“I used to always joke that I was a chef and that now I just make chilled soup,” says the renowned bartender Sother Teague.
At a time when NYC bars are required to sell food along with drink orders, Teague is now wearing both hats simultaneously as Reserve by Amor y Amargo reopens today. The East Village bar, located at 95 Avenue A, at East Sixth Street, opened in November 2020 but shut down shortly after the city mandated an indoor dining ban for the second time during the pandemic and it hasn’t been open since December. It’s a rare sight, but Teague is the head bartender and executive chef behind the reservations only, prix-fixe ($120) menu featuring five cocktails and four plant-based dishes.
For a bartender who often describes his cocktails as tasting “more savory,” it’s no surprise to see a pairing like the Cubist — a martini-inspired drink with aquavit, Suze, dry vermouth, and olive bitters — paired with a dish of carrots that have been cured to resemble lox served with tofu scallion cream cheese, pickled onions, fried capers, and dill.
The other stirred cocktails on the menu include ingredients like pimento bitters, smoked orange bitters, and mint syrups. Among the vegetable-centric dishes, there are smoked, jerk-seasoned king trumpet mushrooms resembling scallops and crispy cauliflower bites tossed in orange zest panko.
Reserve by Amor y Amargo is part of three concepts, all located in a connected space, rolled into one. There’s the pocket-sized award-winning Amor y Amargo, which opened a decade ago last month and seats only eight people, and the General Store, which opened at the same time as Reserve, which sells bottled cocktails to go.
“At Reserve by Amor y Amargo, [Sother] continues Amor y Amargo’s tradition of creative innovation with inimitable cocktails and new, plant-based culinary creations,” said Overthrow Hospitality founder Ravi DeRossi, whom Teague partnered with here, in a released statement. “This is all presented in an environment that feels safe, intimate and highly-curated.”
The opportunity to cook in the kitchen wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic, Teague says. The city’s bars have suffered in particular during the pandemic with curfews, requirements to sell food, and smaller spaces (Reserve will only seat about 10 guests at a time). Amor y Amargo opened a larger Williamsburg location in August 2019 and closed less than a year later.
But Teague’s training as a chef helped him take on the new role. He’s worked with Alton Brown on a season of “Good Eats,” taught at the New England Culinary Institute, and also ran a sold-out Sunday salon series at Amor y Amargo a few years ago to “really stretch my culinary muscles.” At Reserve, Teague will cook in the kitchen by day and mix cocktails at night.
“Reopening this time requires the same energy and effort as a grand opening,” he says. “We had to reconnect with purveyors. We lost tons of employees, and we’re staffing from ground zero.”
As more people become vaccinated and the weather warms up, Teague wonders if New Yorkers will still bar hop like they did in the Before Times. “Our experience — and my own — is that you’d have dinner at one place,” Teague says. “Then you’d go have drinks at three different places.”
At Reserve, the seated affair — there’s no outdoor seating at the moment — is part “edutainment,” as Teague puts. He walks guests through the different components of the various courses. The menu is expected to change every two months, and he’ll update the cocktails to complement each dish.
“We’re not just for cocktail nerds,” Teague says.