2015 New York Rising Star Bartender Chris Lowder of The NoMad

2015 New York Rising Star Bartender Chris Lowder of The NoMad
February 2015

Chris Lowder may seem young (he is), but he’s also what you’d call a bar-and-restaurant lifer—in it for the long haul, and, so far, in it successfully.

Things have been known to explode around culinary tinkerer and mixology guru Dave Arnold, and Lowder’s career can be counted among them. Lowder made his first serious foray into craft cocktails and the pleasures of hyper-technical manipulation at Booker and Dax, Arnold’s next-level cocktail outpost in the Momofuku empire. Working for Arnold, Lowder perfected classic technique alongside modern approaches like working with centrifuges and liquid nitrogen.

Now having found his voice, he’s just as passionate behind the bar of Amor y Amargo: A Bitters Tasting Room. Lowder plays with a rainbow of bitters and esoteric spirits to create cocktails that have as much footing in a bygone cocktail era as they do on a modern bar menu. As part of the team at the Michelin-starred NoMad Hotel, working under 2011 Rising Star Leo Robistchek, Lowder helped earn both James Beard’s “Most Outstanding Bar Program” award and the title of “World’s Best Hotel Bar” at the 2013 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. No surprise the high-achieving Lowder—fluent in Mandarin and Japanese—was also a Northeast finalist in the 2014 Diageo World Class global bartending competition.

Interview with New York Rising Star Bartender Chris Lowder of The NoMad

Mary Choi: How did you get into bartending?
Chris Lowder:
I’m originally from Baltimore. I was a cook when I was 15, and worked for 5 years in different restaurants. I ran study-abroad programs at The University of Baltimore and worked as a translator in Japan and Beijing for 4 to 5 years. While translating, I found that I really missed hospitality. I wanted to travel and engage with people. Eventually I came back to the States and thought about what to do. I didn’t want to cook again, so I started working at a dive bar in Philly. I saw an ad for a bar-back at Booker & Dax, so I applied. I moved to Queens as soon as I got the job.

MC: Who has been your most influential mentor?
While working for Dave Arnold, I learned about ethics and drink making. I learned how to really bartend from Sother Teague; [he taught me] how to get people to have a great time.

MC: What's your favorite kind of cocktail to drink?
I love a Queen’s Park Swizzle. It’s refreshing, complex, and beautiful. Rum is such an amazingly diverse category of spirits—you only have to change the rum in the drink to produce a completely different and interesting cocktail.

MC: What is the biggest challenge you've had to face in your career?
Managing the bars at the NoMad is definitely the greatest professional challenge that I’ve encountered. Our team has 23 bartenders and 12 bar-backs, plus a dedicated three-person prep team and a full-time receiver who organizes our storage spaces and helps set the bars every day. We execute one lunch service and two dinner services, in addition to two to four private events daily. In total, I schedule and oversee an average of 132 bar shifts every week, with a minimum of seven bartenders and four bar-backs producing drinks simultaneously every evening. Each service brings a multitude of challenges. The good news is that I’m surrounded by an incredible team of rock stars who constantly push each other to do better. It’s such a thrilling and inspiring environment to work in.

MC: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
I am a member of the New York chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, which is one of the most inspiring and hard-working groups of professionals that I’ve ever encountered. I also host an online, open-source bar education center called the Bar Collective where beverage professionals can post information about recipes, spirits, cocktails, service, and restaurant management so that others can access them for free anywhere in the world. I also tend charitable events and pop-ups whenever I feel like I have something to contribute. I’ll be tending an event called Mixed Company on August fifth [2015] at Extra Fancy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. See you all there!

MC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m very committed to The NoMad and I want to see things through. We’re currently running the highest volume Michelin star-winning bar program. I’m very lucky for the experience, and having fun.