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Behind the Bar: Tom Foy of Butcher Bar

by Drink Philly on Feb 19, 2024 in Culture



In this edition of Behind the Bar we interview bartender Tom Foy. Tom's been hooked on serving drinks as he describes it, since he was topping off people on a boat, when he was five years old. He's been on the scene at some of the best cocktail bars in the city, has even been featured in Drink Philly's past cocktail showcase events, and we were happy to find him mixing up new concoctions and engaging in thoughtful conversation with guests at his newest home, Butcher Bar.


Drink Philly (DP): Tell us a little bit about Butcher Bar.
Tom Foy (TF): Butcher bar - I like to call it a secret steakhouse. Mostly, like steak cuts and secretly some Italian elements. We've got some nice pasta dishes like cavatelli. Best thing no one talks about is the grilled octopus. We take pride in our whiskey selection of around 85 to 90 different whiskeys. It's like a good mix of neighborhood and mid dining, but it kind of allows a guy like me to kind of be creative and at the same time stay with the classics. So it's the best of both worlds for a bartender.


DP: Have you bartended elsewhere?
TF: My dad likes to tell a story that I was topping off people on a boat, when I was five years old. My mom was a general manager at a Japanese restaurant in New York, and I would just follow the bartender around. He'd threaten to feed me a zombie, if I didn't leave him alone. I've always had a side gig of bartending since I was 19 though. I worked for Starr at Morimoto. Before that I took care of the beverage program since the opening at Volver and certain Kimmel Center events. And before the pandemic I was a bartender and beverage manager at Spice Finch.


DP: What's trendy right now?
TF: Customer knowledge - it's definitely stepped up. It's actually kind of interesting - people on the other side of the bar are already talking about what fat washing does. That used to be a 2017 secret. So I'd say the trend is that guest knowledge has definitely gone up and it kind of makes us step up our game.


DP: What are some trends you wish would die?
TF: Don't be afraid of the spirit, if you had a bad time. You know, everyone has a tequila story - get over it. Try some Reposado. Other than that, trends happen for sure. It's been going on a lot lately where someone's like, oh, there's a Taylor Swift cocktail, can you make it? Yeah, but can I put a spin on it and make it better? For sure, yeah. And that's cool. But as far as trends dying, it's negativity.


DP: Any predictions about where the industry might go next?
TF: It felt like we went back to almost basics post-pandemic where you saw a lot of Dirty Shirley's and Cosmos coming out. But I feel like now people are gearing towards Italian, especially here, we have a lot of Italian elements in our cocktails. We do at least one limoncello cocktail. The bar team is in the process of trying to make our own Chartreuse or Amaro. Mike, the GM, runs a distillery called Francis James Spirits in New Jersey. He's got three limoncellos going. I just think there's more to Italian stuff than we thought and it's becoming more popular.


DP: One unexpected fact about you?
TF: I am a diehard Mets fan living in Philadelphia. I know I was named after a Met. My father was in the Navy and met my mother in Japan. He was a radio man for a battleship and he bet his entire savings from the Navy on the '86 Mets and won. The side story of that is he's a radio man, so he knew the information six hours beforehand. But if it wasn't for "Mookie," my family wouldn't have gotten to New York in '87.


DP: Favorite beer?
TF: If I'm eating, kolsch. If I'm just sitting and drinking, I like a Smithwick's.


DP: Favorite liquor?
TF: I guess it really depends on the season. Right now it's Winter rye - Rittenhouse Rye. I like to hit up gins in the summer and spring and tequila whenever. But any liquor in a high ball is pretty good for me.


DP: Favorite cocktail?
TF: Rittenhouse Rye Boulevardier.


DP: Yeah. What's your favorite kind of customer?
TF: Someone who starts edgy and we end up being good friends. A guy from Texas was sitting right there. He found out I was from Long island and for some reason asked me what my favorite Billy Joel song was. I told him, Downeaster Alexa. He says "there's no fucking, Billy Joel fan that enjoys that, get out!" I leaned over and said, "sir, you asked a question. I answered." And by the end we were exchanging phone numbers. It's a good bar for that.


DP: What do you think are the essentials for a good home bar?
TF: Figure out your standards. Get good tools, don't get too fancy. I'd say stick to less than eight bottles, tops. Get yourself a bourbon that you can sip. Get yourself a gin you can mix. Get yourself a tequila that can do both. And then whatever accompanies. Either get a sweet vermouth or get one bottle of amaro. Keep it slim. Don't be me. Girlfriend's yelling at me every time we bring a bottle. Too many bottles and too many guitar pedals.


DP: Where do you go for a drink when you're not working?
TF: I try to stick local, down in South Philly, Bok Bar in the Summer and Irwin’s Upstairs for a special occasion. After work, I always like to see what they're doing at Ranstead Room. So I hit up Matt and Rito over at Ranstead, usually on Wednesdays. I'm just trying to grab a drink and watch a game like a hockey game? I'll go meet up with Brian over at Cavanaugh's Head House. Chris Kniesler is there, me and him go way back, I worked with him at Volver and he trained me at Village Whiskey.


In/Casino/Out: cinnamon infused tequila, elderberry, lemon, egg white, mole and peychaud bitters


DP: What's the secret to being a great bartender?
TF: Ask them the right questions. I think you have to have your wits about you, you have to have your drink knowledge, and then you have to also just throw that away sometimes. You have to listen to the guests. They want something, they usually know exactly what they want. If you ask the right questions, you'll probably get the perfect cocktail for them. Get to know people. Don't try to make them fill out a form.

I had a great guest that came in who was interested in, but didn't know a lot about whiskey, and she asked "can you tell the difference between a $85 bottle of whiskey and a $11 bottle of whiskey?" Then I asked her what her hobbies were. She said she was super into fitness and going to gyms. After a while, I asked her, well, can you tell the difference between a $11 a month gym and a $85 a month gym? And then we figured her out and she drank some whiskey.


DP: If you could have a drink with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be and what would you drink?
TF: Okay. It would definitely be a standup comedian just because of outside the box thinking. Probably someone like George Carlin, me and him, we drink old fashions, and we talk about thoughts that we have that kept us out of the good schools. That's one of those weird quotes that I thought about throughout my life. He would make interesting observations, like, "why do we park in driveways and drive in parkways?" He would go on a rant, and then at the end, he'd say, "these are the kind of thoughts that kept me out of the good schools," and for some reason, that stuck with me. So I would love that. He's definitely someone that my grandfather, father, and I were able to sit down and watch together. I'd just love to pick a man's brain like that.

 

Photos by Drink Philly

 


Tags: Behind the Bar, Cocktails
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