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 skilled and always smartly dressed bartender about town, Marlo Gamora in his new home, the freshly opened tropical oasis in the east village, Mother of Pearl.
You know how when you meet a bartender who fits so well into his or her environment, you can’t quite tell if it was the bar or the bartender that came up with the look first? Did this swanky venue birth this stylish fellow or is he just making everything around him look damn good? Well, that’s what it’s like meeting Marlo Gamora in Mother of Pearl for the first time.
The tropical Polynesian vibe at the newly opened Mother of Pearl is the perfect backdrop to Marlo’s colorful, mid-century leaning aesthetic.
While Mother of Pearl doesn’t bill itself as strictly a tiki bar, the menu and design is heavily influenced by tiki culture. For Marlo, that’s all good. Because tiki is his jam.
Marlo started getting into Tiki cocktails and culture early in his bartending career, around 6 years ago. Having already been involved in a few other retro subcultures like the rockabilly, punk, burlesque and swing dancing scenes, his discovery and subsequent obsession with the tiki world (he has collected 200 tiki mugs at last count!) seemed like a natural evolution. He was easily able to apply his pre-existing fanboy and collector sensibilities to an exciting and re-emerging culture, that included cocktails, of course, and also a sort of lifestyle as well.
Tiki culture dates back to the 1930s, when Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian themed bar and restaurant opened up in Hollywood, hosting an array of movie stars over the years. Trader Vic, a Tiki themed venue in Oakland opened soon after, and eventually became an international chain. But it wasn’t until after World War II, when American servicemen returned from the South Pacific with mementos and a nostalgia for the area they had just been stationed in, that tiki culture really started taking off in the states. Its peak in popularity was in the late 1950s when knockoffs of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic started popping up around the country. The tiki craze lasted well into the 1960s, but by the late 70s and 80s, tiki drinks and the kitschy culture around it was looked at as frivolous, overdone and out of fashion.
Marlo’s tiki studies relied heavily on books written by tiki cocktail historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, often credited for having helped usher in this next phase of tiki enthusiasm. When he came across Sippin’ Safari, Berry’s fourth book, he discovered that Don the Beachcomber had staffed his restaurants primarily with bartenders from the Philippines, and for years, a Filipino tiki community existed because of this. It was the first time that the history of Filipino tiki bartenders was documented to this extent. After finding this out, as a Filipino himself, Marlo’s connection to all things tiki was sealed. After a few bartending gigs around town, (including a stint at Middle Branch with our last Bartender Style subject, Lucinda Sterling!) Marlo landed at Filipino gastropub, Jeepney in the East Village. It was there that he really had the creative freedom to explore, experiment, and hone his tiki cocktail making skills, all the while embracing his cultural connection to that world.
When rumor had it that the creative team behind Death & Company, Cienfuegos and Amor Y Amargo, among others, was about to open a new Polynesian inspired restaurant and cocktail bar, replacing the East Village’s Gin Palace, Marlo was quick to throw his hat into ring.
Marlo’s bar tools even have a special Tiki flair! His bartender kit includes a Jeff Berry Skull Bar Spoon, a gold-plated jigger from Cocktail Kingdom, and a custom-made Tiki Diablo muddler.
While Marlo looks at home in the bright floral shirts and light linen pants that he wears behind the Mother of Pearl bar, he’s also attracted to a variety of other styles – for instance, classic, early American work wear. Marlo likes the patina of used, aged pieces that are well-worn and well-loved. For cocktail competitions, he often wears a late 1960s vintage apron that he’s found and replaced the strings on.
And when he’s off duty, he looks to style icons Steve McQueen and Cary Grant as inspirations.
On the day of our shoot, Marlo was able to share with us a few cocktails on and off the menu. They were all so beautiful…and delicious!
But the recipe we just had to go with was the incredibly gorgeous “Tide is High”, a tropical tequila and mezcal concoction with cashew milk!
Tide is High
1 1/2 oz Cashew Milk
3/4 oz Pineapple Juice
3/4 oz Reposado Tequila
3/4 oz Mezcal
Directions: Whip all ingredients, pour over crushed ice, garnish with flower & cashews
When we came into Mother of Pearl to shoot Marlo’s Bartender Style piece, they had only been open a total of three days at that point. We were so grateful for the patience of the entire staff still working out their prep routines as we infiltrated their space and monopolized the time of one of their key bartenders. A deep, heartfelt thanks to those pictured here: Max Green, Oscar Carbonell, Paul Peffer, Jane Danger, Christina Thurston & Marlo Gamora, of course. And thanks to Austin Hennelly, Assistant General Manager, not pictured here but cool as a cucumber while trying to open the doors amidst multiple photo shoots!