Between Two Barstools: Sam from Toki Underground

(Cue deep voice) And now, H&H would like to present another edition of (dramatic pause) Between Two Barstools (dramatic pause) featuring Sam from Toki Underground.

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San tends bar at Toki Underground, a Taiwanese ramen shop in NE Washington D.C. He describes the restaurant as non-stop busy.  Apparently, people in DC just can’t get enough ramen.  But, he says, the drink menu is pretty cool too. They have a rolodex of something like 60 drink recipes that they’re constantly shuffling through and adding to. Most were designed by his brilliant, savant-like bar manager.  They also have sakes and asian beers you’re not likely to find in a liquor store. We asked him some questions about professional hooching away from home. 

 H&H: What bartending tool do you find to be essential?

Sam: There are about 6 tools that are pretty much indispensable (a shaker, a jigger, yada yada). But rather than list them I’ll throw out an often ignored, but key ingredient to good cocktails: ice. If you’re into stirred or rocks drinks, like I am, it will make a huge difference to have an ice tray that makes big, smooth cubes that melt slowly. This makes it easier to control the amount of water that gets into the mix. For rocks drinks, this type of ice keeps your cocktail from changing too drastically as you drink it.

 H&H: What is your number one bartender pet peeve?

Sam: This is easy: the hand-wringing over sweet cocktails. Maybe it’s because people have come to associate bad cocktails with cloying chain-restaurant margaritas or daiquiris, but people seem to believe that getting a good cocktail means getting one that isn’t sweet. Most of the classic cocktails, the ones we imagine that whiskered men in black-and white illustrations would be drinking (Old-fashions, Manhattans, etc), are packed with sugar. Thats why we like them. In most cocktails, the sugar element is a necessary part of balance. Non-sweet cocktails have the tendency to assault your taste buds (aka The Rickey), or taste like nothing (aka a vodka soda).But that doesn’t stop the regular looks of trepidation I get after recommending a cocktail. “Is that sweet???”  Its more likely to be girls too, the people most likely to enjoy sweeter cocktails. Sorry ladies.

 H&H: What is your advice for people who are just starting their adventures in mixology (We asked this question to Sam before we were schooled on the proper use of the word mixology by his friend Mac, but we appreciated his reaction and decided to include it)?

Sam: Well it might sound a bit cliche but, first, leave the -ogy to the sciences. People who make drinks are bartenders and people who design drinks generally call themselves the same thing.

A less pedantic answer would be to buy a classic cocktail book. You’ll learn some cool, yummy drinks. But since most of the new drinks on today’s cocktail menus are just riffs on old recipes, learning those is a good first step to inventing your own drinks.

H&H: Is there one cocktail ingredient you keep on hand at home?

Sam: I don’t, as it would be devastating to many of my life goals. But if I did it would probably be campari or another aperitif or amaro of some sort. I love campari and soda on the rocks, but I’m also all-around bullish on liqueurs. Good vermouth, Aperol, Pimm’s, Amaro Nonino, Suze…incorporating euro, wine and herb based stuff like this will really elevate your game.

H&H: What is your go to cocktail of the moment?

The Boulvadier, translating literally to ‘walker of streets’, but more meaning ‘man about town.’ Which strikes me as inherently sexist since the only coined phrase for a women  performing the same activity seems to to be ‘street-walker’ or ‘lady of the night.’

Anywho, this is just a negroni with rye instead of gin: 1 oz campari, one ounce sweet vermouth (preferably something decent like Punt E Mes), and 1 oz rye. Pour ingredients into pint glass, fill 3/4 ice, stir for 30 seconds, and serve up. Bitter, sweet, boozy.


Not having the necessary ingredients on hand, I charged my mother with making this drink. She thinks it might be her new favorite drink. My dad thought it was too bitter at first, but then it grew on him.  We would love to hear your reaction to it! Could be a great fall drink to add to the repertoire!

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About hoochandhome

home improvement, one cocktail at a time
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