Bartender Style is a collaboration between Bit by a Fox and photographer Rose Callahan. This monthly series, exclusively on the Bit by a Fox blog, will explore and document the personal style of some of the best bartenders in New York City and beyond. This month, we’ve featured the lovely and talented cocktail maven behind New York City’s Middle Branch, Lucinda Sterling.
Bartenders are intimidating. In the world of the service industry, there is no question that the bartender is at the top of the food chain. A bartender has complete control of your panacea for the evening and when and how it is to be delivered to you. Their status seems to elevate the more skilled they are…and the thirstier you are! And if they’re highly attractive? Oof, forget it. You’ll be pining all night.
It’s rare that you want to be friends with your waiter over the course of a meal. But your bartender? You’ll most likely want to be BFFs right away. Even if it’s just for the night. Because, booze. Also, there is just a coolness factor that is created by that 30-40 inch separation of bar top. They have something that you want. Again, booze. Also, attitude. There are few things more satisfying than finally winning over that cool kid bartender who seemed a little elusive, slightly standoffish at the beginning of the night.
Lucinda Sterling, bartender and managing partner of Murray Hill’s beloved cocktail den, Middle Branch, is far from chilly. But her cool as a cucumber demeanor helps to give her an air of intimidation. She’s actually, self-admittedly, fairly shy, but is in a business that challenges that at every turn. Upon meeting Lucinda for the first time, she comes off as a straight shooter, a lady who means business and someone who knows her stuff. She’s also a total babe. So, yeah, she’s sort of intimidating.
But then she cracks that all wide open with a full-bodied, throaty laugh and a smile that ups the wattage in the room, and you realize pretty quickly that there’s a lovely little goofball under that elegant veneer. A few sips into one of her craftily made, knock-em-out-of-the-park cocktails doesn’t hurt to warm things up! The cool girl behind the bar just got even cooler.
This dichotomy of characteristics – reserved yet approachable, conservative, with a wild streak, introverted in a highly sociable industry – is what makes Lucinda’s style as a top bartender in the city so unique. Lucinda is a delectable cocktail, herself; Her diverse ethnic mix of German, Irish, Polish, French, Chinese and Cambodian has certainly resulted in a lovely mug, but may also be responsible for these contrasting qualities. Whatever it is, we’re smitten.
Lucinda is a fan of color…in her glass and behind the bar. She likes to wear dresses that highlight her figure in bold colors. But she is careful about showing too much skin when she’s on duty, choosing dresses with sleeves and covered décolletage. Form and function are equally important to Lucinda. Comfort is key.
That idea of comfort extends to her footwear. She prefers heels but chooses the support of Aerosoles, which, she claims “saves bartender’s feet”.
Lucinda credits a couple of people for getting her involved in the bar industry. The most obvious is her mentor and partner in Middle Branch, Sasha Petraske, the legendary bartender and proprietor responsible for helping to revive the craft cocktail movement in New York City. You could say, Lucinda is a Petraske loyalist. She got her start at Sasha’s first bar in New York, Milk & Honey in 2005 as a server. And a few years later, she decided to hone her skills behind the bar at his next venture, Little Branch. While still a server at Milk & Honey, Lucinda was inspired by her pastry chef boyfriend at the time, James Beard Award Winner, Johnny Iuzzini. She had been watching him do stints as a guest bartender at famed New York speakeasy PDT, and it wasn’t even his chosen field! Her competitive nature pushed her forward. She was then encouraged to take the leap behind the stick herself.
By 2012 Lucinda had proven herself as a formidable player in the bar industry and became full managing partner in Petraske’s latest cocktail empire extension, Middle Branch. Besides running the day-to-day operations, she has also been able to have a hand in the design of the bar. From the charming pineapple light fixtures…
…to the family photos placed throughout the bar. (The below is a photo of Sterling’s mother)
Lucinda’s classic leaning style is peppered throughout…
And let’s not forget Lucinda’s creative mark on the stunning cocktails that go out night after night!
As with Lucinda’s personal style, her drinks are equal parts form and function, beautiful and delicious! She shared with us three very different, seasonal cocktails from Middle Branch’s recent menu. I loved all of them and it was pretty difficult to choose a favorite, but the Northern Lights, a gin and grapefruit based tipple, narrowly won out.
Not to mention, this is the PERFECT sipper for this time of year. It’s approachable and very easy to make at home. Nothing to be intimidated of here!
1 1/2 oz Tanqueray 10
3/4 oz Lillet Rose
1/2 oz Curacao
Method: Add all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into chilled glass.
Glass: sour glass
Garnish: grapefruit twist