After a year and a half as a bartender at Death + Company, award-winning mixologist Al Sotack is getting ready to strike out on his own. He and Maks Pazuniak, former head bartender at New Orleans’s acclaimed Cure, plan to open a cocktail bar late this summer in an old check-cashing facility on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick.
Sotack, an NYU alum, made a name for himself as head bartender at Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. in Philadelphia. During his time at the at acclaimed “drinking establishment” — which was nominated twice for James Beard Awards — Sotack was voted Eater Philly’s “Bartender of the Year” for 2012, and he won the 2013 StarChefs.com Philadelphia Rising Star Mixologist Award.
He and Pazuniak, both 33, became friends after Sotack sent off an emailing praising Pazuniak’s book, Beta Cocktails.
When Sotack got engaged and moved with his fiancé back to New York, Death + Co. asked him to fill an empty bartending spot, and he simultaneously tended bar for nine months at Pouring Ribbons in the East Village. He also helped with the relaunch of Donna after the Williamsburg bar was closed for a time due to a fire.
If you’ve ever tried the Double Dragon, one of the most popular drinks on the menu at Death + Co., you’ve tasted Sotack’s handiwork. It’s his own invention, made of Japanese whiskey, mezcal, Porte syrup and Moroccan bitters. Sotack wants to bring that creativity to his new bar, but he doesn’t plan on it being a seated-only, speakeasy-style joint. “It will be a little bit more of a lounge aesthetic with sound design and good music,” he said.
As a 10-year veteran of the service industry he’s reluctant to say too much about the concept. “There’s a lot of talk and overgrandizing and the stating your vision again and again,” he said of would-be bar owners. He did say that while cocktails will definitely be an important element, they may not necessarily be the main focus of the bar, cryptically adding that “overall you won’t find any other bars like this, not just in the neighborhood but in Brooklyn or Manhattan, really. It will be a bar that’s very specific to the place and time.”
Sotack and Pazuniak plan to open at 1237 Flushing Avenue in September — they’re currently in the design phase with the buildout slated to begin “soon.” This week their liquor license application won the endorsement of Community Board 1’s SLA committee, perhaps because the bar’s block, between Gardner Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue, is mostly commercial and currently has no bars at all. “We didn’t want to be in the middle of things,” he said. “Manhattan was never an option for us.”