Jim Kearns sure makes a good drink. The venerated mixologist is an NYC cocktail pro, with experience behind the bars of Balthazar, Double Seven, Pegu Club, Death & Co., Freemans, and, now, SIXTY LES’ Tiki Tabu. In recent years, he’s moved beyond the bartender title to assume the role of beverage director at places like Slowly Shirley, a ‘40s-era subterranean cocktail den courtesy of restaurateur and nightlife whiz Jon Neidich. With Tiki Tabu, Kearns teams up with Neidich again for a combo that’s sure to please. Here, we talk to Kearns about go-to drinks, favorite customers, and the most exciting thing going on in the cocktail scene right now.
Where are you from originally?
Where was your first job bartending in the city?
Balthazar, after moving to the city. I’ve been in the service industry for 23 years, however.
What’s the transition from bartender to beverage director like?
Bartending is fun for me. While I enjoy the creative portion of running a program, I miss being able to bartend as much.
What’s the process like in developing a cocktail menu?
It all depends on the bar. Sometimes it just involves finding classic cocktails for a menu, and sometimes there’s a long process involving tasting and developing originals. The nature and theme of project also dictate it a lot.
What’s the most exciting thing about a new bar?
Seeing how it works and figuring out how to correct issues. Also, of course, seeing people enjoy it for the first time.
Favorite pursuit when you’re off the job?
I really enjoy listening to music, so doing that; going to shows; and going out to enjoy restaurants and bars would definitely be up there.
Describe your favorite customer:
My favorite type of customer would just be anyone who comes to a bar to truly enjoy the space and what it has to offer.
What’s your latest drink obsession?
I always enjoy Americanos in the summertime, so probably those.
What’s your go-to drink?
A Manhattan is my favorite cocktail, so either one of those, or just a beer and a whiskey.
What would someone order to get your attention?
Probably something I’d never heard before.
Where do you go for a drink when you’re winding down?
Any simple, quiet bar near work.
Best time of day to be in a bar and why?
That depends on the bar. Some bars are best during the day, while others are best late at night.
How many drinks does it take to get you on the dance floor?
Quite a few. I don’t have the best moves.
Photo courtesy of Atisha Paulson