologist.
Did you have a mentor?
You know what? I gotta say, where I’m at now, as a mixologist, I met Russell Davis during the filming of an episode of “Bar Rescue” (on Spike). He was the expert on hand and he said to me, “You know, you’ve got the skill set, you’re good … you just have to believe in yourself and step out of your comfort zone and really show them what you can do.” He’s the one who promoted me and told me to get into competitions: “You have a story to tell with your palate.” He was a great inspiration to me, and we’re still great friends.
Do you have a favorite ingredient to use?
It has a lot to do with seasons and what’s available, I try to source local ingredients. Being in New York, we have so many great ingredients at our disposal.
What’s your favorite type of liquor?
I am a big fan of cognac; I am a cognac neat drinker. It’s bold, and the amount of technicality that goes into a bottled cognac, the quality and amount of detail are astounding.
To work with, I really like rum. I have a Caribbean background, and they’re doing so many interesting things with it: barreling and aging it. There’s so much room to play with it. While it’s very versatile, it also maintains its own flavor.
What is your favorite cocktail to drink?
I love a Dark and Stormy; it’s so simply complex. It’s dark rum, ginger beer and lime. The caramelized sugar cane, with the spicy ginger and a little citrus, it just nails it. It’s perfect.
Where is your favorite place to grab a drink in the Bronx?
A loaded question! First would be the place I’m the general manager of, Travesias. I love that they use a lot of flavors like passion fruit, guava, tamarind. They bring something to the table that a lot of other places don’t.
I like Charlie’s Kitchen and Bar—I love Charlie’s, man. As a mixologist, they know what they’re doing. They bring a new caliber to the Bronx that rivals Williamsburg, Manhattan. I’ve been a fan since they opened.
What is the best thing about the food and beverage culture in the Bronx?
The authenticity. It’s real. What you’re getting isn’t an interpretation, that’s the soul of the Bronx—to be real. That feeling has tipped over into the culinary and mixology culture. They have something to say and they’re saying it with their food and drink. It’s unapologetic. We’re not Brooklyn or Manhattan; there is grit to what we do, but it’s still refined.
As for this holiday season, with any libations you serve Bruce advises to always start with quality liquors—the holidays are a time to indulge and not to skimp! Also, use fresh ingredients; save those frozen berries for your smoothies and cut up some beautiful fresh farmers market apples or seasonal fruit for your garnishes. The result will be amazing and are sure to make your festivities grander!
This article originally appeared in our Winter 2016 issue of Edible Bronx