If you told a 21-year-old Brian Evans that one day he’d become a New York City bartender, he’d have called you a boldfaced liar. Yet today he helms the bar at Santina, a trendy restaurant with a coastal Italian accent in the Meatpacking District. Before that, he was at Marta, and before that he was a clean-living Midwestern kid.
Santina is an oasis of sorts. Regardless of the temperatures outside, it always seems like summer at Santina, where oranges and tropical plants line the breezy, spacious interior. Evans started working as one of the head bartenders in mid-2016. He helped create the drinks menu, which includes classic and signature cocktails, a curated list of Italian wines, and innovative punches with ingredients like pistachio, banana, and grappa.
We caught up with Evans to talk to him about how a straight-edge kid became a bartender, and what he really wants to do to a Manhattan.
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1. What’s your desert island drink?
The Jungle Bird — and not just any Jungle Bird. I’ll solely take Giuseppe Gonzalez‘s (the renowned bartender from Suffolk Arms) shamelessly perfect remix with Cruzan Blackstrap Rum.
2. What’s the first drink you bought when you turned 21?
Funny story (I’ll try to make this short). I was actually a “straight-edge” kid until the age of 25 (if you don’t know what this punk/hardcore subculture is, just look it up, it’s weird). On a whim one night, I figured, “What the hell! It’s been a good run, but it’s time to clock out!” and bought a 6-pack of Blue Moon Winter Abbey and a heaping party box of Franzia — you know, that glorious, cream-of-the-crop chilled red most normal people had the regrettable luxury of chugging in high school or freshmen year in college — not as some 25-year-old dude like myself. I really don’t recall what lead me to those choices, but two beers and half a glass of wine later, I drunkenly blacked out and woke up in my bathtub somehow. As far as my first mixed drink? A Texas-style Margarita.
3. FMK three cocktails: Negroni, Margarita, Manhattan
F: Manhattan, there’s a time and place. M: Negroni, you’re difficult to get wrong, you’re wonderful any and every time. K: Margarita, especially those spicy ones.
4. You’re on death row. What’s your death-row drink?
I’d probably have Nico de Soto from Mace make me something with pandan leaf. For those unfamiliar, pandan is a long leaf that grows like wildfire out in Southeast Asia, with a nutty and vanilla bean-like flavor that tastes like a warm hug. Every menu change at Mace seemingly includes some use of this herb, and it’s always an extraordinary drinking experience that takes me back to when I visited my family in Indonesia for the first time when I was 27, where the leaf was frequently used for seasoning rice and desserts. I imagine it being kind of nice to hold on to that sort of flavor nostalgia as death row is breathing down your neck. If he’s unavailable, I’ll just have to hope that one of the prison guards can stir a mean Sazerac.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
S.I.X. Dogs in Athens, Greece, a third-wave coffee house with art shows, a beer-and-shot dance floor with some DJ playing weird techno. Also a massive, terraced outdoor bar area where mixologists craft some of the most inventive tiki-inspired cocktails on the planet. This place seriously has it all. It can be as chill or as lively as you want it to be.
6. What’s the best and worst bottle on your shelf?
Bottles come and go so quickly, but my best now is gin from Neversink Spirits. It’s a soft gin that tastes like an orchard. My worst is Pama. I had a rather strange and perhaps ambitious cocktail competition idea involving this cough syrupy pomegranate liqueur, and well, it’ll probably just continue collecting dust. Anybody need some?
7. What cocktail will you never order again?
Hanky Panky. On paper, a Negroni variation with Fernet is every bartenders’ wettest of drenched dreams, but slowly sipping toothpaste-infused gin is hardly as enjoyable or pleasantly electrifying as shooting Fernet-Branca on its own. Also, I’d never order a Smith and Cross Daiquiri ever again. I tried to be like the cool cocktail snobs and order one, and believe me that once you vomit Smith and Cross, that’s a wrap on Smith and Cross!