The mixologist and author shares advice with 29-year-old bartender Salvatore Tafuri in the second episode of the Moneyish series Good Company.
Dale DeGroff went from a humble dishwasher to “King Cocktail.”
The Rhode Island native moved to New York City in 1969 to pursue acting, but “ended up working and playing and living in bars, as we all do in this city,” he told Moneyish.
DeGroff is widely credited with shaking up the cocktail industry during his tenure at Manhattan’s storied Rainbow Room and beyond. (Not bad for a guy who started out in New York washing dishes at a Howard Johnson’s in Times Square.)
The author of “The Craft of the Cocktail” and founding president of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans has won two James Beard Awards, including the prestigious Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in 2015.
DeGroff, 69, met with 29-year-old bartender Salvatore Tafuri for the second episode of Good Company, a Moneyish original series that matches millennials with veterans in their field for mentorship and conversation. (Watch the video.)
The pair grabbed drinks at The Loyal in the West Village, part of the Michelin-starred chef John Fraser’s restaurant group, where Tafuri leads the cocktail program and trains new bartenders. Tafuri, originally from Sicily, joined the service industry after an injury ended his soccer career.
“You changed the game,” he told DeGroff when they met.
And he did. DeGroff remade classic cocktails with fresh, natural ingredients while tending bar at the Rainbow Room, where he was hired by legendary restaurateur Joe Baum in 1987 after getting a decade’s worth of bartending experience under his belt.
“Using only fresh and natural ingredients meant doing away with fast and easy pre-made mixes, and figuring out how to achieve just the right amount of sweet and sour, strong and weak,” DeGroff wrote in his “The Craft of the Cocktail” introduction. “It meant searching for out-of-print cocktail books and experimenting with hundreds of recipes, adjusting them to a modern palate and today’s larger portions.”
DeGroff told Moneyish that he “made it OK to be a bartender again. I made it possible to have a future, maybe even a career.” He was part of bartending’s transition from “a gangster business” post-Prohibition, as he put it, to a respectable career replete with educational opportunities – and the chance to make six figures, “if you’re smart,” he added.
“I know there are probably parents all over the country gunning for me because their kids dropped out of law school to become a bartender,” he said.
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