Jason Littrell can be found behind the bar at some of the city's finest watering holes, serving up cocktails with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. His passion for his craft shines through in his work without even the slightest whiff of pretension, and when he's not behind the bar, he's likely to be planning his next party or charity event. His enthusiasm and talent recently caught the attention of Star Chefs, which selected him as one of this year's Rising Star award recipients. Jason took some time to talk to us about cocktails, Jägermeister, and his strange connection to boats.
What was your first job behind a bar?
My first "break" behind a bar was at this place called Shooter's Cocktails in the suburbs of San Diego. I had risen through the ranks at a local bar, starting as a dishwasher. After almost two years I was told I would never be a bartender because I wasn't a girl, so I took the first job bartending I could find. This happened to be the worst piece-of-shit bar in San Diego county. I replaced a bartender who had gotten stabbed, and this was a day job, mind you. I got what I wanted though: experience.
What motivated you to learn about spirits and mixology more as a craft and an art?
Honestly? If I were a good drummer I wouldn't be "mixed" up in any of this nonsense. I moved to New York to play music, and throwing drinks (sometimes literally) paid the bills. This was the case when a friend of mine got me a job at what was newly renamed The Randolph. There were issues with noise with the neighbors so they decided to flip the concept to high-end cocktails. I didn't really know what that meant at the time, but it seemed pretty lame. What came with this was the guidance from Sasha Petraske (the legend). From there I was hooked.
How do you approach creating cocktails, and where do you find your inspiration?
It's a bit embarrassing, but honestly a lot of my cocktails start with a name. It goes from, "Hey, that'd be a great name for a cocktail" to "What would that cocktail taste like?" Also, sometimes people come to me with requests for unique flavor combinations, and I kinda fill in the gaps. Mostly, though, it starts with a name.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
Oooh, that's tough. I'm a huge fan of Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy and Ransom Old Tom Gin. Thomas Waugh has an amazing drink on our menu (at Death & Company) called a Pressure Drop. You should get one. Right now.
You are one of the recipients of Star Chefs' Rising Star Awards this year. What did you think when you heard the news?
I was totally floored. I was really just honored to be considered. I never considered for a moment that I would be selected.
Word on the street is that you're also a musician. What three songs should be on the playlist at every bar?
I always put my old band Guyz Nite on my playlists. We did one cover. We changed the lyrics to Toto's "Africa" to "It's Raining Beer in America." I'm also really into Yacht Rock, so "This Is It" will always be there somewhere. Also, my guilty pleasure at the moment is "All I Do Is Win" by DJ Khaled. That song gets me really excited to do something sucky, like clean a bar.
Have you had a drink in NYC lately that knocked your socks off?
Yes. A cold beer on a boat. I seem to land on boats quite a bit...
What are your favorite NYC hangouts or places you might be considered a regular?
Do you have any food/drink guilty pleasures that we might be shocked to learn about?
Jägermeister is delicious. Try it again. Also, I sometimes have ice cream for breakfast.
Where can we find your favorite late-night snack?
Sunny and Annie's Deli is AMAZING. AMAZING! I always get the Bush sandwich. It's open 24/7/365. I've heard a story where they delivered a Christmas tree on Christmas Day.
What's your favorite hidden gem in NYC?