Abdul Fofanah has been at the forefront of the drinks world in New York for almost a decade now. If you haven’t seen him as the Bar Manager at Leyenda Cocteleria, you might have seen him behind the bar at one of his previous establishments, including, Saraghina, Lilia Restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, or Thyme Bar.
Abdul’s love for bartending came from him watching his fellow colleagues mix drinks he didn’t know about. Along with mixing some delicious cocktails, Abdul brings his bartending flair and love for the people to the table, crafting an unforgettable experience for everyone who walks into Leyenda Cocteleria.
What inspired you to get into bartending?
I have an unusual life story and peculiar background that may be too long to tell here at this very moment. But a fast-tracked version of how and why I got into bartending would be simply because of pure fate.
I'm sure you've heard a version of this story before, but I walked into my first Italian restaurant of employment across the street from my home, in search of many things. At the time it was mainly money because I had just been fired from a management position at an Urban Outfitters flagship store in Manhattan. I had been with the company for years since a very young age and even worked at their corporate office at one point. I wanted to be in fashion like my life depended on it. So when I was fired I was lost.
Becoming the host of an Italian restaurant, I got a chance to constantly watch the bartender make drinks with bottles I had never seen before, let alone knew existed. Pouring weird things (at the time) like Amaro and Limoncello, I would watch the way he would pay so much attention to detail and craft beautiful libations. People loved him for it. It was amazing to witness after being in the dark about such a world. There was a moment where I saw that I wanted to recreate myself in that image. I wanted to be "that guy" pouring those "weird" things and I wanted people to love me for it.
According to you, what are some of the most important skills for a bartender to have?
Patience, attention to detail, and the ability to center yourself even in your craziest moments.
What is your favorite cocktail to make?
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned, created by Phil Ward, but slightly different. I think an Old Fashioned is the purest cocktail you can make because there is nowhere to hide within the ingredients. This cocktail properly showcases Mezcal, which is my favorite spirit, as it should with minimal distractions.
Here's how to make it:
- 3 Mole tincture bitter drops
- 1 teaspoon agave syrup
- 2oz Mezcal
- Garnish: Flamed orange coin
Pour all the ingredients into a mixing glass, stir until properly diluted, strain with a julep strainer. Serve in an Old Fashioned glass with large ice.
Abdul Fofanah behind the bar
What's one essential piece of barware that everyone should have at home?
Specifically, a cobbler shaker.
What are some of your favorite places to drink at when you’re not working?
I always enjoy drinking at Maison Premiere. You can get drinks almost anywhere in New York but I like to sit in places that are aesthetically pleasing. Leyenda would be another one but I work here so you know the deal there.
The funniest story you heard at the bar?
A bar manager once told me that they used to make a chili tincture and set it on the bar in a decanter. And it’s a really strong spicy tincture, I know because I had to make it myself. And for some reason, a customer thought it was something she should drink face on (obviously extremely intoxicated). The rest was history. Apparently, she took a big gulp, had a glazed-over stare on her face, and ran so far no one ever saw her again.
What has been your most bizarre client request?
Ramos gin fizz, while they were eating a pizza in the heart of one of the top 5 craziest rushes I've bartended. I'm convinced someone sent them in to mess with me.
What are some of your favorite movies/TV shows?
Favorite show is Chef's Table. Favorite movie would be The Matrix.
Can we visit Leyenda? And what can we expect in terms of safety?
Yes, our bar is open. We are following all New York guidelines right now by requiring proof of vaccination. We’re also making masks mandatory when walking about the space. We are trying to navigate these times safely and protect our staff.
What are some upcoming drinks trends we can expect to see?
I think rum, as it once was, will become the star of the show again. People are pretty psyched about agave distillates but I think rum will have a real shining moment soon.
What are you drinking right now?
San Pellegrino tonic with a wedge of orange. However, the ice has melted throughout this interview.