Mixologist Dan LoDrago

Crafting an Experience

A chance meeting at a party changed everything for New Jersey mixologist Dan LoDrago.

At the time, LoDrago was bartending at a chain restaurant better known for its meatballs than martinis. “I thought there was nothing else I could learn, that I was already at the pinnacle of bartending,” says the 23-year-old.

But a conversation at a party with a bartender who worked at a popular restaurant and lounge led LoDrago to an opportunity–and an epiphany. He was offered the chance to barback at the establishment, the Montclair Social Club, known for its craft cocktail culture. It only took one shift for him to realize, “I didn’t know a single thing about anything.”

Instead of feeling discouraged, he was energized.

LoDrago worked his way up to head bartender, stepping into a rock star role behind the bar. He learned how to deal with people, intuit what they need and give it to them. “I learned why certain people came for this and other people came for that,” he says. “For instance, if someone didn’t want to talk but wanted an old fashioned, I’d make them a really, really good old fashioned and leave them alone. And as far as they were concerned, they just had one of the best bar experiences of their lives.”

These days, LoDrago is head bartender at Cellar 335 in Jersey City, NJ.
A bit of bottle-throwing, shaker-flipping flair is part of his routine. And while the spotlight might be on LoDrago, his focus is always on his guests. His favorite moments? “When I’m able to stand in front of a guest and ask, ‘Do you want light and refreshing? Or boozy and straight-forward? What kind of day are you having?’” Hospitality is a collaborative process. And for LoDrago, it’s a transformative one.

“When I found bartending, I was able to step out of my shell,” he says. “Outside of the bar, I’m a little more withdrawn, not so talkative. But when I step behind the bar, it’s a different mentality. I’m almost an entirely different person. More fun, happier. Everyone wants to see you and you want to see everyone.”

WHY BARFLY MIXOLOGY GEAR

When your bar is three deep and you’re in the weeds, you need sturdy and reliable bar gear to help you get through it. Every trade relies on the right tools. Having gear that’s going to get me through years of service is mos important.

– Mixologist Dan LoDrago