Wine and Spirits

Sasha Petraske, Bar Owner Who Changed Cocktail Culture, Dies at 42

 

nytimes.com – ROBERT SIMONSON

Sasha Petraske, the founder of the influential New York cocktail bar Milk & Honey and many other polished drinking spots across the world, was found dead on Friday in Hudson, N.Y. He was 42 and had recently moved temporarily to Hudson for a consulting job after marrying the journalist Georgette Moger in May.

The cause of his death was unknown, according to Ms. Moger, who said she discovered the body.

Mr. Petraske’s role in the modern cocktail revival is difficult to overestimate. The opening of Milk & Honey in 1999, in a small space on an underpopulated block of the Lower East Side, helped usher in a new interest in cocktails across America.

Unmarked and unadvertised, the tiny bar nonetheless quickly became a phenomenon, known for its unapologetic dedication to expertly made pre-Prohibition cocktails, as well as its eccentric reservation system and exacting rules of decorum.

With a variety of partners, many of them former Milk & Honey bartenders, Mr. Petraske opened several additional bars, similarly urbane and serious-minded. These included Little Branch in Greenwich Village; Dutch Kills in Long Island City, Queens; Middle Branch in Midtown Manhattan; the Varnish in Los Angeles; and the Everleigh in Melbourne, Australia.

With the British entrepreneur Jonathan Downey, he opened a London outlet of Milk & Honey in 2002. Though that bar was far larger than the New York version, its dedication to all aspects of drink creation and atmosphere was largely the same.

Mr. Petraske’s influence on cocktail-bar culture can be seen in bars across the world, which have adopted many of the features he rescued from an earlier era: hidden entrances, a focus on classic cocktails, the use of handmade ice in drinks and the formal attire adopted by bartenders (the dapper Mr. Petraske almost always wore dress pants and shirts, and suspenders).

He also championed the “bartender’s choice” option found on many cocktail menus, the use of jiggers to accurately measure out drinks, even the ubiquitous use of cucumber slices in water glasses. Many bartenders who have become leaders in the cocktail industry began then careers at Petraske bars.

In 2012, he was a founder of the annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. That same year, he handed the keys to the New York Milk & Honey to two of his longtime bartenders, Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy, who reopened the space as Attaboy. Mr. Petraske then moved his iconic bar to bigger quarters on West 23rd Street, loosening up the entrance rules as he did. The new location did not last long. The building it was in was sold, and a demolition clause in the lease forced him to vacate.

Mr. Petraske had planned to eventually open a third version of the bar. He was also expected to open a new bar, Falconer, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, this fall.

He was born Sasha Nathan Petraske in Manhattan on March 16, 1973. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his father and a sister. His mother, who raised Mr. Petraske in Greenwich Village, where she was a fact-checker at The Village Voice, died earlier this summer.

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Categories: Wine and Spirits

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