Gathering and Sharing Inspiration with Joaquin Simó
"I've always been pretty diverse in my inspiration. I can go somewhere and have a salad and just be so taken by the combination of textures and flavors that I will then try to think: How can I do this in a drink?" reveals bartender Joaquin Simó of the process behind the cocktails he creates. "Sometimes I'll find it that way, sometimes I'll find the inspiration in a garnish. I'll see a garnish and reverse engineer a drink based on what I want and how badly I want that garnish. Sometimes it's a name."
His innovation unfolds front and center across the menus of Pouring Ribbons, the New York bar he co-owns and runs as part of Alchemy Consulting. Situated on Avenue B in the Lower East Side, the bar has become a favorite of craft cocktail fans and industry icons, attracting off-duty staff from restaurants and bars across the city.
Simó announced the opening of Pouring Ribbons when he won Tales of the Cocktail American Bartender of the Year in 2012 in a "mic-drop" moment. "It was a fun way to announce it and obviously you can't ask for a bigger or brighter stage to make that sort of announcement."
His path to bartending began in Boston, or rather "in the student ghetto of Alston," where he would frequent college bars, Irish pubs, rock and roll clubs. "I think it's safe to say I was a pretty awesome regular before I was ever on the other side of the bar," says Simó of his humble beginnings. "I basically had a standing job offer at my local bar" which gave way to working as the door guy before graduating to bar back, doing two years stints in each position. "At the time Boston was really more of a beer and shot kind of place."
Although his love for the bar scene began in Boston, his inventiveness has deeper roots. Simó comes from a culinary family. His dad studied the art of pastries in Paris and owned a French bakery. A couple other family members went to Le cordon Bleu. "I grew up eating really well. I always had good ideas about what quality was when it came to food and after a while I stopped thinking about it just being on my plate and I started to look to my glass as well."
He also worked for a time in a call center, where he had time to read books which inspired recipes and provided context to classic cocktails. Not only did the bars of the college town build his knowledge, but he credits the English degree he earned there for his ability to distill information down to its most basic when it comes to recipes. To this day he still describes himself as a voracious reader, devouring booze-related publications, cookbooks balanced with postmodern fiction and even a historical account of hip-hop's origins.
After gleaning what he could from his Boston experiences, his move to New York came swift. "I learned how to bartend in Boston, and I learned how to make drinks in New York."
Upon moving to New York he worked at a series of restaurants including a Pan-American restaurant, in which he could embrace his Ecuadorian roots. He did a stint at a celebrity hotspot before answering a fateful Craigslist ad, which led to him burning the candle at both ends between Staton Social and Death & Co. He worked 5 shifts over every weekend, stacking each day with both brunch and late night shifts.
Eventually, he narrowed down to tending bar at Death & Co. for five and a half years, alongside doing consulting work for Alchemey Consulting.
"... What strikes me deeply is when I see a young bartender who sat in on a seminar I gave and who comes back to me a couple years later and says how much it affected them and how much they were able to refocus and rededicate themselves to some aspect of the business that they hadn't quite considered as important as it was before,” he says. “... Especially when those people go on to open bar that I go to and I enjoy enormously." He continues to mentor at Pouring Ribbons, giving full tours to young bartenders when they come in for a drink, showing them the space and recipes.
Looking ahead, Simó has his eye on opening multiple venues outside the city. Whether they'll be domestic or international, he says "the doors are open in so many ways." He's also just started One Step Syrups alongside his partner to purvey speciality syrups, tincture and bitters.
As his mentoring, consulting and advocating proves, bartending goes much further than simply crafting a cocktail. His job ultimately comes down to what he can provide to those sitting across from him in the barstool. "The more variety of experiences that we're able to give a guest, the more that they realize they can come to our bar and feel comfortable no matter what mood they're in."