At 9 PM (in each country’s respective time zone) on August 31, 2015, the cocktail world raised their collective glasses to Sasha Petraske, one of the key figures in the modern drinks renaissance.
From Athens to Syndey, New York to Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, bartenders shook and sipped daiquiris, one of Petraske’s favorite drinks, and remembered the man who has inspired so many.
Struck down by a heart attack on August 20, 2015 at the age of 42, Petraske leaves behind a powerful legacy. For those who have sipped cocktails at, worked in, or opened a bar where the entrance was hidden, the drinks were all classically rooted, and the atmosphere emphasized propriety, respect, and hospitality, they have been influenced by Petraske’s world view. His first bar, Milk & Honey, opened at 9pm (hence the celebratory time chosen above) on December 31, 1999. The phone number was unlisted and the Lower East Side location was questionable, but cocktail lovers found their way there and added to the quiet foment that would soon become the modern cocktail explosion.
From there, Petraske went on to open numerous other bars (including Little Branch and Dutch Kills, as well as eventually closing Milk & Honey where former Petraske bartender Sam Ross and his team opened Attaboy.) Milk & Honey’s “house rules”, which included everything from “No name dropping” to “No fighting, play fighting, no talking about fighting” to Gentlemen will remove their hats”, helped re-establish the bar as a place of convivial civility, rather than the “Animal House” atmosphere that often existed at establishments of the time. His devotion to fresh ingredients, to historic recipes, and to bartenders as knowledgeable guides has become the norm not the exception.
Whether we knew him as an acquaintance, a colleague, or a friend, the industry as a whole has been and will continue to be influenced by his particular genius. Petraske was a private man who was known for shutting out the press. The bar community however has been unable to remain quiet about losing one of their own. On Facebook, there was a vast outpouring of emotion from those who knew or were simply influenced by him.
Los Angeles bar manager at EP/LP and Bon Vivants Sergeant at Arms Alex Straus, who worked for Petraske from Januaryof 2005 to May of 2007 at the East Side Company, agreed to let Chilled post some of his comments:
“The man who taught me to bartend died today. I found out while I was behind the bar. It took a minute to hit me. Then I went and had a good long cry into a bar towel in the walk-in… (Sasha) taught me care and intention behind the bar. He taught me that even if only one guest walks in your bar, make it their best night and give them the best service ever. I will honor him and all he instilled in me for the rest of my life.”
And, from Jacob Briars, Global Advocacy Director Bacardi Ltd. (who also granted us permission): “It would be no exaggeration to say that Milk & Honey was probably the most important bar of the last 15 years, and Sasha the most important, and reluctant, figure in the 21st century cocktail boom we still enjoy today. I remember my first visit to NYC almost 12 years ago, when every bar that was in the news served oversized martinis, warm drinks, sweet drinks, and a dozen variations on lychee and/or apple martinis….On my last night in town, friends got a reservations to Milk & Honey and I never saw bars the same way again. ‘I’ve just been to the best bar in the world’, I declared as we walked out.”
Petraske’s wife Georgette Moger-Petraske recently set up a memorial fund with a goal of only $134 “to defray his funeral costs and support the issues he was passionate about, including classic cocktails, social justice, NY entrepreneurship, and feline friends. As to why $134 as the chosen goal amount? Because 134 Eldridge, the address of Milk & Honey, was where so much of his legacy began to emerge.” To date, the donations have topped $10,000 with 89 days still to go.