Since bursting onto the scene in late July, filling the Fifth Avenue building that long housed Maloney's Tavern, Queensborough Cocktail Lounge has been bringing a bite of the Big Apple to the Gaslamp.
Taking its name from the largest and easternmost of New York City's five boroughs, the new two-level bar and lounge offers East Coast-inspired cocktails and shareable plates in an atmosphere that boasts a marble bar, plush leather booths and suspended tabletops among other high-end amenities. The addition of transit turnstiles, a subway token-studded floor and a vintage phone booth transformed into a photo booth further up the authenticity of this venue.
PACIFIC recently caught up with Queensborough's bartender, Zack Ball, for a quick chat about working at the Gaslamp's swanky new watering hole.
PACIFIC: Where are you from?
I was originally born in San Diego, but when I was 4, my family moved to Shelton, Washington, and I lived there until I moved back to San Diego seven years ago.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I've lived in Golden Hill for the past three years. I originally moved to the neighborhood due to its proximity to downtown, but after moving there, I realized it's filled with a lot of friends I've made in the industry. It's the perfect location to be close to my job and surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same passion as me.
How did you get started in hospitality?
I got my start in the industry as a broke college student and applied for a summer job as a busser at Bleu Boheme in Kensington. I made some friends there who went on to work for Brian Malarkey (Searsucker, Herb & Wood) as he was opening up concepts all over the city, and I got a job at his former restaurant Gingham in La Mesa. The experience was exciting and challenging and eventually exposed me to bartenders Jen Queen (Juniper & Ivy, Searsucker), Ian Ward (Snake Oil Cocktail Co., Addison) and Lucian Connor (Snake Oil Cocktail Co., Puesto), who have each inspired me to pursue this as a career and helped me explore bartending as a creative passion.
Where else in S.D. have you worked?
Prior to Queensborough, I worked at Searsucker in the Gaslamp for five years. I was introduced to Brian Malarkey when I worked at Gingham and moved over to Searsucker. I had the opportunity to work as a corporate trainer for the brand and assist in the opening of his other locations, including Herringbone in San Diego, Searsucker in Las Vegas and Herringbone in Santa Monica. I've also done work with Ian Ward for Snake Oil Cocktails and chef Chad White's former concept Común.
How did you land the job at Queensborough?
Owner Shane Brennan and I both worked at Hakkasan entities. I worked at Searsucker, and he was at Omnia. When he and Mike Vizcarra (managing partner at Queensborough) told me about this project and walked me through the building, I was immediately interested and wanted to be a part of it.
What's your role at Queensborough?
As lead bartender, I assist in managing and executing the bar program at Queensborough. Because I have experience opening restaurants, I help train the staff and work on some operational duties as well. Opening restaurants is a team effort, and Shane and Mike have created a family environment here. I'm grateful to work alongside some of the best names in San Diego and deliver excellent cocktails to everyone who comes through the door.
How does Queensborough compare to other cocktail bars in the Gaslamp?
Not many bars have the energy and ambiance Queensborough has. You can feel it right when you walk in. It's like being teleported to New York City - the cocktails are proper and the origins can be traced back to different boroughs of New York City. It sticks out downtown in the best way possible.
What's your favorite thing about working at Queensborough?
The staff. Their passion is contagious; they keep me energized and alert. Even on a stressful day, they are guaranteed to put a smile on my face within seconds.
What are your favorite items on the food menu?
My favorite, by far, is the Surf & Turf Sliders with hanger steak and scallops, and the baked-to-order pretzels never let me down either. Chef Taylor Houseman (Común Kitchen & Tavern, Ironside Fish & Oyster) is a creative genius with the way he mixes unique ingredients.
What food/drink pairing do you recommend first-time visitors try?
Our kitchen and bar work side by side to play off of each other, so there are a ton of opportunities for pairings. My favorite is the Steak Board (dry-aged grilled N.Y. steak, seasonal vegetables, ash butter, chimichurri, horseradish gremolata, papas bravas) alongside the New Yorker cocktail (bacon fat-washed Elijah Craig bourbon, lemon, demerara, egg white, float Cabernet Sauvignon). And I always recommend a shot of Fernet.
What do you get into when you're not working?
I love to try new bars and restaurants around town, go to concerts and go on day-trips to Mexico.
What's the most important thing to you as a bartender?
I can make someone's day by creating something they will enjoy or by giving them the opportunity to try something new, or simply being a listener to each guest that comes in.
Are you working on any long-term goals?
I'd love to create, own and manage my own project one day, but that's far into the future. Right now, my focus is on the success of Queensborough, and I couldn't be happier to have this opportunity.
Queensborough Cocktail Lounge: Open daily at 4 p.m., 777 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp, queensboroughsd.com
Queensborough's Top Concoctions
4-5 mint leaves
.5 oz. matcha syrup
2 oz. Woodford Reserve bourbon
Shake/strain/crush over ice
Garnish with mint sprigs
.75 oz. lemon juice
.75 oz. demerara syrup
2 oz. bacon fat-washed Elijah Craig bourbon
Shake/strain over ice
Float Cabernet Sauvignon
THE BIG APPLE
2 dashes Angostura bitters
.25 oz. cinnamon and clove demerara
2 oz. red apple-infused Elijah Craig
Double rocks glass
Stir/strain over ice
Garnish with an apple slice