Q&A: Zachary Pease, My Friend Duke, New York

Zachary Pease is the proprietor of My Friend Duke in New York.

What was your first bartending or hospitality job?

First job in hospitality was as a waiter/line cook at a diner and ice cream parlor in the suburbs of Boston called Bergson’s, a local chain that no longer exists. First bartending job was at a place called Dunn and Gaherin’s, an Irish Pub in Newton, MA, which is still around and going strong.

What are some of the key bartending takeways from your time at the Lower East Side speakeasy Attaboy?

That you can never pay too much attention to details. There is a right way and a wrong way to build each drink/each round and making sure you keep those standards is incredibly important. But once you have all that down, have some fun with it all. The drinks matter a ton, but the hospitality and vibe is just as important. That and the staff there are just as much a part of their success as any cocktail being put out.

Your new bar, My Friend Duke, aims to bring a downtown vibe to New York’s Kip’s Bay neighborhood, on the east side below midtown; how are you creating that atmosphere and drawing people in?

I think people really want that in all neighborhoods, and there are tons of great places all over, but the biggest concentration of that in New York is below 14th st. We want to raise people’s expectations. Have a place where you can have fun, have a great drink, listen to fantastic music and have some killer food as well. Do all that without being stuffy and have a lot of fun. I think people see that and respond well.

The Ginger # 3 (a spicy mezcal drink with fresh ginger, cayenne, fresh lime and pineapple) is the most popular cocktail so far; why do you think it’s resonating with customers?

For one, I think people really are intrigued by mezcal. It’s a little foreign for some, but it’s so delicious that they really take to it when they try it. It’s also just a simple, well-made drink. Fresh pineapple and raw ginger balance so well together it’s almost hard not to have a good drink when you include those two ingredients.

For me, though, it was an answer to the standard spicy mezcal request I have gotten over the years. I wanted to take that and do something a little more balanced and a little more interesting with the raw ginger and cayenne spices vs. something like hot sauce or muddled pepper or anything infused.

For Happy Hour, you don’t offer specials on cocktails, but each drink is served with an 8-oz. can of Budweiser. How did you come up with that offer, and how do customers like it?

I have always really loved a little bit of beer on the side of my cocktail, and I knew I couldn’t be the only one. It has really taken off and it’s fun to see a bunch of beautiful cocktails on the bar next to little tiny cans of beer. Come in during Happy Hour and you see little red cans everywhere. I’ve drank Bud for years and think it’s exactly what a lot of people want in a beer: easy drinking and ice cold. It doesn’t seem to matter who is doing the ordering, across all ages and genders everyone wants their little can of beer with their cocktail.

What’s your current go-to cocktail or beverage?

I’m easy, a Negroni or a can of beer typically. But I do like a Dark and Stormy, and have my nights where I can put away a few of them.

Would you share one of your favorite drink recipes ?

I think for me it is the Huntsman. It’s an equal parts drink using a couple of scotches, Pedro Ximenez sherry and Amargo Vallet. All of the flavors are so intense and even aggressive on their own, yet really balance each other out in this drink.

The Huntsman
¾ oz. Lustau Pedro Ximenez sherry
¾ oz. Amargo Vallet
¾ oz. Aberlour 12 year-old Scotch
¾ oz. Laphraoig 10-year-old Scotch

Serve over a large rock with a big orange twist.