Ascending the flights to Osamil Upstairs, a secretive bar above Koreatown’s Osamil restaurant in NYC, can be intimidating. Swing open the stairwell door, and there’s a world waiting, spinning stylish design, inventive cocktails and small plates, and cool-kid clientele around a glittering bar.
Behind the bar, you’ll likely catch sight of Gelo Honrade, beverage director, “tiki god,” and hat-wearer extraordinaire. Soon enough you’ll be at ease, thanks to his playful and potty-mouthed delivery of such applauded drinks as a Kimchi-rita, K-Town Sidecar, Trader Vittorio, or Tiki Old Fashioned.
Honrade, who formerly served at NYC’s Filipino gastropub Jeepney, brings with him a variety of flavors amassed by his experiences as a tenured bartender and Philippines native. It’s clear that the spirit of service — and one spirit in particular — has followed him around the globe.
VinePair sat with Honrade at Osamil Upstairs to hear about his first and favorite drinks, the cocktails he thinks people f*ck up the most, and why he’s willing to mix a cocktail with the worst bottle on his shelf.
1. What’s your desert-island drink?
Jungle Bird, Mai Tai, Daiquiri. But probably on a deserted island, you won’t be able to find those ingredients. Where you gonna find a pineapple? Probably the easiest one is Daiquiri. But where you gonna get the lime? I’ll say the Jungle Bird is the top one on my list. It’s one of my favorite [drinks]. Every time I go to a cocktail bar, I normally order the Jungle Bird. Or Mai Tai.
2. What’s the first drink you bought when you turned 21?
First of all, not 21 — 13 years old, when I was in the Philippines. Gin and beer. First [time I got] drunk I was 13. It was bad.
3. FMK (f*ck, marry, kill) three cocktails: Negroni, Margarita, Manhattan?
[F*ck] Margarita, [marry] Negroni, [kill] Manhattan. Margarita is just not for me… I like tequila or any agave spirits but Margarita? No… unless I make the sour mix, it’s pretty good. Negroni is one of my favorites… Manhattan, it’s O.K. That’s, I think, the first [cocktail I ordered] in the city when I moved here as a bartender. Then I went to Boulevardier, then Negroni.
Negronis, they followed my heart. I think because of the gin. Filipinos drink most of the gin in the world.
4. You’re on death row. What’s your final drink?
Mezcal on the rocks. Hell yeah. Over here, every time I clock out, [someone asks] “you want mezcal?” I’m like, “Nah, I’m good.” Or maybe, “Yeah.” Everywhere I go, it’s just mezcal. I’ll do a cocktail if I want to try the bar. At Angel’s Share, I’ll go cocktails, and then if I don’t want cocktails anymore, they’ll literally put a bottle of mezcal in front of me, and a rocks glass with a big ice cube in it.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
Angel’s Share. It’s just… for me, it’s different… they’ve become friends, we hang out outside of work, they come here, I go there, they come here… vice versa.
6. What’s the best and worst bottle on your shelf?
Best: Hennessy Paradis Imperial. I got yelled at for that. That thing cost a lot of money. And now it’s half a bottle! It’s almost there. Worst: Midori… the green melon liqueur. But now I think it’s coming back… Let’s see.
7. What cocktail will you never order again?
It depends on the place. I don’t have an answer for this question. But if I do, I think Old Fashioned or Manhattan. I went to a secret shopper and I ordered an Old Fashioned, and I saw the [bartender] putting everything in the shaker and I was like, I hope this mother f*cker’s not going to shake it! I hope he’s just using it as a vessel to stir it. And then he put in ice and he covered it and he started vigorously shaking like this! [Gestures.] I was like, “Holy sh*t, bro! What are you doing?” [He replied,] “I’m making your Old Fashioned, sir.” I was like, “Yo, that’s not how you’re supposed to make it,” and then he [replied], “So you’re one of those people, you guys [that] like it stirred? In my head [I thought], “This guy’s f*cking fired.” Ordered a frickin’ Manhattan… Same f*ckin’ thing! And he told me, “This is how you make it faster.” The thing is, they’re the easiest in the world to make, [but] people can f*ck it up big time.