32 East bar manager John Fitzpatrick wasn't always behind the bar, but after more than 20 years serving up drinks from New York City to South Florida, today bartending is his profession of choice.
"You could say I've been redirecting dispositions in Manhattan and South Florida for nearly two decades," says Fitzpatrick. "Two very tough but rewarding training grounds."
This training included the bar he opened alongside his wife in 2005 — Fitzy’s Lounge 45 — located just a few blocks east of the restaurant where he currently works in downtown Delray Beach.
Recently, Fitzpatrick launched an all-new cocktail menu at 32 East, one embracing the establishment's growing reputation as a whiskey-centric bar that currently offers more than 60 American whiskeys, from six-year aged Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon to 10-year Whistle Pig rye.
The menu presents a balanced mix of elevated classics and modern riffs. Try the Old Fashioned, here served two different ways: the traditional take made with bourbon and three sugar cubes muddled with Angostura bitters and garnished with orange zest, or the less-common Prohibition-style recipe that blends Smooth Amber Old Scout bourbon with boutique maraschino cherries muddled in a house sweet corn infusion, topped off with a splash of seltzer.
"People know 32 East as a foodie and wine spot first," says Fitzpatrick. "I wanted a cocktail menu that could live up to those standards and give people a reason to visit the bar too. We aren't trying to be the new craft cocktail bar, but you can certainly get a damn fine drink here."
Full name: John Fitzpatrick (AKA "Fitzy")
Title: 32 East bar manager
Hometown: New York
New Times: What inspired you to begin bartending professionally?
John Fitzpatrick: When the owners of Amsterdam Billiard Club in Manhattan finally attained full liquor licenses for their Upper East and West Side locations, I was tasked as GM with building the bars in both clubs stat. It was a manic, humbling but exciting experience that fueled a passion for all things bar related. That was the mid-'90s, and I’ve dedicated my career exclusively to spirits, the social life, and bar management ever since.
What's your favorite bar in South Florida (besides your own, of course)?
Sweetwater Bar & Grill is right in Boynton Beach. Their dedication to creating some of the best drinks and food — and providing a great energy and a warm environment — puts them at the forefront of great bars in South Florida for me. While many consider the bartenders there to be some of the best bartenders in our area, they’ve managed to maintain a humble, fun, and unpretentious approach to their craft. I believe this style is the future of the craft cocktail movement: be deadly serious about knowing your shit, but remember that people go to bars first and foremost to relax and have fun. Period.
What's your favorite drink on the menu right now?
I'd have to say my Slow Gin Fitz. It's a beautiful drink and my signature recipe. It's a combination of St. George gin, cucumber purée, and a lemongrass- and ginger-infused simple syrup the kitchen prepares for me, topped off with Jack Rudy tonic water. Our Sazerac is pretty special too. The chefs helped me to create a proprietary blend of herbs and spices for our own house absinthe. It's pretty amazing.
What would you like to see
I would like to see fewer vests and handlebar mustaches, and — as I alluded to above — [more] dedicating yourself to the guest and creating an energy that keeps driving them back. Too many establishments whiff on the most important part any good bar — the fun.
What do you believe you are best at or known for?
I’ve always been an audiophile and feel that while alcohol is the biggest catalyst for
Who is your favorite local bartender?
As someone who’s worked in the spirit industry for nearly two decades, what keeps you inspired?
Ours is no different than any profession in that failing to learn and grow will lead to boredom. Boredom leads to apathy. To remain relevant in any job, you need to constantly try to improve and be the best you can be. Studying, paying attention to trends, and brainstorming new ideas keeps me engaged and makes going to work challenging and fun.
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Has there ever been a time when you considered changing professions?
When my wife and I built Fitzy’s Lounge in 2005, we put in enormous effort and resources. We were very successful right out of the gate and on top of the hill for almost three years. The recession of 2008 forced us to give up what we had built. It was very hard and humbling. I had a couple of offers to jump to different lines of work around this time, but it was my wife who reminded me how good the bar and hospitality industry has been to me despite the recent challenges. She was right. It’s what I do best and what I love. I’ve been blessed to work with and serve many amazing people and have more great friends as a result than any man could ask for. And who could ask for more from their career than that? I don’t plan on hanging [my hat up]
Any advice for up and coming bartenders trying to break into the biz?
Take our profession very seriously but never yourself. If you work hard at being the most complete, prepared professional possible, it will allow you to relax more and enjoy your work. People will absolutely feel that, and it is the most important prescription for them and you having fun.
32 East is located at 32 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-276-7868, or visit 32east.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.