NEW YORK — The menu at Suffolk Arms, a cocktail lounge that recently opened on the Lower East Side, has a section called “Intractable and Unapologetic.” The phrase may also be used to describe bartender Giuseppe González, a co-owner.
González dreamed for years of having a place of his own, and Suffolk Arms is a wood-paneled expression of his many opinions: about cocktails, politics, what constitutes good service and the city he loves.
Consider the blenders. Many places don’t use them. But González, 40, who is Puerto Rican and spent his early years in the Bronx before living for a time with his grandparents in Puerto Rico, serves the piña colada as a nod to his heritage. “I’ll always have a piña colada,” he said, not caring that the drink gets little respect in this time of cocktail snobbery.
He has covered the walls, Sardi’s style, with pencil-on-wood drawings of his favorite New Yorkers, including KRS-One and Sonia Sotomayor. There is also a sketch of activist and author Jane Jacobs, and González has plans to add one of city planner Robert Moses, her nemesis.
“It’s going to hang in the bathroom, above the toilet,” he said with a laugh.
Before finding his career, González attended Cornell University, where he earned a degree “on the seven-year plan,” in neurobiology. In 1999, he worked behind the bar at the Latin restaurant Calle Ocho. “I didn’t want to be a bartender,” he said. “But I’d just had my daughter and I had an Ivy League degree I didn’t want to use. It was cash.”
Somehow the job grabbed hold of him. “I love being up at 4 a.m. among these crazy people from different aspects of life,” González said.
He went on to pay his dues at some of New York’s temples of cocktail culture, including the Flatiron Lounge and Pegu Club. He also founded the tiki lounge Painkiller but chafed at the input of the investors.
“I hate having a boss,” González said. “I had ideas, and I wanted to be able to just do them.”
At Suffolk Arms, González has that freedom. In his Yankees cap, Dickies pants, “Star Wars” T-shirt and Crocs, he has the look of someone who has settled into his profession and his life.
“Whenever people see me they say, ‘That guy doesn’t look like he belongs here,’ or else ‘He’s the owner,'” González said.
It was clear he relished saying that last word.
Yield: 1 drink
1 1/2 ounces (45 milliliters) Grey Goose VX
1 freshly juiced Granny Smith apple
Horseradish, for garnish
Juice one whole Granny Smith apple into a double rocks glass. Add vodka and ice. Stir lightly. Garnish with fresh grated horseradish.