Behind the Bar Stick People

Suffolk Arms’ Giuseppe González on Paying His Bar World Dues

Liz Clayman

Giuseppe González’s father and grandfather were bartenders. So were some of his cousins. In González’s youth in New York the 1980s, his father ran a handful of joints that also doubled as drug dens; so González has bad memories of filling in coloring books in booths and waiting for his dad to get off work. Although there were some good bartender role models in his family, like his granddad, he says that he “never wanted to be a bartender ... but, I could never imagine myself doing anything else.”

After years behind the stick, he finally opened Suffolk Arms on New York’s Lower East Side in February. Many of one section of the menu’s cocktails are González’s creations that are (jokingly) named in honor of cocktail luminaries who González admires. That sections’ drinks include the Blackstrap Jungle Bird, in honor of Jeffrey Morgenthaler and made with Cruzan Black Strap rum, pineapple, lime and Campari; and the Ready Fire Aim!, in tribute to Employees Only’s Dev Johnson and Steve Schneider and made with mezcal, pineapple, pink peppercorn agave syrup and hot sauce.

Jungle Bird.

González has also gone out on a bit of a limb to be a strong advocate of vodka-based cocktails at Suffolk Arms, as he considers it a way to call the bar community on its often biased and pretentious attitude.

Since he was 17, González has worked in bars and restaurants, as a “dishwasher, delivery guy, busser, line cook, garde manger, barback, server, bartender, manager, floor manager, assistant manager, head bartender, Beverage Director [notice the capital letters, he jokes] and owner.”

So in 2002, after two years of making Sour Apple Martinis and Cosmopolitans at Radius in Boston, he returned to New York City. He thinks he may have applied to Pegu Club close to a dozen times and went to Employees Only open calls every week. He stood outside Milk & Honey every day for close to three weeks, one week of which was spent in front of the wrong building.

Suffolk Arms.

The moment he took at job at vaunted New York restaurant Per Se, he called the Flatiron Lounge. Owner Julie Reiner promptly called back saying she might have a position opening, so he ditched the opportunity at Per Se and got himself back on the bar track.

“I spent a year and change working the toughest service well I have ever seen, making the best drinks of my life.... It gave me back my love of drinks, the industry and hospitality.” It’s passion he hopes to infuse all the drinks with at his new bar.