EVEN if love were not part of the name, I would fall for Amor y Amargo in the East Village.
It’s small, with seating for a dozen or so customers in what was once a sandwich shop. The music’s good: “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks. And it has as its guiding spirit the bartender and bitters proselytizer Sother Teague.
Bitters may get second billing in the name, but they are the star attraction: from amari like Braulio to Xocolatl Mole bitters from Bittermens, the company that helped create Amor y Amargo with Ravi DeRossi three years ago. (Mr. DeRossi is the owner of an impressive number of East Village places, many of them with declared majors — Mayahuel for tequila and mezcal, Desnuda for wine and Gin Palace — as well as the popular cocktail bar Death & Company.)
Amor y Amargo “was never meant to be a longstanding place,” Mr. DeRossi said. “It was meant to be a pop-up, but it was such a hit that we decided to keep it going.”
Much of the bar’s success is attributable to the enthusiasm of Mr. Teague, whose résumé includes culinary school student and instructor, research chef for Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” television series, head bartender at Rye in Brooklyn and part-timer at Bittermens, which is how he arrived at Amor y Amargo, initially working one day a week. (Bittermens is now in New Orleans and is no longer involved in the bar.)
Mr. Teague, who has since expanded his presence, sees himself as an educator. “People come in all the time and ask questions,” he said. “It’s a very consultative process just to get a drink in someone’s hand.”
And when it gets there, it is memorably excellent. That’s especially true of the Casualty ($14) with Montenegro amaro, Famous Grouse Scotch, the quinine-and-wine aperitif Byrrh and Xocolatl bitters, a warming hut of a cocktail with a nice cocoa note.
The Brawny Man ($14) is what Mr. Teague rhythmically describes as a “bitter, bitter, smoky, bitter”: Dell’Erborista amaro, Gran Classico Bitter liqueur, Peat Monster Scotch, Byrrh and Bittermens New Orleans coffee bitters. The name is accurate.
The bar will also make any kind of negroni or manhattan you could want.
Mr. Teague said his restaurant work gave him a “sort of slantedly bitter palate,” and that when he started bartending in New York, “I was dashing Angostura into my daiquiris, I was dashing it into anything — I wanted that little dry extra layer of flavor.”
“If spirits are soup, then all these bitters are seasoning,” he said. “You wouldn’t eat unseasoned soup, so why are you drinking an unseasoned drink?” (Mr. Teague often cooks at Amor y Amargo, including, fittingly enough, a seasoned, souplike dish he calls Southern Pho that features North Carolina-style barbecue, fried pig ears, cheddar grits and okra.) He is skillful at sharing his knowledge; he may, for example, pour a taste from a little-known bottle like the Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur from the Alps.
Because the night shift wasn’t enough to showcase it all, Mr. Teague started doing weekend matinees with a coffee and amaro program called Double Buzz. It’s a thoroughly pleasant way to while away a snowy Sunday afternoon.
Natalie Czech, formerly the head barista at the restaurant Maialino, who often works behind the bar on Double Buzz days, and Mr. Teague developed a list of delicious iced cocktails pairing Counter Culture coffee and the bar’s signature flavors. One, called the Mittens ($9), combines citrusy Mpemba coffee from Burundi; Aperol; the grapefruit aperitif called Citron Sauvage from Bittermens; blanco tequila; Cocchi Americano, another aperitif; and hopped grapefruit bitters.
Mr. Teague seems to be on the premises at all hours, wearing his United States Postal Service hat (“My oldest and most prized possession — and I’m not a hat person!”) and happily talking bitters.
He has contemplated designing a place with a horseshoe bar “so that people literally would be kind of all around me, like a little amphitheater,” the better to provide recommendations about everything from books he has been enjoying (“The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart) to which drink goes best with the cauliflower toast on the menu (that would be the Diamonds and Guns, which features Atsby Armadillo Cake vermouth, Bols genever and celery bitters and is billed as “herbaceous and savory”).
A homey horseshoe bar? It may not rank up there with Double Buzz, but still, not a bad idea at all.
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