Meet the Bartender: Roberto Rosa Adds a Little Bit of the Caribbean to His Cocktails

The Puerto Rico native has been bartending for nearly 20 years.

Right now, Rosa’s working as a bar consultant and brand ambassador. Photo courtesy of Roberto Rosa.

As we start to get ready for Good Spirits—happening March 2 at Pier A Harbor House—we’re checking in with some of our favorite bartenders from around the city. Here we talk to Roberto Rosa, who’s been bartending for nearly 20 years.

Rosa decided to throw himself into bartending after studying engineering—and clearly the gig has stuck. Right now, he’s working as a bar consultant and brand ambassador in addition to working behind the stick. We’ll likely see him at the helm of a brand-new bar in the coming months (the details are currently hush-hush). Here, he discusses his inspiration and shares a tasty cocktail recipe:

Edible Brooklyn: When did you know you wanted to be a bartender?
Roberto Rosa: It took me a long time! You have to understand; I started in ’98 and bartending wasn’t considered a career back then; it was just something you did until you started #adulting. I started bartending during college, at first for the cash and the fun. Then, after deciding engineering wasn’t for me, it was just a way to pay the bills while I decided what to do. Fortunately, all that has changed and around 2009 (that is when things started changing in Puerto Rico), I decided that bartending was my career; I am good at it and really enjoy it. I’m really happy that I haven’t heard the “What’s your real job?” question in a couple of years!

EB: What’s the biggest inspiration for the drinks you create?
RR: I grew up in Puerto Rico and it is such a weird mix of cultures and flavors. I can always fall back on my childhood experiences for inspiration; however, I enjoy challenging myself and trying new things. The availability of so many new and different (at least in comparison to Puerto Rico) ingredients and cultures has broadened my horizons.

EB: Which bar in New York City—aside from your own—is your go-to?
RR:
You are putting me in a tough spot, having to choose just one. It depends what I’m in the mood for, so I’ll name three:

Sweet Polly, in Brooklyn—delicious food, great cocktails, and excellent wine and beer selections

The Up & Up: The cocktails and the hospitality here are amazing.

The Archer (Jersey City, NJ): I love the food here—classic comfort food dishes, but done with game meats. Great cocktails, huge “brown” spirits selection and a small but unique beer selection. Plus, it’s just minutes away from my house!

EB: Do you have a favorite New York State spirit, wine or beer? What’s your non-local favorite?
RR: I really enjoy the whiskeys from Tuthilltown Spirits. My favorite non-local is Puerto Rican rum, especially Ron del Barrilito.

EB: Give us a recipe for a cocktail that’s easy to re-create at home.

Ocho Rios
1.5 oz Cardenal Mendoza
.5 oz Smith and Cross
.5 oz Cardenal Mendoza Angelus
.5 oz limón
.5 oz pineapple syrup
2 dashes Scrappy’s Chocolate bitters

Place all ingredients in a tall glass, add pebble ice and swizzle. Top with more pebble ice and garnish with a mint sprig.

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Alicia is the associate editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn.