Before he opened 1534, an elegant cocktail lounge in New York, Justin Noel had run the beverage programs at The Breslin, Pranna, and the Ace Hotel. He’s a traveler in the bar trade who has worked all over the world, so it makes sense that his dark-wood Soho bar is named after the year of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada. Now, Noel pours some of the city’s best-made cocktails and does just about everything else too, from HR to payroll to bar backing and more. We caught up with Noel to find out how he keeps it all together.
Where are you from and what were you into as a kid?
I was born in Athens, Georgia. I grew up between New York and Georgia. I was very much interested in soccer and traveling when I was a kid.
What has your professional background been like?
My professional background is quite diverse. I started bartending in England, doing cocktail bars and flair bars
. I worked on a Greek island for eight months at nightclubs and cocktail lounges. I managed bars in Mt. Maunganui and Queenstown, New Zealand; Sydney Australia, Laganus, Greece; South Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and New York. I’ve worked pretty much everywhere and at every type of venue, from nightclubs and cocktail bars to fine dining restaurants, 5 star hotels, etc. This has given me a lot of worldly knowledge and an understanding of how different venues and bartending styles are. The running of large venues and beverage programs here in New York at venues such as Pranna, the Breslin, the Ace Hotel, and the Royalton
has given me lots of insight on how the New York beverage scene works. I mixed my first drink at 18 while bartending in London. It was a Madras, and I thought it cool because it wasn’t your standard vodka and cranberry. I finally started getting serious about bartending when I moved to New Zealand. I moved to Mt. Maunganui, which is a surf town three hours from Auckland. It was was there, running this restaurant and bar called Astrolabe
, that I really started getting serious about the craft of bartending. In New Zealand and Australia they are blessed with such fresh produce that you really start exploring different flavors and how they can be incorporated into a cocktail, so it was that learning that ignited the passion that has resulted in where I am now.
What is your job title and what are your responsibilities?
I am proprietor, managing partner, beverage director and head bartender at 1534. I am also HR, payroll, controller, cocktail waitress when needed, bar back when needed, etc. You name it, I do it.
What do you enjoy the most about your job, and what are some of the challenges?
I love the interaction with customers. Introducing the bar to the new patrons is always a pleasure. I love learning what other bars and bartenders are doing and seeing what we do that is similar and what it different. The challenges are the same as in any other profession. There’s pressure to succeed and to be profitable, you have costs you have to consider, and you have a wildly diverse clientele that usually is great, but at times can be ridiculous.
Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes that occurred in the line of duty that you can share?
We have had our share of catching couples sneak into the bathroom together. We have had to ask people to stop doing some pretty inappropriate stuff before. But I also had a chick decide she wanted to do her best ‘80s video vixen imitation. She got on the bar on all fours and crawled along it, which I thought was very Whitesnake of her.
Are there any particular spirits you enjoy working with? Any great cocktails people may have overlooked?
I love tequila, aged rum, and Scotch as base spirits in cocktails. They are all unique in flavor, body, and how they work in cocktails. There are so many awesome bartenders right now that if you can’t find a really good classic cocktail or modern creation you are looking in the wrong place. I believe that a Oaxaca Old-fashioned is one that is not ordered enough, and it’s a delicious cocktail
What is the secret to your success? What advice would you give someone who is interested in doing what you do?
If you are driven and have great work ethic someone will take notice and take a chance on you. Once you have the opportunity, it’s yours to take advantage of or lose. Someone looking to do what I do needs to be humble yet ambitious, patient but proactive, educated but street wise. Learn all styles of bartending and find one that you like. And learn to make friends in the industry, because we are all brothers in arms in this profession, and you need to have friends that are there to help you out along the way.
Finally, what do you do to relax when you’re not working?
Well I don’t have much time off between working for brands, doing local and national events, working with my partners on future business stuff, making sure 1534 is operating nicely, etc. When I do have a moment of free time and I don’t have to travel for work I love golfing, playing soccer, working out, and reading all matter of books pertaining to spirits, cocktails, wine, food, etc.