Beverage Director John McCarthy of Highlands - Biography

New York, NY

May 2012

John McCarthy’s first job in the culinary field was as a fry cook at a local sports bar when he was in high school. And so, after graduating University of Virginia—throughout which he worked in various line cook jobs—and heading to New York City, he though he would be a cook. He walked into a restaurant near Central Park and asked for a job without a culinary degree or a working knowledge of “kitchen Spanish.” The chef there laughed at him and said “good luck, kid,” so McCarthy took a job as a bar back, working his way up to bartender at such haunts as Allen & Delancey and Bette, where he often served luminaries like George Clooney and Eva Mendes.

Today, McCarthy has the last laugh, as beverage director for Highlands, a Scottish gastropub in the West Village that boasts one of the biggest collections of Scotch in the city, and Whitehall, a gin joint nearby. McCarthy still has that line cook mentality, though: he refers to his mise en place, and likes to say that he’s a cook with an audience. Just don’t call him a bar chef; “I’m a bartender, pure and simple.”