Ask a Bartender: 18 Questions with Candice Coy at Mother's Ruin
"Sexy, sexy business."
This phrase is a favorite of Candice Coy, head bartender at Mother’s Ruin in New York City. It’s how she seductively describes the simplistic enjoyment of that first taste of añejo tequila or her pleasure of using certain bar tools (she even makes a jigger sound titillating).
But, really, this phrase sums up the gorgeous 31-year-old Bronx native, who’s worked with some leading bartenders in New York City and Los Angeles. Coy makes an already attractive profession look even more seductive with her genuine smile and magnetic personality. Add to that how she defies her petite stature and scales the bar wall to get bottles beyond her reach, and it’s even more alluring.
Sure, she could ask one of the male bartenders for help, but independence — and getting things done without a man’s help — is sexy, sexy business.
The Daily Meal: So, Candice, what turns you on about bartending?
Candice Coy: My favorite aspect of bartending is the people. I love talking to people. I was always the kid who wanted center stage and to be the host of all the fake tea parties. I love entertaining and engaging people, and, to me, that is exactly what my job is. Having a room of partiers and making sure they are all having a good time is a large part of why I enjoy my job so much.
TDM: How long have you been a bartender? When did you know you wanted to make this your career?
CC: Twelve years, which feels very weird to say because it doesn't feel like that long. I started bartending to pay for college, graduated, and then realized I wasn't anywhere near as happy with any of my "real" jobs as I had been behind the stick. I was finally fully convinced this was what I wanted to do when I stopped exclusively working as a high-volume club bartender and discovered cocktail culture. When I worked at BED NY with people like Tim Cooper, Willy Shine, Aisha Sharpe, and Leo DeGroff, I learned more about spirit and drinks than I had ever known. It was the fast pace I had always loved [paired with] a new, more intellectual, knowledgeable dimension that was and still is constantly engaging. I love my job every day; even in the worst moments, I am happy to be exactly where I am.
TDM: Where/when was your first gig? How many bartending jobs have you had?
CC: My first bartending gig was at Lot 61 in 2001. It was a club on 21st just off the West Side Highway. I was the only woman behind the bar, a good seven inches shorter than anyone I worked with, and we were too busy for anyone to have time to hand me any of booze I couldn't reach. So, all night I would climb the back bar. Ten years later, [while] working at The Edison in downtown LA, as I was climbing for a bottle of Scotch one of the guys asked me why I didn't just ask for help. I realized it had never occurred to me. I'm grateful that my first gig instilled that in me: Be fast, be fun and be willing to scale to the highest heights to get your sh*t done. As for how many bars, I am honestly not sure. I haven't worked in as many places as one might think. I tend to stick with the good places for a few years, and I have been blessed to work at some amazing places with my favorite people: Mother's Ruin since day one (now we're about to celebrate our second year anniversary); Surf Lodge for five years; GoldBar for three; BED for two... maybe 10 bars [total]? Maybe.
TDM: What are some of pros/cons of being a woman barkeep in the "boys’ club"?
CC: Pro: Being able to make fun of them for not being as fast as a girl. Con: When they cry about it like a girl. [Laughs] Just kidding!
TDM: What do you enjoy most about bartending at Mother’s Ruin?
CC: That is a tossup between our dope crew of golden-hearted miscreants and our crowd. We are blessed to somehow be a bartender’s bar (so there is always someone to chat up, geek out with, or just lend an ear for some venting to), a neighborhood bar (the loyalty and love of our regulars is incredible and much appreciated), and also a great bar for those who want more than a dive and less than a formal affair. Their happiness in trying cocktails that are new to them in an environment that is fun and open makes me happy.
TDM: In what ways do you think Mother’s Ruin stands out from other New York City bars?
CC: We aren't a cocktail bar; we are a "people" bar that makes some great cocktails. Serious cocktail culture needed to happen to swing the pendulum away from just slinging drinks and booze we knew little to nothing about, but I think it went too far in pretension at some point, which made it an exclusive exclusionary thing for a lot of people. That is never what bartending should be. Mother's Ruin is part of what I think of as a hybrid movement in bars: A combination of the fast-paced, loud, rambunctious world of clubs and the quieter, crafted precision of cocktail bars. Expediency without sacrificing quality is an important skill: Do it. Personality is equally important: Have one. My favorite examples of this are Employee's Only and GoldBar. You'll never walk out of those places without having had a good drink and a good time. Mother's strives for, and I think (hope?), accomplishes the same thing.
TDM: What’s your input on cocktails?
CC: We all contribute cocktails to the menu. I'm probably (definitely) the biggest slacker on adding new things. In my defense, I am always the closer, so I walk into an already busy room, and by the end of a Friday night, I am glad to remember my own name. The last drinks I put up where the Coy Joy (gin, Dolin Blanc, Lillet, grapefruit peel) and Unicorn Bubbles (brandied cherries, lemon, St. Germain, white wine, topped with bubbles blown by a unicorn). I am a bit of a narcissistic cocktail namer. I suppose I should add that my nickname at Mother's is The Unicorn. Long story.
TDM: What are your favorite cocktails at Mother’s Ruin? What are guest favorites?
CC: As they change about twice a week, that is hard. Last weekend, the favorite was the Behind the Can (Waqar Pisco, lime, coconut, Angostura bitters). The G1 has also been popular (Dolin Blanc, Aperol, tequila). Personally, I like the Hot Jamz (tequila, mezcal, habanero jam).
TDM: I hear there’s some sort of slushy drink machine… Tell me more! Is it like a spiked Slurpee machine??
CC: I love the slushy machine with my whole heart. I love putting classic cocktails like the 212 (tequila, Aperol, grapefruit) or a Bee's Knee's (gin, honey, lemon) — drinks that can have such an aura of formality — into something as simple and fun as a slushy machine. It’s a light-hearted way of removing the cloak of reverence from the classics. I love Lillet. Most bartenders know what Lillet is; most customers don't. Put it in a slushy and all of a sudden novice drinkers want to know what else they can try with this Lillet business. It makes me endlessly happy and people love it, which is just rad.
TDM: What cocktail is currently being poured from it? How often does the cocktail change?
CC: Right now, it is actually the aforementioned Bee's Knee's. One word: Delicious. It changes as often as the rest of the menu, so at least twice a week, sometimes up to three or four.
TDM: Can you get brain freeze from it??
CC: Ha! If you had asked me that a few days ago, I would have said no, but I had one last night and now I must truthfully admit I did give myself brain freeze. Turns out you shouldn't try to drink a frozen drink as fast as humanly possible. Every day I'm learning...
TDM: What are your absolute favorite cocktails to make? And why?
CC: Do people have favorites? There isn't any cocktail I particularly like or dislike making more. I have no judgments on whether someone wants a Kamikaze (vodka, triple sec, lime juice) or a Vieux Carré (rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters, Angostura bitters, Bénédictine). Though, I do like stirring drinks. I think that stems from my "enamoration" with certain bar tools. Spoons, mixing glasses, Japanese jiggers… Sexy, sexy business.
TDM: What spirit is sexiest to you? Why?
CC: Añejo tequila. It was one of the first things I ever drank and enjoyed, rather than just getting booze in to hurry up and be drunk. Sipping an añejo tequila is also sexy, sexy business to me.
TDM: For you, which spirit is the most versatile?
CC: Though it can be argued that gin is the most versatile as it lends itself well to all manner of cocktails, I am going to say whiskey or tequila for one reason: To me, those are the spirits that work in cocktails shaken or stirred, I enjoy neat or on the rocks and would also shoot. They fulfill every desire. What's more versatile than that?
TDM: What are your favorite herbs, bitters, etc. to use in your cocktails?
CC: Ever since I read that cilantro and parsley are liver detoxifiers I have been a little obsessed with putting them in cocktails. They're practically health drinks! Kinda, sorta, maybe... ish. [Laughs] Healthier or not, those herbaceous flavors offer something really interesting to a drink. As for bitters, we just had a cocktail called Apple Bottom Dreams on the menu and having those apple bitters beside me has left me playing with them quite a bit. My go-to drink is a simple gin and soda with Angostura bitters. Ango was my first and will always be my favorite.
TDM: OK, you’re at that new, trendy bar you’ve been meaning to check out. Do you go for the classic cocktail or spot’s specialty?
CC: Like most bartenders, I am guilty of drinking very simply when I go out. Rittenhouse on the rocks. Gin and soda. But, if I am going to go in for a cocktail, I prefer the spot's specialty. Though, I love a Final Ward (rye whiskey, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice). I have had it many times over. It's nice to try something new.
TDM: It’s 4 a.m., and the bar is closed. What’s your poison for your own post-shift cocktail?
CC: Totally depends on what kind of night it's been. Why? What have you heard? [Laughs]
TDM: Who has been an inspirational bartender(s) for your career? Why?
CC: There are big names who have inspired me from afar, but I'll go with the ones closest to my heart… Remi Shobitan and Tim Cooper… Leo DeGroff, Joaquin Simo, Giuseppe Gonzalez, Jay Zimmerman, Dev Johnson, and Steve Schneider… [and] TJ Lynch. Recently, a customer asked [Lynch] to come up with something, gave him an outline, and a few minutes later, [she] had a beautiful cocktail in hand. She took a sip, told him it was amazing and asked how he did it. He shrugged and answered, "I'm 40," which made her and me laugh. That said it all. "I've been around. I know my sh*t*. I listen. I care. It's what I do. No biggie. Enjoy." At some point later, they did a shot together. She had never tried Ramazzotti, one of his favorites. She loved it. She had a great time, tried new things, made a friend. That's everything I want in a bartender, and that's the bartender I want to be.