Get to know The Dead Rabbit’s Jillian Vose
World Best Bar
Mar 05, 2019
26 November 2020
After a stint running the bar program at Death & Co, Vose became the bar manager and beverage director at The Dead Rabbit. World’s Best Bar’s chatted with Vose to learn more about her rise from teenage bartender to esteemed mixologist.
What inspired you to go into mixology?
Well, like a lot of people in our line of work, I kind of fell into it. At the age of 18 I needed a job to make money whilst going to college and I ended up enjoying my bar job more than my major. I started off in a brewery, worked at some start-up restaurants and nightclubs before getting into fine dining. Fine dining is where I started to learn about wine in more depth and also about classic cocktails and the use of fresh juices and house made syrups. From here I moved back to the east coast and spent the summer on Cape Cod with my family and worked at a local bar and restaurant to save up and move to Boston in the fall. But I fell in love with New York City and moved here instead – I’m really happy I went with my gut on that. Boston is great, but the energy of NYC is unmatchable. As for the ‘mixology’ part, it really was just an extension of being a bartender. I wanted to be the best I could at whatever it was that I was doing. Making great drinks is part of that and I realised that I had a pretty good palate and over time, with experience of drink creation and the help and influence of my mentors, I got to be good at – I think anyways!
Where did you learn to bartend, what led you to the Dead Rabbit?
I learned to bartend at my first job at The Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, Arizona. At this point in time I was only learning to make Long Island Iced teas, Cosmos, woo-woo’s and shit like that. When I asked my colleagues how to make something, they would just tell me to make it look a certain colour. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to learn that way, but it made me figure it out -I bought a Mr. Boston book shortly after that. The type of bartending didn’t lend to exactly what I do now technically, but I’m glad I started at a busy bar that taught me how to multitask, etc. From there I just started reading books and experimenting and tasting spirits. My boyfriend at the time was a sales rep for a distributor and that’s when I started to taste spirits that weren’t the things I was used to. Gins and tequilas that weren’t your well pours or José Cuervo. Basically, by learning to drink better, it inspired me to want to make drinks better. So, one of our regulars at Four Peaks was a manager at this fine dining establishment that I really wanted to work in. I put a bug in his ear and, after some time, there was finally an opening as a cocktail waitress. It wasn’t before long that I had bar shifts – this would be the bar where I would taste my first Sazerac and proper Daiquiri. The rest is history. I had heard about BAR-5 day and on a whim, called the number on the website and Paul Pacult answered the phone. I was a bit caught off guard by him answering, but he let me submit an application and acceptance was granted. I was over the moon and pushed up my move to NYC so I could attend. From there I met a lot of people I would end up working with and befriend over the course of the last 8+ years. My first job in NYC was at Clover Club as a manager. I was a bit bummed not to be hired as a bartender, but I quickly realised that wasn’t such a bad thing. I got to absorb what it would take to be a great bartender in New York before becoming one. From there I was hired on the opening team for Maison Premiere, then moved to Death & Co before coming on board at Dead Rabbit. During my journey of working at these bars, I’ve continued to hone my skills as a bartender, drinks maker and manager. I am lucky to have had so many wonderful mentors along the way and each one of these colleagues has shown me something that I’ve been able to take with me as I continue to grow in this profession. About this time four years ago, Jack McGarry asked to go for coffee, which I didn’t think anything other than it being a catch up or to talk shop. He started asking me all sorts of questions on my management style and how we organised our menu tastings, etc. I caught on to him wanting to possibly ask if he could ask one of our bartenders to go work for him and it ended up that he was asking me to take over as bar manager. I was totally floored and said no way! I left the meeting and phoned a friend, who quickly talked some sense into me considering the opportunity. So, I called Jack back after 10 minutes and asked if I could think about it for a few days.
How is leading the Dead Rabbit different from Death & Co?
Well, they are very different bars with different business models. Death & Co is a very special little bar that I learned so much from, probably the most when it comes to drinks creation. Leading Dead Rabbit is a much bigger operation with a much larger staff and moving parts. That’s probably the biggest thing – the size, 3 bars, which will soon be 5, under one roof. Along with day-to-day tasks, emails, a couple of scheduled shifts behind the bar, we have weekly meetings and a big chunk of what I do is organise all sorts of off-premise events from drinks to travel and logistics. The operating owners are very hands on a daily basis and they’re very transparent. The management team work very closely with them and all have our responsibilities. It’s a great dynamic with checks and balances so that we can all see what each other is working on. I’ve learned a lot from both places and have evolved a great deal since I moved to New York. If I were to go back in time, I would definitely have been more organised, more patient, delegated better and taken a bit more time for myself. But, like with anything, age and experience helps us to learn from our mistakes and strive to become better in life and in our professions.
What inspires you while creating new menus?
There are many different ways our team is inspired to create drinks and sticking to one way is restrictive, in my opinion. I encourage people to take inspiration from dishes they have enjoyed, cookbooks, flavour bibles, seasonal fruits/vegetables/herbs, new spirits and ingredients on the market, even classic cocktails. A good understanding of classic templates with a culinary approach to creating drinks has always worked well for me personally. I’ll also look to what our guests are asking for and what they enjoy the most on our current menus and make sure we are ‘ticking the box’ for the particular styles that are being asked for. I really try not to have much overlap in our menu as well, so if there’s a drink that is a best-seller, we’ll try to make something in the same vein but it’ll be a completely different flavour profile. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got nothing left in terms of new ideas to be honest, but our team and I always manage to come up with something great.
What can you tell us about The Dead Rabbit’s new Irish Whiskey?
The Dead Rabbit Irish whiskey is a unique and versatile whiskey. It’s unique due to the 44% ABV, malt and grain blend and then finishing in Virgin American oak. There’s really nothing like it on the market currently. It’s affordable, great for making cocktails but good enough to drink solo and I’m a big fan of the packaging.
Do you have a favourite drink to make?
You know, there isn’t a particular drink that I prefer to make over another. Although, on a busy night, getting asked for a time-consuming drink like a Ramos gin fizz can be daunting. But if that’s what the guest is craving, then I’m happy to make it. I guess in a nutshell my favourite drink to make is the one that wows the person drinking it. I always like to watch a guest take their first sip of a drink, their facial expression tells it all. One of the most rewarding parts of our job is having their reaction be a smile!
Do you have a favourite topic to discuss with guests when they visit the Dead Rabbit?
One of the beautiful things about being a bartender is that other than talking about food and beverage, the topics vary so wildly dependent on the guests. I guess I love that there isn’t the same topic over and over, so it’s always interesting, I’m learning something new every day on numerous topics and I get to network with people from all over the world. I do get to travel for work, so I love meeting people who have been to the same places as I have or possibly from there. It’s always cool to share each other’s experiences of different cities and also give and receive recommendations on what to do in those cities.
Head down to The Dead Rabbit to see if you can grab a chat with Jillian herself, or at least try one of their signature drinks!