By Claudie Benjamin
Living, working and going to college in Manhattan has to have had its challenges for Amber Zachweieja after she first left Long Island and arrived in the city. But she’s been making this all happen and having fun too.
Having earned a BA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College, her hope is to go for a Master’s in psychology once on-site programming is fully in place. “Fingers-crossed,” her hope is to continue bartending at Lilly’s where she’s been working for some time.
Amber describes her bartending job as endlessly interesting and creative. Initially, she spread her workweek between Lilly’s and two other bar restaurants owned by the same partners. More recently, she has mostly been working only at Lilly’s. She likes that “it’s a real neighborhood spot.” In bartending, she says the connection and relationship with customers is key. Though complicated by the Covid distancing restrictions, establishing a rapport and engaging in easy conversations with customers makes them feel comfortable—and keeps them coming back. She says she may start a conversation by commenting on a customer’s shopping bag. “Oh, I like shopping at that store too.” But, once rapport is established, she and they may talk about anything. “We talk about vacations, jobs, dating…”
Then, importantly for Amber, is the creative part of mixing and making drinks. She’s been building upon her instincts and picking up skills since she first snagged a job at a tiny midtown bar. At Lilly’s, during the down time, she experiments with creating cocktails based on her own imagination or improvising on classic drinks and borrowing here and there from drinks she’s heard about or tasted.
Best creations at Lilly’s? Amber describes Carmine Esposito, “Carmie,” a co-worker’s creation of “Bee Bold” as a pretty fun combination of scotch, chili bitters, honey and lemon. Another big success–this one created by Carmie, a fellow bartender–is a twist on an old fashioned called The Old Maple, with a big roasted marshmallow floating on top. Not only does the bartender feel creative, but a customer gets rewarded by their own openness to something new, exciting and intoxicating.
Job satisfaction and pleasing customers have a great deal to do with the boss. And, at Lilly’s, that means Tina O’Callaghan. Clearly, Amber likes and respects her. “She runs around as much as we do.”
With the bottom half of her face covered by a black Covid protective mask, you can’t see her smile. But Tina conveys an energy and positivity that’s very engaging. She’s a young mom with a 16-month-old daughter at home and another due in July. You get the sense she is highly organized, managing to enjoy taking her daughter to gymnastics classes, the playground and other aspects of her home life, along with regular subway commute from LIC, all the while embracing the demanding aspects of managing Lilly’s, the bar restaurant at 50 West 72nd Street where she is an operating partner.
Lilly’s has a small interior space and a fairly large outdoor shelter separated into booth-like spaces along the sidewalk. Lite in the evening, the shelter is strung with fanciful garlands. Distancing is maintained. Just passing by makes you feel good. Lilly’s has a way of conveying a mood of comradery, warmth and good times to be had whether the customers are coming with young children, out on a date or solo taking a moment to enjoy the special deep purple-tinted, Enchantment made with Mezcal (the smoky kind of tequila that has a distinct flavor.) “Real pretty” and Tina’s likely recommendation. She might also nibble or share a plate of roasted cauliflower. Ah! Small plates. How good they’ve arrived on menus and lasted!
A sax player usually comes by two or three evenings a week to play jazz for tips. What really makes the distinctively comfortable atmosphere “is all the staff,” says Tina explaining that the personality of wait and bar staff and their ability to interact well with customers makes the atmosphere. As the person who interviews job applicants, Tina says she knows almost immediately if it is a good fit. “We try them out for a week and see how it goes. They have to enjoy it.”
Hours: Monday-Thursday 4:00pm-11pm
Friday 2:00 pm-11:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 11:00am-11:00pm