[Mark Marowitz is a special correspondent for the Museum of the American Cocktail, and recently sat down with Norman Bukofzer, famed bartender of the Star Lounge at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York City near Central Park.]
New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. I’ve recently returned from The Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York City. There I met the archetypal New York bartender, Brooklyn accent and all, Norman Bukofzer. Upon entering, I asked Norman how he felt. He said, "I feel sluggish, I feel Jewish". You won’t believe me if I tell you I understood his meaning. Norman was Bar Mitzvah’d on August 31, 1957. During the ’60’s Norman worked in a record store in Brooklyn. For those of you to young for the AARP, working in a record store in the ’60’s was the hippest thing one could possibly do! In the early ’70’s he and his buddy, Elliot, leased a bar on New York’s run down E. 70’s. New York was a vastly different city then, than it is today. Sections of the upper east side were filled with cold water flats, bath tub in the kitchen and a water closet with a pull chain for a flush. They both had no experience and went bust in a year. Later, through temp bartending jobs and knowing someone who knew someone else and so on, Norman was hired by The Ritz in 1981, where he’ll remain until Kingdom Come.
I sat at the Ritz bar for around 3 1/2 hours fascinated by Norman and his special shtick. He is part Vaudeville, part Borscht Belt and part Broadway. Norman Bukofzer is an icon. I can’t put it better than that. Norman is courteous, he’s polite, he’s precise and he’s elegant. Norman has the memory of an elephant. He is an alchemist and a Symphony Conductor.
For Norman the secret of success, as a bartender, is liking people and making them feel wanted. This is a relationship that takes time. "The drinks taste good if the bartender is good" says Norman. I witnessed, on a rainy Tuesday night, at least 4 people come in just to say hello. I, further, saw at least two people lean over the bar to peck his cheek. Numerous times he came out from behind the bar for a handshake and private words. When I left he met me at the door to the hotel to ask me to come back soon. Long life and continuing good health to you, Norman, from all your friends here at the MOTAC blog.