It makes sense that a bartender with a big personality would be drawn to the performance arts. New York native Nino Cirabisi has done some acting work on the stage and screen, spent several years behind the bar at Brooklyn Social and is now pouring drinks at the Bourgeois Pig‘s new Brooklyn location. Here, he chats about the colorful beginning of his bartending career, the menu at Bourgeois Pig Brooklyn and the secret bottle he keeps behind the bar.
The L: Can you tell us about your bartending career?
Nino Cirabisi: I started bartending when I was 19. I worked at an Italian restaurant waiting tables and one night the bartender passed out behind the bar from drinking too much and popping pills. I hopped behind the bar not knowing what the hell I was doing and just tried to finish the shift as best I could. I took home a copy of Mr. Boston’s cocktail guide from behind the bar and learned as much as I could.
The L: How about your acting career?
Cirabisi: Around the time I was starting college, I did a play with some friends of mine in the Lower East Side. At the time, I had never considered being an actor. I just thought it would be something fun to do. After that, I did two more shows and fell in love with the whole process. We built the sets, made the costumes, chose the music… we’d sleep in the theater some nights. I eventually left college to study theater and worked at it full time.
The L: Are you always auditioning when you aren’t bartending?
Cirabisi: I work 2 or 3 days behind the bar at Bourgeois Pig Brooklyn. I don’t audition very much at the moment. I focus more on creating my own work now — projects like the ones that got me involved in acting in the first place. The only way I’ve found fulfillment as an actor is to be involved in the whole process of a film or play.
The L: What are the best and worst parts of working in a bar?
Cirabisi: I think the best and worst part of working in a bar are the same thing — human interaction. You can have this great moment where you’re talking with a customer, they appreciate what you do, the drink you’ve made them. Maybe you connect in some way. I’ve made great friends working behind the bar. At the same time, you can walk to the other end of the bar and have an equally negative experience. Dealing with a drunk, someone who isn’t patient, or someone who is acting creepy.
The L: What’s your favorite drink?
Cirabisi: I don’t drink a lot of cocktails or mixed drinks but when I do it’s probably a Negroni. For the most part I stick to beer, Fernet Branca and American whiskey.
The L: Do you generally pour the drinks listed on the menu at the Bourgeois Pig, or do you find yourself making up a lot of cocktails on the spot?
Cirabisi: It’s pretty even right now. Bourgeois Pig is new and has an amazing cocktail list put together by Frank Cisneros. It features a lot of very interesting and obscure European spirits, so we have a lot of people trying out the menu and tasting these spirits for the first time. I also have a pretty dedicated following who come in to see me. With them, I’m mostly coming up with drinks specifically for them.
The L: Have you seen the episode of Portlandia where Andy Samberg plays a romantic mixologist? He makes a drink with a list of ingredients that includes ginger, bourbon, honey, lemon, charred ice, cherry tomato, lime zest, homemade bitters, egg whites, egg shell, egg yellow, rotten banana and “a little bit of love” — and thus wins the heart of one of his customers. Anyway, got any weird ingredients in your arsenal?
Cirabisi: I have a small bottle I keep behind the bar of wherever I work. It’s something I came up with a few years ago and it only finds its way into the drinks I make on the eve of a full moon. That’s all I’m willing to say about it. If you’d like to try it, check your almanac.
The L: So, have you ever made a drink that sparked a romance?
Cirabisi: I’ve gotten a few mix tapes over the years.