2017 New York City Rising Star Bartender Jesse Vida of BlackTail

2017 New York City Rising Star Bartender Jesse Vida of BlackTail
January 2017

2nd floor, Pier A Harbor House, 22 Battery Place
New York, NY 10004



All it took was a sip of a Sazerac for Jesse Vida to know he wanted to be a bartender. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he began his hospitality career at 14, and started behind the stick at Locanda, part of the James Beard Award-winning Delfi na Restaurant Group. While he was learning the trade, Vida worked as a hip-hop artist. While on stage he learned how to read a room’s energy, control a crowd, and how to host—valuable skills for running a bar.

Vida would soon switch coasts, moving to New York City and honing his skills at Dutch Kills, Booker & Dax, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and, most formatively, at Dead Rabbit. He remained there two years, working closely with Jack McGarry and Rising Stars alum Jillian Vose, and structuring his approach to creating cocktails. 

Vida has guest-bartended in more than a dozen cities across the country, as well as in London, and has mixed pisco in Peru, competed in Iceland, and consulted in Columbia. He’s a mainstay of the cocktail circuit and familiar face to many at Tales of the Cocktail, Bar Institute, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, and San Francisco Cocktail Week. In 2016, Visa was tapped to manage the bar at BlackTail, where, along with McGarry and Vose, he develops the cocktail program, inspired by Prohibition-era Cuba.



Interview with New York City Rising Star Jesse Vida of BlackTail

D. J. Costantino: How did you get your start?
Jesse Vida:
I’m from San Francisco, and I’ve been behind the bar 10 years. My first job in New York was at Booker and Dax, where I met Dave Arnold. Then I went to work at Dutch Kills,  then Dead Rabbit. I worked with Jillian [Vose] there, which was right before they gave me the opportunity to run the program over here.

DC: Do you have any mentors?
JV: It's not so much that they're my mentors, but there are definitely people who have influenced me and my career. Jack McGarry is one of those people for sure, and Jillian Vose at Dead Rabbit, as well as Richie Boccato from my time at Dutch Kills.

DC: What’s your favorite cocktail to drink?

DC: And to make?
JV: Martinis

DC: How are you involved in the local bartending community?
JV: I consider myself pretty involved. I mean, I don’t hold a seat in the USBG or anything. But it's also important to have a national and international presence. I did an apprentice program at Tales [of the Cocktail], and I flew out to San Antonio for the San Antonio Cocktail Conference in January.

DC: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
It’s been five months since we came over here to BlackTail and opened our doors, and we fashioned the style of service and cocktails to Dead Rabbit. But this is a totally different place, and we've had to make a lot of adjustments. For the first three and a half months we did only seated service, but we opened up the bar, and people like that, and now we have live music a few nights a week. You’ve got to protect the ethos of your bar program, and I finally feel like we’re in a place where people are getting what they want from it.

DC: What's your five year plan?
It’s interesting, for a long time, it was always my dream to open a bar, but as I moved into a position where it became a possibility, it sort of slowed me down. Five years ago, I would’ve done it no matter what. Owning a bar is an idea that I’ll always entertain, but I want to continue to learn more as a manger, and learn more operational tactics. I turned down a few head bartender positions because I wasn't ready to do it as well as I thought I should be able to, so it's all been very methodical, and I've been very patient with my career.