When Brendan Bartley was hired as head bartender of the Manhattan bar The 18th Room in 2018, he quickly made an impression. A vocal advocate for sustainable bar practices, Bartley made it his mission to minimize waste at the bar, which included sharing ingredients and packaging materials with the kitchen and using leftover citrus rinds to create his own cleaning products. “I’m always trying to eliminate waste not just in drinks but with produce behind the scenes as well,” he says. “I think having a lot of waste is generally done through laziness, and most waste problems can be fixed with just a few extra steps or just doing something different.” The bar’s owner, Dave Oz, was so impressed by Bartley’s approach that he brought him on as head bartender and beverage director at Bathtub Gin, The 18th Room’s neighboring sister bar.
A 1920s-style speakeasy hidden behind a coffee shop, Bathtub Gin focuses on classic Prohibition era recipes and variations on the Gin & Tonic (cocktails are $16-$17). Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, the wildly popular Bathtub Gin has served 2.5 million cocktails to 1 million guests since opening in 2011. As beverage director and head bartender, Bartley—who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002—continues to bring Oz’s vision of a destination bar for gin and cocktail aficionados to life, while also implementing the sustainable practices he was known for at The 18th Room. His affinity for sharing ingredients from the venue’s kitchen to make his own tinctures and infusions is evident on his menu. For example, he uses fresh plums to make salted plum-infused Endless West Kazoku molecular sake, which is mixed with Teeling Small Batch Irish whiskey and soda water in his Wayne Wheeler Highball ($17). His Bath Club Sidecar ($17), meanwhile, features roasted bell pepper-infused Tanqueray No. Ten gin, Cointreau orange liqueur, house-made lemon citric acid, and house-made chamomile syrup. “Since taking over at Bathtub Gin I’ve tried to streamline the efficiency and consistency of the drinks program without changing its integrity,” Bartley says. “I have a niche for running minimal waste venues, and as a team we’ve tried to be more conscious of how we use things. Although it’s not in our founding identity, that philosophy is now an integral part of how we think as a team.”
Bartley notes that the ingredients he likes to use in his cocktails change frequently depending on what’s at his disposal and what he finds interesting and new, but he’s especially fond of spirits made by people who aim to be environmentally, agriculturally, and socially conscious. “Since it takes up a lot of land, resources, and jobs to make spirits, brands and companies should be held responsible for their contributions to waste, not only bars and restaurants,” he says, adding that educating his team to improve their operation and be more sustainable is his favorite part of the job. “I want my coworkers to be better at their craft than when they started,” he says. “I think the transfer of knowledge is the single most important thing in the world. That alone is how we grow and evolve.”