Private|Social's Rocco Milano Ain't Your Typical Barkeep.
If you're leery of gin, if you get the sweats when you're at a bar and vodka seems to have been forgotten from the menu or if you shudder at the idea of herbs in your cocktails, you've just got to meet Rocco Milano, the purveyor of all things intoxicating at Private|Social on McKinney Avenue in Uptown.
Milano, you see, is a bridge builder, the peacemaker between the drink-slingers of the world and the classic cocktail mixologists. Sure, he'll still (begrudgingly) make you Cosmopolitan. But, if you let him, he'll also help you understand the finer things that can come from behind a bar.
The guy just takes his craft seriously — so much so that he considers himself a “chef of drinks” rather than a standard bartender.
“Chefs cook with fire,” MIlano says, quoting a friend. “Bartenders cook with ice.”
Name: Rocco Milano
When did you start bartending? “In 2006, on the Jersey Shore.”
How many bars have you been behind? “Six, including a haunted biker bar in Southern California.”
What is your favorite spirit to work with? “Rum. I like showcasing its diversity.”
What cocktail made you realize there was a little more to a drink than the ingredients?
Rocco's long story made short: A girl started it. After a rough week, he found himself in Guatemala “frolicking” — yes, that's his choice of words — with a girl he seems to still hold a candle for to this day. After returning to the states, he came up with a drink called The Guatemalan Chel, which features Zacapa Rum, fig, cinnamon, Godiva Liqueur and vanilla ice cream.
How important is the process of naming the drinks you create?
“The name of a cocktail has to convey a story. I try to make some sort of reference to the drink's creation.”
What makes a great cocktail?
“The way a good cocktail should work is you should taste the flavor of the spirit and it should just temper the bite.”
We heard that you have a pastry chef behind the bar. How did that happen?
“I liked his pastry chef and thought he could make the same quality drinks as he could pastries. I told him on his first day, that is not 60 different bottles, that is 60 different flavors. It's all in what you do with them that creates your finished product.”
What do you love about cocktails?
It's a culinary work in a glass. I don't have to marinate it or braise it in the over for four hours. It's rapid execution. It's incredible flavor within a minute.”
Where do you get your inspiration for your new cocktails?
It depends on the type of bar you are. Personally, I try hitting a variety of different mediums; I don't stick with one thing exclusively. You need to be cognizant of what's going on in the industry-wise — you can't just do classics. So what I try to do with my place is that I try to just play to the classics. That being said, you also need some craft things and some molecular things.”
Where do your ideas for new cocktails and flavors come from?
“If you're passionate about this industry, you're always looking for new things and the next best thing. That's how new drinks come into being.”
Do you have to understand cocktail history before you can completely enjoy a cocktail?
“Somewhat. You should read The South American Gentleman's Companion.”
Visit Rocco at Private|Social to try his new drink menu and hear a story or two. He's more than happy to serve up both with a twist.