Frank Magnasco, a California native, recently returned back to the Golden State after working as a bartender in New York for 13 years. Once in San Diego, he picked up at Little Italy’s Juniper & Ivy, just seven months ago.
Throughout his years working behind the bar, he was always fascinated by the creativity and inventive nature of cocktail competitions, which lead him to enter the Manhattan Experience.
After beating out some fierce competition, Magnasco will return to the city where he started his journey to present his cocktail, The Tribeca, during the final round of competition on Monday, April 23.
The Manhattan Experience is a national cocktail competition where bartenders showcase their twist on the classic Manhattan. The grand prize: an all-expenses paid trip for two to London.
Out of hundreds of cocktail submissions and rounds of cuts, Magnasco is the only California bartender to make it to the final round. He, along with five other bartenders, will be at The NoMad in New York City to see who is will walk out with the title “The Master of the Manhattan.”
PACIFIC recently got a chance to chat with the mixologist about how he got into the business, the influences behind The Tribeca and why this competition is special for him.
PACIFIC: How did you get into bartending?
FRANK MAGNASCO: I started working as a host in a restaurant, that was one of my first jobs out of college. I was working at a corporate restaurant in New York City in Times Square to kind of make ends meet. In this corporate restaurant it was the culture to move up and to better myself. So I moved up — I became a server, then a bartender. I really fell in love with bartending.
What brought you to San Diego?
I was living in New York for 13 years and I really needed a change. San Diego is a bit of a homecoming for me, I’m from Northern California, originally, so I wanted to move back closer to my family, but San Francisco is too expensive and Los Angeles... the traffic is terrible. I have a couple of friends that live (in San Diego), it’s a perfect fit for me.
When you first moved to San Diego, what was it like getting into the bartending industry?
It was a little difficult at first, I kind of had to change my expectations about moving here and just getting a job. I really wanted a job when I got off the plane and that wasn’t the reality. I had to put some work in, I applied to a number of places. I was really lucky because, my roommate found a post online for Juniper & Ivy. I went in for an interview, I mean I could not have dreamed of a better fit and a better job.
What’s your favorite drink to make?
Right now, it’s the cocktail that I am competing with in this competition. Juniper & Ivy was generous enough to put it on the menu, it’s called “Fennelly It Has Happened To Me” and it’s a Woodford cocktail with Woodford Reserve bourbon, orange liqueur, Dolin dry vermouth, a roasted fennel syrup that we make and a little angostura bitters. It’s a stirred cocktail, I like stirred cocktails rather than shaken cocktails because I have a conversation with my guest as I’m making them.
When you’re not serving the drinks, what do you like to order?
Depends on my mood. I will always love drinking Manhattans, I know that sounds a little cliché because I’m in a Manhattan competition, but it’s been true all my adult life. I will always be interested in ordering Manhattans because every single Manhattan is different, the slightest little variation or certain ratio of sweet vermouth changes the cocktail completely and what you’re choosing as your support ingredients for the bourbon that you choose is really important, too.
But if I am feeling different, I’ll order mezcal neat with a sour beer — that’s been a lot of fun. I really do enjoy going to new cocktail bars and trying their cocktail menu. So usually I’ll order something that catches my eye.
Any food to go with that drink?
I love food, and I think that’s part of the reason why Juniper & Ivy has been such a great fit for me because it’s such a food centered restaurant. The food is important there and they do such an amazing job there. I love trying a bunch of small plates and trying a lot of different things as opposed to getting one big entree. Doing a bunch of things and seeing what works — what wine is going to be pairing great with this or whatever, so that’s always fascinating.
How did you hear about the Manhattan Experience competition? What compelled you to enter?
I’m a member of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. The USBG is a great resource for bartenders. That is basically how I found out about the Woodford Manhattan competition. Not only was it a brand that I’m passionate about ... but also, the fact that it was a Manhattan competition was really important as well.
I’m half Italian, half Sicilian and I grew up with my Italian family drinking Manhattans at family functions and holidays so it’s always been something that’s very close to my heart. That is kind of what propelled me to enter this competition as opposed to the many other competitions that are going around in that community around this time of year.
What’s the influence behind The Tribeca?
Certainly, the main influence is my time working in New York, in Tribeca. ... I tend to enjoy fancier restaurants and drinking fun cocktails, and providing that experience is so fascinating for me, so I wanted to create an elevated Manhattan. Tribeca is one of Manhattan’s most elevated neighborhoods. It’s a place where there’s a lot of young people — they’re wealthier young people, but they’re young people, nonetheless, so it’s not super stuffy like the Upper East Side — it’s a lot a fun.
I definitely wanted to pay homage to my experience working there. But then also, my choices behind each of the ingredients in this particular Manhattan, The Tribeca, were based off of experimentation and testing. I made decisions based on taste and then kind of went from there to build around the cocktail.
What are you looking forward to while at the competition or in New York?
It’s very special to be able to represent San Diego in New York City. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with the other five (finalists) because I was really able to connect with them in Kentucky (where the semi-finals were held). ... Obviously, looking forward to getting a slice of my favorite pizza and having a bagel from my favorite bagel place, I have a number of friends that I’m excited about connecting back with at the competition.
Try it out...
Bust out those bartending skills by creating The Tribeca at home.
1.5 oz Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
0.75 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
3 dashes Orange Cream Bitters
2 dashes Woodford Spiced Cherry Bitters
Stir ingredients over ice until perfect, strain into chilled coupe glass. Orange peel pocket square garnish expressed over cocktail and glass then clipped to rim.