“I didn’t take bartending seriously at first; it was just a way to drink free booze before college parties.”
Now, Pamela Wiznitzer is a fixture at The Dead Rabbit, the acclaimed multi-story cocktail saloon in New York’s Financial District that gets as much attention for its clever menu (the current iteration is a graphic novel) as its sublime cocktails.
While she is most often seen making elaborate libations like the Head of Steam (Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey, Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth, Pedro Ximénez sherry, The Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters; pictured above) in The Dead Rabbit’s tony upstairs parlor, she also loves whipping up highballs and pouring beers in the hectic taproom downstairs. “I like the challenge of going from high-volume to craft. It makes you a better bartender,” says Wiznitzer, whose roots are steeped in the fast-paced drink-slinging that began her career when she tended bar on Saturday nights “just for fun.”
One of Wiznitzer’s formative stints behind the stick occurred when the economy collapsed in on itself in 2008. Her corporate job had dried up, and in 2009, she snatched a daytime shift at a Murray Hill sports bar. Soon after she started, the bar was regularly full. “It was an interesting neighborhood,” she recalls. “People losing family members to stage-four cancer at NYU Medical Center; teachers with chaotic classrooms who needed a break. I learned to leave my emotional baggage at the door.”
Wiznitzer worked later at more high-end boîtes, read cocktail books and followed the moves of such personal drink heroes as Charlotte Voisey, Aisha Sharpe and Tony Abou-Ganim. But her time at the sports bar became invaluable. “I think every bartender should start in a dive bar,” she says. “It gives you a backbone. I learned how to be my own barback and taught myself how to shake and stir while watching ESPN all day,” she laughs.
In 2011, Wiznitzer discovered the United States Bartenders Guild, in which she is now president of the New York chapter. She also began pursuing her master’s degree in Food Studies at New York University. Gigs at Alex Stupak’s high-end Mexican restaurant Empellón and the short-lived SoHo eatery King also followed before the game-changing Dead Rabbit stint. “It’s humbling to work here, but I’m always thinking of how we can be better,” she says.
Wiznitzer is quick to point out the drinks at The Dead Rabbit (pictured above) are a truly collaborative effort, yet in addition to the Head of Steam, she has two other personal recipes on the bar’s new menu: a refreshing, complex spin on the Grasshopper called the Independence Day (peppermint-infused Mordain Poitín, Pernod Absinthe, mint, vanilla, pistachio, eucalyptus, fresh cream) and the sophisticated, easy-sipping 11th Round (Green Spot Irish Whiskey, Pernod Absinthe, aperitif wine, pear, Bittermens Boston Bittahs).
Or just ask for a beer and a shot. Wiznitzer won’t mind.
Get the recipe for the Head of Steam, Wiznitzer’s complex Irish whiskey cocktail.