Meet Your Mixologist: Union Square Cafe's Patrick Service
Patrick Service lives up to his surname. As the beverage director at New York City’s Union Square Café, the 28-year-old heads up everything liquid-related and, as we’ve witnessed, he stirs up and serves up quite a refreshing summer cocktail, too.
Following graduation from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, the California born-and-raised Service cut his teeth at Danny Meyer’s Maialino, acting as assistant wine director. Last October, the spirits savant joined Union Square Hospitality Group’s USC and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today you can find the handsome man operating in his element, happy as a clam to be among fellow innovative thinkers and doers. Read on to learn what Service has to say for himself about his professional trajectory, getting booze-curious with his pals and what’s so sweet about the farmers' market.
What led you down this path? How’d you land here?
Patrick Service: As a former [University of Southern California] frat boy and rugby player, I gravitated towards beverage rather than service. You can go two routes: beverage or service. Restaurants were my ultimate goal. [At Cornell] I had a really cool beverage director who hooked me on [that] side of things. I spent time studying wines and spirits. It clicked. It was a natural path. I got certified as a sommelier and, after working with three or four beverage directors, I learned how to run a program. When the job opened up [at Union Square Café], they asked me.
Did you have an innate proclivity for inventing cocktails?
My family [is] involved in the restaurant business, so they [gave me] a bunch of promo bottles of liquor [before I departed for graduate school]. I was living in L.A. and I ended up with, like, forty bottles of liquor at my apartment in Brentwood. My buddies used to come over and we’d goof around and experiment with cocktails and syrups and basically just have a lot of fun during the month-and-a-half that I was off before [leaving for Cornell]. It’s always been interesting to me.
Can you tell me a bit about the weekly apéritif program?
It’s a collaboration [with] our back-of-house. Sometimes one of our sous chefs will go to the green market and find the blueberries are just too good to pass up. He’ll say, “Hey, I got this great idea. I want to make blueberry, elderflower syrup.” He’ll get a bottle of St. Germain from us and we’ll go back-and-forth. It’s, like, a week-long process. We’ll start on Monday and it’ll infuse for a few days and then we’ll take that syrup and make a great cocktail.
Another cool thing we do here is we don’t buy anything flavored. At all. We infuse our own vodkas and make our own syrups. The Ultraviolet Pilot, which is our take on an Aviation, [we make with] green market rhubarb that we infuse with rum. We don’t have any orange vodka or lemon vodka that we buy; we infuse that so we always have enough on hand. Anyone who orders a Cosmo here, the USC Cosmo is house-infused lemon vodka. No artificial ingredients. Fresh lemon juice as opposed to Sweet N Sour.
You must love being near the green market. Very convenient.
It’s awesome. There wasn’t much seasonal in the wintertime, so we [bought] Andrew’s Local Honey. We turned that into this rye cocktail and had Andrew’s Local Honey on our menu for a while. We sold a lot of those.
What’s the most indispensible bar tool?
Oh wow. The bar spoon? I guess. I don’t know. Yeah. A tin and a spoon, you can pretty much do most things. You can strain with a spoon if you really need to.
Favorite watering holes in NYC, besides USHG establishments of course?
Daddy-O. Molly’s Shebeen is never packed, sawdust on the ground, cheap Jamison, cheap Guinness. There’s this place, Cask, that’s open really late at night. And I go to The Breslin if I want a proper cocktail.
I’m a big Negroni fan. When it’s winter I love a Boulevardier. I like the sweetness and the bitterness. It’s filling, but it’s a good digestif or apéritif. That or just a good Manhattan. It could be all placebo in my head, but I almost feel better the next day if I’ve had Italian bittered liqueurs or liquors the night before.
Apart from proximity to NYC’s finest farmers’ market, what’s the greatest reward working here?
I love going to work. It’s pretty awesome when you’re surrounded by innovative people that are always hungry, always interested. It’s really dynamic. There’s never a dull moment. That’s exactly what I wanted to be around when I came to New York. They let me do cool things, which is fun, and they inspire me to do cool things.
Image by Nathan Rawlinson