Sasha Petraske 1973 - 2015

  • No hooting, hollering, shouting or other loud behaviour.
  • No fighting, play fighting or talking about fighting.
  • Gentlemen will remove their hats. Hooks are provided.
  • Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.
  • Do not linger outside the front door.
  • Do not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your own home. You are responsible for the behaviour of your guests.
  • Exit the bar briskly and silently. People are trying to sleep across the street. Please make all your travel plans and say your farewells before leaving the bar.

These were the rules of Milk & Honey, the bar Sasha Petraske founded in 1999 on the Lower East Side that was a splash heard around the world. On Friday, August 21, the sad new brokes that he had been found dead in his home at the age of 42.

I can’t say I knew him well. I think we’d only barely shook hands on a few occasions. What I did know was how those around him were affected by his friendship, kindness, vision and hospitality.

Milk & Honey was one of the first bars in New York City in the modern era to serve cocktails that weren’t served in a big cone-shaped Martini glass, and paid attention to ingredients both fresh and exotic, even bitter. You needed the bar’s phone number to get in. There were strict rules of conduct, but by creating these policies, he was also breaking other ones. The world noticed, and drinking cocktails in New York or anywhere else was never quite the same after that.

So many people in the beverage industry can trace their careers directly to Petraske’s influence and mentoring, through the vast, talented roster of people who worked beside him and learned to pass on those traits to others. He later opened another Milk & Honey in London. Back in NY, Little Branch, Dutch Kills and Middle Branch followed, as well as the Varnish in Los Angeles and Everleigh in Melbourne, Australia. When the original M&H closed in 2012 (his partners Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy reopened the space as Attaboy), he moved it to 23rd Street.

Petraske at the Museum of the American Cocktail, Jared Brown 2007
Petraske at the Museum of the American Cocktail, Jared Brown 2007

Small, independent spirits brands were championed at his bars, and he was known for NOT being the guy to slam a door in the face of a new brand looking to place a product at the bar. As long as it was good. So many people I’ve spoken to have related their memorable “first time I met Sasha” experiences to me, and go on to say what a great friend they had forever more.

I know that he was famously mischievous and cheeky. Perhaps the best way to sum up what I know of his personality is to relate a story told to me by a friend who isn’t in the business, but became a Milk & Honey 2.0 regular in the short time it existed before that building was sold. By then, it had dispensed with the ceremony of the coveted phone number and password and become a more laid back bar. 

My friend, who had by then met Petraske on a few occasions, was telling someone he’d be a few minutes away from leaving. Petraske overheard the conversation and said to him, “There is no such thing as five minutes. There is only one last kiss, or one last drink.”

Our hearts go out to Petraske’s wife, Georgette Moger, married only this past May, and his family. And to the extended family he created through his work and kind friendships. This is an immeasurable loss to the cocktail industry and his is a voice that will forever be missed, though he leaves an outstanding legacy. And many last drinks.