THE MODERN | New York
Growing up in Mexico, Junior Merino was only 16 when he arrived
in New York in 1993 and began work as a server assistant at the
Boulevard Café. He stayed for six years, working
his way up to bartender and manager, all the while learning English,
working towards his high school diploma, and becoming certified
in graphic design.
It was at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse
that Merino was first given the opportunity to put together a wine
and cocktail list, designing menus that would later be given an
award of excellence by Wine Spectator. In his spare time,
he invented cocktails and sangria blends for the restaurant and
also took courses to be certified by the American Sommelier Association.
Over the next six years, Merino studied and passed the Court of
Master Sommeliers’ exams until finally becoming a Master Sommelier.
When Union Square Hospitality Group opened their restaurants
at the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art in 2005, Merino joined
the staff Terrace 5, the modern European-style café.
A few months later, he transferred to The Modern, overseeing
the cocktail menu of the museum’s showpiece restaurant. There
the familiar spices, fruits, and vegetables from his Mexican upbringing
inspire Merino’s innovative cocktails. Merino draws upon these
and other ingredients to mix and matching uncommon flavors, adding
an exotic twist to his original cocktails. One of his signature
cocktails, Coming Up Roses, was awarded first prize at the International
Bar Show’s best cocktail competition. Merino has also made
an independent study of chocolate, flowers, tea, coffee, cheese
and cigars, hoping to compile a service training manual for front-of-house
WB: Were you trained in bartending
JM: I learned a lot from my
parents, and I consider Gabriel Kreuther, a chef, to be my mentor.
New and exciting flavors interest and inspire me whether they come
from savory dishes or desserts.
WB: What are
some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market?
JM: I’ve noticed that
a lot of old fashioned drinks are coming back but in a playful way.
WB: What goes
into creating a cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place?
JM: I am always inspired by
the alcohol itself--the pure flavors of Grey Goose, Leblon, or Demars.
I taste these alcohols and think about flavor pairings and ingredients
that would match the sugarcane of the cachaca or the molasses of
WB: What is your
favorite drink to make?
JM: I enjoy mixing all sorts
of drinks, because even the simplest drinks need to be made with
WB: Where do
you see yourself in five years?
JM: I’d like to have
my own place and maybe write a book that teaches people not just
how to make, but how to create their own cocktails. I’d like
to write the kind of book that inspires people to play around with
new and exciting flavors and make their own combinations.
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