Mixology Spirit: Frankie Rodriguez

Since Greca Mediterranean Kitchen + Bar opened its first restaurant in New Milford, CT, the eatery quickly racked up a host of awards. Owner, Dino Kolitsas, has created a warm, inviting atmosphere with excellent food and craft cocktails. As Dino likes to say, “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.” Building upon his success, Dino is close to opening a second Greca location in White Plains, NY. He anticipates a soft opening sometime in September 2021. As part of the expansion, he recruited the talented Frankie Rodriguez to serve as the restaurant’s beverage director. As you’ll see below, Frankie has a robust resume and is known as one of New York City’s top bartenders. He previously served as General Manager for eight years at the acclaimed Death and Co. in the East Village. Read on to learn more about his work and be sure to try his featured cocktail, The Socratic Method. It’s absolutely fantastic!

Batchers: What is your role at Greca?

Frankie: I am the Beverage Director for Greca and joined the company recently as the restaurant is working to open a second location in White Plains, NY. Dino Kolitsas is the owner and he opened Greca’s first location in New Milford, CT a couple of years ago. I will oversee the bar programs at each of Greca’s locations.

Batchers: How long have you been behind the bar? What first attracted you to bartending?

Frankie: I’ve been bartending for ten years and in management and ownership for eleven. I started bartending to pay my bills while in college. I fell in love with the industry my first night behind the bar. I realized how much I loved hospitality and how great I was at taking care of people. To be able to make someone feel great after a difficult day at work is an amazing feeling. With all the stresses in the world, it’s nice to be able to reduce people’s anxiety levels.

Batchers: What’s your vision for the bar at Greca’s new location in White Plains?

Frankie: Not many places work with or serve Greek spirits, besides Ouzo. I’m incorporating some beautiful Greek spirits with our cocktails and want to introduce White Plains to something really different and special.

Batchers: Where were you working prior to Greca?

Frankie: I was a Managing Partner for a craft cocktail bar in Brooklyn, which was short-lived, unfortunately. During that time the bar was featured in Time Out numerous times, Grub Street, Eater, Brooklyn Magazine, and the NY Times. We were even recognized for having the Number 1 cocktail in New York City back in 2016. 
But, where it all really started for me prior to that was at a little place called Death and Co in the East Village. It was one of the top craft-cocktail bars in the world; I was the General Manager for eight years. We were one of the pioneers in bringing craft cocktails to New York. We won numerous awards during my tenure, including Best American Cocktail Bar, World’s Best Cocktail Menu, and voted in the top 10 of The 50 Best Bars in The World for several years. We were also voted one of the Best Bars in the Country.

Batchers: With so much competition in NYC among bars and restaurants, what traits does a NYC mixologist need to have to rise above the crowd to be recognized as one of the best?

Frankie: It helps to have a great palate and a creative flair for creating new and interesting cocktails. It’s essential to be able to combine different flavors together with spirits to create a beautifully-tasting libation. You have to be passionate about your craft and approach it as an artist would. If you can pull all of that together that with amazing hospitality, you will stand out.

Batchers: What advice would you give a novice bartender just getting started?

Frankie: Educate yourself—read, read, read! And, practice, practice, practice. It’s important to be knowledgeable and consistent if you want to be the best cocktail bartender you can be. Know your craft! Don’t be afraid to fail, as sometimes you will. I promise you will learn from it and will get better. And honestly, you have to love taking care of people. If you don’t, you will not make it in this industry. Nowadays, you can go anywhere and have an amazing cocktail. If you really want to succeed and separate yourself from the crowd, you need to provide a WOW experience. You need to knock people off their feet with exceptional service, as that is increasingly hard to come by these days.

Batchers: Got a good story about a particularly hard night behind the bar?

Frankie: Whoa…there are so many. I wasn’t behind the bar, but one night at Death and Co I had someone walk in to just grab a beer at the bar. We had a waiting list at that particular moment, which we operated by seating guests at tables and bar when seats became available (we did not allow guests to stand at the bar). My bartender tried to explain this to the gentleman, but he wasn’t having any of it. He became very angry. I intervened to diffuse the situation and I told him I would be happy to add him to the list and my doorman would text him when a seat became available. He wanted a beer now, not later. I then told him that I would put his name on the list and we could walk down to the bar down the block and I will buy him a beer while he waits. He agreed. We ended up drinking at that bar for 2 hours and are still friends today!

Batchers: What is your favorite Litchfield Distillery spirit to work with and why?

Frankie: I love Litchfield Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s overproof but extremely smooth. I love its vanilla, dark fruit, and peppery notes. Great on its own or in a cocktail!

Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work® mean to you?

Frankie: Discipline and motivation. The ability to stay focused, stay dedicated, and stay positive. You have to surround yourself with other hard-working people and always remember why you are doing the hard work in the first place. You have to convince yourself you want to do something, then take control, and do it! Never ever quit. Success is not handed to you.

Frankie’s featured cocktail is called The Socratic Method. The cocktail showcases our Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Roots Rakomelo, which is a grape pomace distillate (think grappa), flavored with honey and spices. The two spirits complement each other wonderfully and the muddled sage adds a perfect layer of complexity and savory, earthy notes. This is a wonderful cocktail that only requires a few ingredients and is simple to build. We think you’ll love it!

Ingredients:

Method: Add the sage and bitters to a mixing glass. Gently muddle. Add LD Bourbon and Roots Rakomelo. Fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with one large block ice cube. Garnish with fresh sage leaf.

Be sure to follow Greca on their Website or on Facebook and Instagram. To contact or make a reservation at their New Milford location, please call (860) 799-6586. We’ll update contact information for the White Plains location when it opens.

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About Mixology Spirit:

Mixology Spirit is a Litchfield Distillery blog series dedicated to sharing the stories of creative and passionate mixologists who embody The Spirit Of Hard Work®Think you got what it takes to be featured? Drop us a line at info@litchfielddistillery.com.

© 2021 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove

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