Behind the Bar: Amor y Amargo, New York City

Amor y Amargo
Amor y Amargo

Amor y Amargo is not your typical bar. With that said - That first line is an understatement to the grace, style and philosophy of Amor y Amargo. Once you're inside this dark, intimate setting you'll realize something - it's a cozy room with more function than how it appears to the naked eye. No space is wasted here - every inch is devoted to selling, educating and imbibing. Bitters from across the globe line the bar as a statement to what you are in for, a session of quality cocktails. The cocktails on the menu reflect the bar's ideology:

No Sugar.

No Shaker.

No Juice.

The amazing thing is, those three little sentences allow Amor y Amargo to do its best work - make cocktails so delicious that you want to try to make them at home. The Negronis are a thing of beauty, their Manhattans are a tribute to the history of cocktail creation and the delicious complexity of an Amor y Amargo Sazerac is a treat to behold and enjoy slowly.

Behind the bar at Amor y Amargo you will find a collection of the best brown spirits that you've ever (and never) heard of. On the bar you will find dozens of unique bitters. Throughout the bar you will find all the tools necessary to make any cocktail, all sold for a reasonable price. Also for sale are books written by the masters of the cocktail industry - DeGroff, Wondrich and Meehan. Behind the stick you'll find Sother Teague, the glue that binds all of these parts together. Sother and his crew do it all with class and style, all while following the bar's main guideline: Brown. Bitter and Stirred. I spent some time with Sother to ask questions and find out what isn't behind the bar.

What was the thought process behind the Brown Bitter and Stirred philosophy?

When we opened this place up we thought to ourselves, 'Oh My God we build ourselves this ridiculously limited sort of cage. No sugar, no shaker, no juice. What are we going to do?' But then suddenly it's very freeing. I have limitless amounts of cocktail possibilities here; out of the three cocktails that I sell are Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Negroni. And I don't list what they are (ingredients) because I can plug and play with all of these ingredients, using the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Negroni as templates. I have an unending amount of each of those three. I could open a bar and serve just Old Fashioneds and never achieve the end of Old Fashioned (combinations) I could think of.

Let's go with that - Stirred vs. Shaken cocktails what drove you to that decision?

Sother Teague at Amor y Amargo
Sother Teague at Amor y Amargo

We make sure that all the cocktails here involve tincture or potables and sometimes both bitters. And we don't use any juice so we have no real reason to aerate cocktails. We want all of our cocktails to sit down on your tongue and be spirit-forward, rich and round. Shaking a drink aerates it, makes it dance across your tongue - which is totally appropriate for drinks - just not what we do. If I were to stir a daiquiri for you it would taste tremendously sour but that same daiquiri, shaken - it's aerated, it dances across your tongue, it's literally not touching all your taste buds.

Is every cocktail on the menu a stirred cocktail?

We try to have at least one cocktail on the menu that's neat. Right now we have The Black Rock Chiller, which is three components: Branca Menta, [tequila] Reposado and Suze. It's powerfully bitter but because it's got a healthy dose of the Branca Menta. It's very bracing. It comes off on your palate as cooling, though it's right out of the bottle.

Beyond the philosophy, what are your patrons like?

We're kind of the darling of the bartending community because we're so bitter. Bartenders generally gravitate towards a brown, bittered, stirred cocktail. So we get a lot of industry support. We've got worldwide press so we get people from all over the world in here be they enthusiasts or professionals.

What's your stance on competitions? Love or hate them?

I don't find that I have an intensely strong position on them. I was in a Diageo's World Class competition last year, one of four finalists for USA. That was the very first the competition I had ever entered and it was grueling. And I hope to do Diageo's again this year. As a former chef I’ve done tons of cooking competitions and actually got to such a state in my career where I was judging them. I like them [competitions]. They build community. They bring people together. You get to do a little showing off and also sharing information while you're doing that showing off. They keep your muscles loose; you can atrophy a little bit if you stay in your bubble too long.

What role do you think social media plays in this Golden age of cocktails?

Amor y Amargo storefront
Amor y Amargo storefront

I think it's amazing. It's keeping us more connected than we've ever been. It's making information available at a faster rate. We can create a community that has an inherent standard. It's like the old game of ‘telephone’ - Tell this girl something, have her whisper it to a friend and by the time it gets around the room it's completely different. But if I can tell everybody all at once - whatever it is I'm doing on the East coast they can do the same on the West coast, {Snaps his fingers} today! The message is clear and driven and immediate.

Do you like being an apothecary?

No one really calls us that. My bartending buddies all jokingly call me 'The Shop keep' cause I sell stuff in addition to making drinks.

Is there one question you are tired of being asked?

Why don't you have vodka?

Amor y Amargo

443 E. 6th St.

New York, NY 10009