The leading bartender at John DeLucie’s Crown, James Menite, on the best way to enjoy an evening at the hottest spot east of the park.
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Since its opening, a year-and-a-half ago, chef John DeLucie’s Crown has almost single-handedly brought cocktail culture to the Upper East Side. That’s due in no small part to Brooklyn native James Menite, who has been an NYC bartender for 15 years—at Artisan, Porter House New York, and now here, in a 1930s mansion on 81st Street. Just steps from the Metropolitan Museum, this is a location steeped in elegance and culture, but not in the tradition of cocktail swilling. “Most people who live here go downtown for cocktails,” says Menite. “We want to keep them up here by introducing approachable drinks, mostly updated classics with fresh, seasonal ingredients.”
What’s unique about the cocktail experience at Crown?
I’ve worked in a lot of bars and restaurants over the years, and working with a chef who understands and is interested in creating a food menu that complements the cocktail menu makes a huge difference.
What’s your favorite cocktail-and-food pairing?
I love the Tequila Old-Fashioned, made with tobacco bitters, with the loup de mer—a fish dish with baby artichokes, olives, and chervil. The salty nuance of the olives and artichokes with the smokiness from the tobacco bitters is fantastic.
Do you have a favorite spirit to work with?
Most bartenders don’t like vodka, but it is such a huge category for us—nearly everything else pales in comparison—and it works with almost anything. To be honest, I love a good Cosmopolitan. In one regard, Cosmos reignited the cocktail age in New York, when Dale DeGroff started making them with fresh lime juice at the Rainbow Room. The fresh lime is key, as is using the right amount of cranberry, a good, clean vodka—Ultimat is my favorite—and Combier, which is as good as, if not better than, Cointreau.
What might surprise people about the scene at Crown?
I think a lot of people have the preconceived notion that it is going to be stuffy because of its location. It’s not at all. You can choose your scene: The front room is the “if you want to be seen” room, the back room is quiet, and most of our regulars opt to eat at the bar. But overall the crowd is low-key—regulars, foodies who follow John DeLucie, and now a lot of people coming from downtown to eat here.
Where do you recommend guests go after Crown?
For live music, the Carlyle is the spot. For a younger crowd, I recommend the Penrose gastropub on Second Avenue. For me, I love J.G. Melon—a great neighborhood Irish bar and an Upper East Side institution. They make one of the best burgers in town.