No one knows a bar better than the people behind it. For “My Bar in 3 Drinks,” the people running the best bars around make and discuss three of their bar’s most representative cocktails.
When Moe Aljaff opened his first “five-star dive bar,” Two Schmucks, located in Barcelona’s vibrant El Raval neighborhood, he might have laughed at you if you’d told him it would go on to be considered one of the best bars in the world. Four years later, though, that’s exactly what Two Schmucks has become; it currently occupies the No. 11 spot on the list assembled by The World’s 50 Best Bars.
For most bar owners, that would be enough. But that’s not the case for Aljaff and his business partner, James Bligh, who, over the course of the bar-ravaging pandemic, took the opportunity to expand their Schmuck empire by opening two other bars in El Raval. The first was Fat Schmuck, a space with terrace seating that initially served as Two Schmucks’ pop-up location during the pandemic before becoming the permanent space for the second Schmuck concept, operating as an all-day café and cocktail bar at night. The other, the group’s latest endeavor, is Lucky Schmuck (often shortened to “Lucky”), which might be described as their “dive bar, without the five-star” concept. “Lucky Schmuck is like Two Schmucks’ messy little brother,” says Aljaff. “The one who enjoys destroying stuff just to see what’s on the inside and is always up to no good.” Lucky Schmuck is inspired by Aljaff’s days of working in Amsterdam dives, underground live music venues, and punk-rock joints early in his bartending career.
“Lucky Schmuck continues what we’ve been trying to build with Two Schmucks and Fat Schmuck, but it takes a lot more inspiration from our younger years of being knuckleheads in crazy bars, having a good time,” says Aljaff. “While our other two venues are focused on cocktails and service, Lucky Schmuck is all about atmosphere.” Which is not to say that the drinks aren’t just as on-point as they are at the other two venues; they simply don’t detract from Lucky Schmuck’s vibe.
What is that vibe, exactly? Imagine a modernized Southern or Midwestern-American dive bar with great cocktails and American whiskeys, attentive service, and a staff who knows how to party. The transportive wood-paneled bar walls with retro booth-seating scream ’70s Americana. The gleaming disco ball hung above the booths and the inconspicuous karaoke room built into the bar’s padded back wall keep the party going and are core pillars of Aljaff’s curated vibe. The drink offerings, which include beer-and-shot pairings as well as playful cocktails such as the PB&J Sour, let guests know that all types of drinkers are welcome at Lucky Schmuck.
“Post-pandemic, it just made sense [to open Lucky Schmuck],” says Aljaff. “We wanted a place that was all about a fun time, so we built in a karaoke room and swinging lights and offer easy-going food and drink. It felt like everyone was just ready to let loose and have a good time, and I guess we felt like that, too.”
Lucky Schmuck embodies the essence of the Schmuck ethos. It’s the antithesis of the serious, reverent, speakeasy-inspired cocktail bars that pioneered the contemporary cocktail renaissance, but it’s a perfect example of how cocktail bars have evolved since that time.
These are the three drinks Aljaff feels best represent Lucky Schmuck.
1. Breakfast Ol’ Fashioned
Brown-buttered whiskey blend (bourbon, rye, sour mash), cold-brew coffee cordial, Granny Smith apple, salt
This rich Old Fashioned variation, with chocolate notes and a subtle bitterness from the coffee and a pop of acid from the apple, is a concept adapted from a series of rotating Old Fashioned-style cocktails at Lucky’s elder sibling.
“At Two Schmucks, we used to rotate our menus every month, and we would always include a cocktail with the same ingredients, named ‘Breakfast In...’ except the name of the city would change, as would the base spirit that we felt represented that city,” says Aljaff. “For example, Breakfast in Paris would have the same ingredients, except based with cognac; Breakfast in Havana was made with rum; and so on.
“What we wanted to do at Lucky, because it’s got that bit of Southern American flair, was to focus on some cool whiskeys—a spirit that’s not as popular here in Barcelona, compared to gin, tequila, rum, etc.—and create a list of whiskey-focused drinks that our guests could enjoy at different points in their nights,” says Aljaff.
The Breakfast Ol’ Fashioned serves as the ideal cocktail with which to start the night, since its ingredients render it more uplifting than a standard Old Fashioned due to the acidic apple component and cold-brew cordial. Aljaff says that he and the team feel this drink is the perfect fit for Lucky Schmuck’s concept and that it ties a thread between his bars.
2. PB&J Sour
Peanut-butter-washed rye whiskey, crème de framboise, lemon, egg white
On a whiskey-focused drinks list, having a killer Whiskey Sour was a no-brainer for Aljaff and the team, and the PB&J Sour exemplifies Lucky Schmuck’s playful-yet-sophisticated approach to the cocktails it serves.
“It’s the cocktail that, I feel, sets the tone for the rest of the menu because it lets the guest know that we don’t take ourselves too seriously at Lucky and that we are more about having a good time with good drinks,” says Aljaff. “You see it on the list, and you’re like ‘Oh, that sounds delicious,’ but it’s easy-going and reflects the space and what we are trying to do.”
In terms of the inspiration, Aljaff credits the bar manager of Two Schmucks, Juliette Larrouy, and her love for a specific raspberry liqueur. “Juliette started working a lot with the specs on this serve, and it has now become one of our favorites,” says Aljaff. “The raspberry liqueur, Gabriel Boudier crème de framboise, combines well with our peanut butter rye, as the liqueur has a nice pop of acidity that helps cut through the peanut butter, making it a truly smashable sour.”
Islay scotch, PX sherry, absinthe, lemon oil
“The Rapscallion isn’t an original of ours, but it’s one of the first cocktails that really made me understand flavor and balance back when I was just getting into cocktail bartending while living in Copenhagen,” says Aljaff. “It’s a super-smoky, and a touch on the sweeter side, Manhattan-style cocktail that uses absinthe in place of the bitters.”
Aljaff says that if a classic cocktail is really delicious and the entire team loves it, they’ve never been opposed to including it on any of the menus at their bars. It’s something they’ve done at Two Schmucks for years. “It's a drink that we serve a lot, and one that embodies Lucky Schmuck quite well,” says Aljaff. “For a guest who wants to go for a heavier, spirit-forward whiskey cocktail, we felt this drink was perfect and that it needed to be on the menu. In our opinion, it's the king of nightcaps.”