Interview: Yana Nogid and Katya Skye / Founders of Manhattan Zodiac

With a mission to promote imbibing “with appreciation, elegance, and knowledge,” Yana Nogid and Katya Skye co-founded Manhattan Zodiac, a San Francisco hospitality operation specializing in bar consulting, cocktail catering, mixology classes, and related events. As their website sums it up:

Manhattan Zodiac is a company driven by a passion for teaching and learning, and a strong desire to elevate the standards of the bartending experience for professionals and cocktail enthusiasts. 

A passion for teaching and learning has been a mainstay of my own life’s work—primarily in theater, and more recently in the world of whisk(e)y where I do much more learning than teaching. So when I first came across Manhattan Zodiac via their social media, I was immediately intrigued.

Yana Nogid (above) was born in Riga, Latvia, but raised in San Francisco. She first began bartending while attending USF in 2013, studying for her MFT in Counseling Psychology. But after opening a private counseling practice, mixology kept coming back into the mix. In 2019, Nogid stepped away from counseling to establish Manhattan Zodiac with Katya Skye.

Skye (above) was born and raised in Russia. She studied economics and finance and worked as a logistics account executive for over a decade before moving to the United States in 2015. Since then she has tended and managed bars in both New York and San Francisco, settling in San Francisco.

Between the two of them, Nogid and Skye have worked for a wide range of local bars and restaurants, including Bourbon and Branch, Playland Bar, Nihon Whiskey Lounge, Topsys, Iron Horse, Garibaldi’s, and Harry’s Bar, among others.

In addition to their abundant expertise, I was interested in Nogid and Skye’s experiences as immigrants and as women in what remains a largely male dominated industry, at a time in the United States when foreign relations are fraught, to put it mildly, and gender awareness is shifting.

To ask about their journeys, I met them at High Horse—a classic San Francisco bar with connections going back to the early days of Hotaling’s Whiskey, and where they often conduct their mixology classes. Here’s our conversation…

MARK J – I’m curious about four things under the ‘origin story’ umbrella: What brought you to the United States, to bartending, to each other, and finally to Manhattan Zodiac?

KATYA – [to Yana] You want me to start?

YANA – That’s easy, you know what brought you here.

KATYA – Yes, that’s true. Well, long story short, I escaped from Russia. I belong to the LGBTQ community and it was pretty much impossible to be openly gay in Russia. I’d been looking for a better environment for twelve years, never found anywhere I’d love to stay and that felt like home. So I bought a oneway ticket to the United States, where I had never been. Either it would work out or it would not. It worked out. I think I found everything I was looking for from immigration in general in the United States, in California in particular.

Also I had to find a new profession. I couldn’t do here the same thing which I used to do in Russia. I’d built a career in logistics and organizing international shipments. Here I had to start from scratch, and to be honest I was never happy in logistics anyway, so. I started to work in the service industry because it was the most accessible one. I felt very comfortable. It started with catering events, and I started to bartend little by little. I looked for a job. But nobody wanted to take me because I didn’t have enough experience. Finally I found this bar, Playland Bar, and they were like, okay, we’ll teach you if you really want to be a bartender. So Yana became my first teacher. She took me under her wing. And this is how it all started.

KATYA – So, here probably your story starts.

YANA – Yeah, she had really big eyes and she really wanted to learn, so it was a pleasure teaching her. At Playland Bar, I developed a reputation to train, because I was patient and I enjoyed teaching. That stems from how I got into bartending. So I’ll back up all the way to what brought me to the States:

I was born in Latvia, in Riga, and I was close to turning five when my parents made the move. We immigrated to the States and moved to Virginia. We were sponsored by the Jewish community, we were refugees at the time. Latvia became independent in 1992, and it was just time to go—anti Russian speaking, anti Jewish, nationalism kicked in. My parents were traumatized by Russia.

KATYA – As many other countries, I’m sorry, yes.

YANA – Yes, and history is repeating itself today. We were in Virginia three years. What brought us to San Francisco was my father got diagnosed with Hodjkin’s Disease. They saved him, he pulled through, but we needed to get out of those weather conditions. So we moved to San Francisco when I was eight years old.

Fast forward, in high school I wanted to be a psychologist. I went to UC Santa Cruz and studied Psych and Econ. I had some jobs, then I went to grad school to get my master’s in counseling. I needed a part time job. Grad school is during the week, and I’d only had office manager jobs, so, okay, I’m going to become a hostess. My first hostess job was at Beach Chalet. I didn’t last long. I hated being a hostess. I had to deal with… with hangry people.

So I moved on to cocktail serving. I’m kind of on the anxious side, my hands were shaking, it was a busy night, I got pushed and my whole tray fell with all the Martinis. It wasn’t working out. I had a friend who was bartending and she said I should go to bartending school. So I did that on the side, and toward the end of my second year of grad school I became a bartender.

MARK J – And what about bartending felt more possible for you, more relaxing, if being out on the floor was stressful?

YANA – I liked the technicality of mixing drinks. I had no issues talking to people or connecting with them, my career was in psychotherapy. Also I fell in love with one of the owners! He’s my boyfriend today. And I enjoy teaching.

KATYA – She’s great at teaching, actually. She’s probably one of the best teacher’s I’ve had.

MARK J – Why is that?

KATYA – First of all, depth of knowledge. Also she is a very patient person. She actually is able to explain it the way you can understand, which is a big talent in teaching. It also was a lot of fun.

YANA – We had a good time. It’s good team bonding. You connect, you feel proud of the person for learning something. And when I see them feeling confident, once they learn a skill, that made me feel good. I had the privilege of teaching several people from scratch, and it was always really interesting to see the dynamic of their learning curve. Everybody learns differently. What did I need to adjust about myself to help them learn better? If you don’t find that nuance of how they learn, then it’s going to be very frustrating and difficult for both parties.

MARK J – And these weren’t formal classes, like you do now, you were training new people working for Playland.

YANA – On the job, yes. Most training happens on the job. Even if you go to bartending school, it doesn’t really kick in until you learn hands on—the multitasking, performance anxiety, talking to people, counting money, understanding the operating system, and learning to have fun at the same time! There’s a lot. It’s a big responsibility. Just to relax in the beginning is really hard. You’re like a deer in the headlights.

MARK J – When you were still at the beginning, Katya, what were some of your techniques to relax?

KATYA – I didn’t have any techniques, to be honest. I was just anxious all the time, scared to talk to people, scared I wouldn’t understand them and they wouldn’t understand me. I asked people, How long did it take for you to feel comfortable behind the bar when you first started? And everybody said half a year. So I said, okay, I just need to suffer for the first half of a year. And actually it happened. After three months I felt much more comfortable, and after half of a year I felt it was really something I wanted to make a career out of.

YANA – She took it to another level.

MARK J – And so how did Manhattan Zodiac start?

KATYA – So, actually, she’d been teaching me, I felt super excited about everything. I pretty much knew in these couple of months that I really wanted to make a career out of it. I also didn’t feel like I had so much time, because I started to bartend when I was thirty-three years old. I thought, I need to learn it as fast as I can because it’s the next chapter of my life.

So I moved myself to New York, to get as much experience and knowledge as I can, and actually to work in different environments to understand which environment I enjoy. Because it can be like a dive bar, fast easy money, without too much going into details of mixology. It can be restaurants, craft cocktail bars.

So I pretty much worked in all the environments. But I really enjoyed working at a Michelin Star restaurant in New York. It provided huge space for creation, working next to Michelin Star chefs with wonderful ingredients. That actually allowed me to understand craft cocktails are something I really enjoy. It was a huge space to learn, a huge space to move within.

MARK J – How did you like New York?

KATYA – I loved working in New York. It’s crazy busy. Sometimes you literally don’t understand what’s going on around you. I used to work at a place which was next to Times Square and it’s crazy, absolutely a different pace, different pressures, fourteen hour shifts, and that’s normal. This is how people there work and they don’t consider another way. So that was fun, and also a lot of money.

But I never enjoyed living there. I wanted to go back to San Francisco, but only when I was ready, when I was on the next level and could choose a place to work. So I allowed myself two years, working nonstop, learning nonstop. I wanted to go to bartending school. I walked into about seven schools in New York, and sat in on a class at each one to see how they teach, and I chose the best one—the best reviews, the best school, the best I saw. And it was not great. This was when the first idea of creating something to teach people came to me, because it was terrible, it was very very surface. And I thought I would love to create some kind of program which would be more approachable.

MARK J – Surface because, did they just teach you the ingredients and say go, or…?

KATYA – There is a very simple base to mixology, where you can start to build knowledge from. This gives you different knowledge on different topics, like kinds of spirits or how to serve faster. But the school didn’t give this base, so, basically you get a lot of knowledge of different parts that they don’t pull together. There is a much better, much more effective way to teach people to build up from the very simple base. This is what Yana and I have developed together, this simple base that is approachable to pretty much everybody. This was our goal when we started to do the classes.

So, yes, I saw this opportunity, so I moved back to San Francisco. I’d kept in touch with the owner of Playland Bar who by that time opened a new bar downtown. She invited me to be the manager of that bar, and Yana worked there. So we kind of got back together.

YANA – Yeah, so while she was in New York, I needed to get licensed, because I’d finished grad school. So I took a year off bartending to study for the exam. When I got licensed and opened my private practice, I still needed a part time job! My caseload was small. It was a business and I needed to build it up.

That’s when Angela Voloshyna, who was part-owner of Playland, opened up her own place. I helped her open it. And she said guess what, I’ve kept in touch with Katya and she’s going to come back and manage the bar. And I said, okay, great! I always liked her, and she came and it was immediately… It wasn’t like a manager and employee, there was no hierarchy. We were just friends.

Then I decided I wanted to take a hiatus from the mental health world. And working together at the bar, we had this one rough evening. We closed the bar down and were hanging out at the end of the night, and Katya said we should start a bartending school. And I thought, okay, that makes sense. We want more from this field, we don’t want to be just bartenders. We wanted to really grow, and there was no room for growth working in a small bar. Katya already had experience catering, and she was more in the hustle of the business. I was always one foot in, one foot out, always on a different career track. But this just clicked, because we were both free and available. The timing was good. So we started it. When we both then got laid off from our jobs that’s when it really kicked in.

MARK J – When the pandemic hit.

YANA – Yes.

MARK J – So you started this in the pandemic?

YANA – No, we started before. Our first trial run was a whiskey tasting class that we hosted at Iron Horse. We invited our friends, ten or twelve people.

KATYA – We were super nervous.

YANA – We designed it, put it together, and that was our first thing. We knew it wasn’t going to bring in much money. So Katya proposed we do cocktail catering. We had two gigs, and then a third one, which, for us this was a big deal. It was much bigger money. And it got cancelled because of the pandemic. We were literally just spreading our wings, just putting ourselves out there.

MARK J – And so did you start doing online classes instead?

YANA – Yep, Katya took one for the team on that. We were doing everything, searching for a platform, she even got something from Russia, what was it called?

KATYA – “Where Buy.”

YANA – “Where Buy Something” platform. We could advertise our classes on it. It was a joke. But it wasn’t a joke because we were so serious about it!

KATYA – I think we were one of the first to actually go online with cocktail classes.

YANA – We were trying to create a community, getting bartenders to come and be influencers. We connected with Heather Clark from Saunter Wines in Napa, who found us on Instagram. She really believed in us and wanted to help. She said we could get a percentage if we sold wine and talked about it, and we would make videos and that kind of thing. Then Katya saw Sausalito Parks & Rec were trying to do adult online activities for their community. And they said Yes to us doing online mixology classes.

Katya took the lead on that one, and it was like textbook knowledge, really serious. I think they were shocked. They thought they were just going to get drunk and have fun, and Katya was like, You need to know this and this; I want you to know everything because you might be bartenders one day! We were coming from this lens of needing to prove ourselves if we were going to be teaching. It was that whole “not good enough” mindset, so we better show we know more than enough. And it’s hard to gage people on Zoom. You don’t know if they’re following or not, they yawn or look bored. It was a whole art to teaching we did not know.

MARK J – Oh, totally, me too. One morning I downloaded Zoom, and later that same afternoon I taught a four-hour online acting class.

YANA – Oh wow.

MARK J – And none of us knew how to use Zoom. The students and I went through a three-week period of grief together. My partner, who also had to teach online, the day she downloaded Zoom I took a screenshot of her Health app that night, and it says “62 steps,” that’s it. Theater was in the same boat as the bars.

KATYA – It was such a weird time. I think the first several months we were sweating and getting red.

YANA – Taking hours to get ready for an hour-long class.

KATYA – We took days, actually. It was an interesting start. At that time, some of my friends were like, Hey, what are you doing over there? Mixology classes online? Ha ha! People were not taking us seriously and laughing at us. We just kept doing it and were, believe it or not, super busy. At the end of 2020 when all the big companies realized they were not going to have their annual events for employees, they started to look for activities online. So Google googled us, eBay googled us, Amazon googled us, Kaiser Permanente, J.P. Morgan. And we got so busy that everyone stopped laughing, because we were serving these crazy companies huge classes for forty and fifty people. So we were in the right place at the right time with the right conditions.

MARK J – Are you still doing online classes, or is it all in person now?

YANA – It’s hybrid. We’re still getting inquiries. Because of remote work, they need a way to get together. We went as far as assembling cocktail kits.

YANA – I had another business I wanted to start. I didn’t figure out my sweet spot with it. But what I did was teach myself how to put really nice gift boxes together. I was doing that simultaneously as we were birthing Manhattan Zodiac. A separate project. I was on this creative roll: I’m going to design this, I’m going to design that!

And actually we found the name, Manhattan Zodiac, because my boyfriend, Harry, was also trying to find something to do, and we were looking at fonts online. We were playing around with different names, and we were going to call it “Craft & Imbibe.” I got it from Crate & Barrel. I thought, they’re popular and their name sounds good. So, Craft & Imbibe. And there was Imbibe Magazine dot com, and craft mixology. It was a safe title. I still like it. But then Harry found this font called Manhattan Zodiac and thought it would be a cool name for a bar. I loved it, and asked Katya if she liked it and she loved it. So we took it.

MARK J – What does that name connote for you?

YANA – It’s the city of Manhattan being pivotal in the craft cocktail movement in general, as well as the cocktail, Manhattan, being one of the classic, fundamental recipes. And then Zodiac—I loved following my Zodiac sign when I was growing up. Even if you don’t believe in astrology, you still want to know your sign. And, you know, we had the Zodiac Killer here in San Francisco, so.

MARK J – The Zodiac Killer was an inspiration?!

YANA – [laughs] Well, there is something you learn intuitively from marketing. The name is important. “Manhattan” and “Zodiac,” they just click, you remember it. Even if there’s a negative association, you still remember it. What’s that quote? ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ We didn’t even associate it to the Zodiac Killer until someone else mentioned that to us. And Katya and I both agreed, no, that’s okay, we like it. And Katya had a connection to Manhattan. So, it’s about associations, not one specific meaning.

MARK J – Thinking about how cocktails are a social thing, and also a sociopolitical thing, and the issue of accessibility: Alcohol can be very gendered—people say “wine moms,” or “girly” drinks versus “manly” drinks, or how whiskey tends to be marketed in this very masculine way.

I interviewed Ali and Sam Blatteis of Home Base Spirits, and they talked about how a part of what drove them to start a distillery was because they’d go to whiskey events and often felt they were being talked down to. So they thought, Let’s start a brand so people like us can feel comfortable drinking whiskey and not be intimidated by it.

With cocktails there can be an association with elitism—country clubs, high-end parties, the upper economic classes. Cocktails can be intimidating for people. I’m curious what your thoughts are around these things in relation to your classes and consulting. Do you consider accessibility and the gender dynamics in the industry, and does that influence how you teach and consult on building a menu?

KATYA – That’s such an interesting question. We both think about that a lot, in terms of spirits and cocktails and gender dynamics in the industry. The interesting part is, 61% of bartenders are female, actually. So even though it seems like it’s all those cool guys with beards, it’s actually 61% women behind the bar.

YANA – And women are pivotal in the history of the spirit world. They were the backbone of some of the early distilleries, and they were serving drinks so they were there doing a lot of the work.

KATYA – When we are creating cocktail programs, we definitely consider which cocktail will be ordered more by women and which by men. We try to balance it out. I can tell you for sure that the Margarita is drunk mostly by women, and the Old Fashioned mostly by men. You need to have these two cocktails on the menu to satisfy a full crowd. But at the same time, we are interested in a dynamic diversity, and washing boundaries between genders and a lot of other things. The ideal of inclusion in this business and this industry is very important. I like this ideal a lot. I want to be included.

So, for example, I’ve been creating the cocktail menu for Harlan Records, and there are eighteen cocktails. I wanted the menu to be a mirror of this diversity and inclusion dynamic that is happening right now. So there are definitely going to be boozy drinks that are usually ordered by men, and citrusy drinks that are mostly ordered by women, and also low ABV drinks and alcohol-free drinks. I actually don’t drink. I like to create cocktails. But I don’t drink and I want to be included.

MARK J – So your drinking is only in the context of your work?

KATYA – At this point, yes. I’ll allow myself a little bit. We went to Italy, my wife and I, and we had a glass of wine and it was amazing. But at one point I had to choose, my job or drinking. I love my job much more than drinking, so.

MARK J – Is there such a thing as a disruptive cocktail?

KATYA – Absolutely, yes, and this is also a very interesting question. This is the beauty of the cocktail: it provides a huge opportunity for creation, to pretty much satisfy anyone.

YANA – It all depends on what lens we look at it from, what audience as well, and where you are. We have a very skewed lens here in San Francisco. It’s based on neighborhoods.

MARK J – The micro-climates of the weather here do seem to be echoed in the micro-cultures of neighborhoods.

YANA – Exactly. San Francisco is an interesting place. People are looking to learn, gain more knowledge and be informed. There are some restaurant bars where women are drinking dry Martinis, a spirit-forward cocktail. Women are more conscious of wanting less sugar, so they want it less sweet. Yes, men tend to enjoy aged spirits more and will go for a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. But there are plenty of women who like spirit-forward, only usually the clear spirits—tequila, gin, vodka. There is definitely a whole society of women who are into spirits.

One thing I find with Manhattan Zodiac is, because we’re women, and our mission is to imbibe with appreciation, elegance and knowledge, we attract women and we create a safe space for them to learn and not feel judged. I love it when I have a group of girls sign up for a cocktail class and they say, Oh my god, I didn’t know these things. I’m gentle with them. They have a great time and now they know what to order. So in a sense we’re building consumer confidence. They’re becoming informed, understanding ingredients, and no longer have to be intimated into ordering things just because they don’t know what else to order and don’t want to look stupid.

A good cocktail class is when I can teach both styles. Men and women equally enjoy drinking the sour cocktails. The spirit-forward cocktails, now more women than not are saying Yes, I like this. Maybe they’d had a bad experience once. But now they know how to make a cocktail that’s balanced, delicious and approachable.

Students in a Manhattan Zodiac class

YANA – I’ll also say, it’s so important for bartenders to know what’s on the bar menu. They’re the face of that menu and business. People don’t know all the ingredients. It’s up to the bartender to say, Hey, I know you might not know what this ingredient is, but this cocktail is really good. It’s part of our job to educate, and to create an experience for the customer. Get to know the person you’re serving. Ask them what they like or if they want to try something new, because you can recommend something you’re 90% sure they’ll like—if you understand things like how spirit-forward is not for everyone, but this spirit-forward cocktail is a very balanced one. But you can’t do that if you don’t understand your menu and the ingredients.

KATYA – When you start to understand the depths of the spirit world, you know, okay, yes, whisky is probably mostly drunk by men. But there are so many very nice, delicate scotches. Bartenders rarely, but more and more often now, offer scotch to women who say they don’t like scotch. Scotch is not just peated, in your face. There’s Glenmorangie that’s super delicate, very nice, you can enjoy sipping that. So, opening a new world for people who think they don’t like scotch or tequila. This world of spirits has grown so much in the past several years, pretty much in any spirits category a person can find something for themselves.

It’s a bartender’s job to educate people, as Yana said, and for that a bartender must be educated. And that’s where the idea of a bartending school came to mind. When we realized how deep and interesting the world of spirits is, and also how tied to human history it is, we thought, oh my god, this is a treasure that has so many layers. We wanted to extend people’s knowledge. It’s very exciting. When we started to prepare to teach classes, my personal perspective changed completely, became much bigger. Education is a principle area for development in this industry.

MARK J – And for both of you it sounds like education is based in listening to people, asking them questions to find out about them, and responding to that.

YANA – Yes, connecting with them on that level.

KATYA – Yana starts her classes asking questions: What cocktails have people made or enjoyed, what are they expecting from the class?

YANA – It depends on the setting, and who hired me to do the class. In person is different from online. Online, you get straight to the point. Of course you engage and ask questions. In person it’s usually more for recreational purposes. People are invited because they’re a client of a company, so, not everyone might want to be there, and you want to make sure it’s fun. But those who really want to be there, I’ll ask what their interest in a cocktail workshop is, and sometimes I love their answers. This one lady, she was gifted a bottle of tequila infused with jalapeño from her partner. But she never drank tequila, she was a beer and wine drinker. She didn’t know what to do with it. She saw our tequila and mezcal class and took it to know what to do with this gift. I thought that was so cool. She wanted to educate herself so she could use this gift. People are coming to learn so they can connect to each other more, learn something together, centered around this social lubricant that makes you happy for a little while.

KATYA – In certain amounts!

YANA – Yes, in moderation. I don’t drink much either, actually. It doesn’t take much for me to feel buzzed, so, I get it. People want to understand what they’re doing.

Yana teaching a cocktail class

MARK J – Has anything anyone’s said in the initial question period of a class ever changed what you planned to do that day?

YANA – I’ll do things on the fly. The way a cocktail class is usually arranged is, I’ll ask what their preferred spirits are. I’ll usually says it’s great to learn the main styles of cocktails—sour and spirit-forward—unless they want a particular focus. Some people know what they want, and some just know they want something with bourbon or tequila, and the rest is up to me. If they leave it up to me, I have fun creating whatever I’m inspired to do. Rarely does someone not like it.

KATYA – And if they don’t like it, it’s still learning. You learn something about yourself from what you don’t like.

MARK J – Absolutely. When I’ve done a whiskey tasting and someone doesn’t like something, and they talk about why, rather than just pushing the drink away, they still have a good time. They’re getting into what they value and don’t value, and that can be good too.

YANA – Exactly.

MARK J – My own primary art is theater. If theater is the art of storytelling, what is cocktail-making the art of.

KATYA – Cocktail-making, or general hospitality service?

MARK J – I guess I’m asking about both.

YANA – Cocktailing is like cooking. It’s a creative outlet, it’s a craft. If you’re really getting into it at a deep level, it is an art.

KATYA – This is an interesting question. I think making cocktails is the art of putting flavors together, what works and what doesn’t. With hospitality, I would say it’s the art of making people feel great, and happy. It’s the art of delivering your creation in a way that… So, when I teach bartenders from scratch, I ask them to check in with themselves first about how optimistic they are, how friendly they are, how positive. You don’t need to be a positive or optimistic person to be great at something. Food critics, for example! They don’t need to say great things all the time, they sometimes need to be very critical. But with this particular industry, you can be behind the bar if you are not positive and optimistic, but you will burn out very soon. It will be really difficult for you to deliver the service in such a way that you will get the energy back. This energy exchange with people is at the core of my enjoyment being behind the bar.

YANA – You can enjoy cocktails in different ways. But to go to an atmosphere like the kind Katya is talking about, and exchanging that energy, that’s huge. That’s why someone keeps coming back. It is important who, what kind of person, is behind the bar. It’s actually more important than their experience or technique making cocktails, because that’s learned. But personality is not learned. You come as a whole person to that job, so, how you are behind the bar is big. Katya has a good eye for that.

MARK J – And Harlan Records, you had mentioned, it’s a bar where you’re consulting on their menu or also staffing?

KATYA – I am one of the partner’s of the bar, actually, so, I’m a hands-on owner, one of the owners. It’s on Harlan Place, close to Union Square. And “records” because it’s all around vinyl—vinyl record players, vinyl seating built in the style of the 1950s. It’s inspired by Japanese listening bars.

MZ’s take on the White Negroni, with a sprig of thyme and one big ice cube

MARK J – Do you have a favorite cocktail to make, and a favorite to drink?

KATYA – I love this question. Usually people ask only the first and not the second.

YANA – You think these are easy questions, but they’re actually the hardest questions for me. My favorite cocktails to make are those I’m extra proud of, that I have some connection to or admire. I don’t have a favorite cocktail because I appreciate so many, based on different flavor profiles. It’s often based on my mood, what I want to drink. But there are some cocktails I just think the ingredients go so well together and are so delicious. For me that would be the Paper Plane. And my favorite drink to consume neat is Amaro Nonino.

KATYA – For me, regarding creation, if you asked me this question a couple years ago I would probably have said Margarita, because that drink provides a huge space for creativity. I think right now, I enjoy creating drinks on the fly. I’ve finally got to the place where I know enough to satisfy a person who is asking for a specific flavor profile. Whenever we do events I announce to the guests that we are prepared to create drinks on the fly and like to be challenged in this way.

In terms of drinking cocktails, my wife and I recently went to London and Europe. I wanted to visit all the best bars on that trip. We tasted many cocktails and I enjoyed a lot of them. I don’t think I have a cocktail I’d order in every bar. I usually look for cocktails that are interesting.

YANA – It’s hard to have a favorite.

KATYA – In our profession we don’t have this luxury of having a favorite cocktail. We need to embrace the variety.

YANA – I’ll tell you, I’m super impressed when I try a good RTD, a ready-to-drink, canned cocktail. When it’s been chilled and you open the can and it’s delicious right out of the can, I’m impressed. It’s really difficult to get the same quality as with fresh ingredients.

MARK J – Last question. A favorite cocktail moment?

YANA – I have one. What about you, Katya?

KATYA – Yesterday was probably my favorite cocktail moment, actually. I was creating the menu for Harlan Records. It took a long time to put it together. Eighteen drinks and different categories, so I had to think about many things. I wanted alcohol-free cocktails to take up the same space as boozy and the others. And yesterday I finalized the last cocktail, which was alcohol-free:

In a book I read about this bubblegum stock. Basically what you do is put a lot of bubblegum into a bag, fill it with water, boil this bag, then strain the bubblegum out and you get this bubblegum juice. The bar is a 1950s and 1960s style, and bubblegum became big then. Also people went to the moon around that time. So I was playing with different ingredients, and to put flavors around bubblegum was quite hard. I was trying from morning to evening, trying again and again, cleaning my palate between. Finally, I sat down with my wife. We tried two versions of this cocktail, really enjoyed them, and chose the one.

So the cocktail name will be “Moon Juice.” That was the great moment, when we created the name and the description. So, Moon Juice, with bubblegum bouillon—because I didn’t like “stock”—de-alcoholized chardonnay, clove-infused peach blossom oolong tea, citrus oleo-saccharum, mix of acids—because there is tartaric and citric acid in the cocktail—and moon dust garnish.

MARK J – Moon dust garnish?! Where do you get that? That sounds imported.

KATYA – It’s going to be just edible glitter. But we’ll keep it in a small star shaped jar. I really wanted to create something for non-drinkers that said this bar thought about them, welcome to cocktails! Before it was an issue for me to go to a bar and ask for something alcohol-free, and I felt judged many times. Right now I want to be a part of the culture where non-drinkers are included. We want to have the same fun!

YANA – That’s cool. It’s going to be a hit. How many alcohol-free cocktails on the menu?

KATYA – Three. There will be six categories of cocktails—boozy, citrus-forward, textured, Tiki, low-ABV and alcohol-free. We are all for equality, so, equally three cocktails per category.

YANA – Nice.

MARK J – And you? A favorite cocktail moment?

YANA – Katya and I were developing a cocktail menu for Sorella. It’s an Italian restaurant, the same owners as Acquerello. We had the privilege of working with chef Suzette Gresham and her business partner, Giancarlo Paterlini. It was our first tasting-presentation of the first round of what we’d come up with. I was inspired to use Creme de Violette. But it’s so difficult to work with. It’s so potent. And the goal was to include amaro in all the cocktails, to make it very Italian. And there was one particular cocktail I was consumed by. I was working on it and working on it, it was rye whiskey based, and I came up with something, and… But that morning I tweaked it, because it didn’t taste quite right to me. So I make it, and Chef Suzette takes a taste of it and she looks at me and says, This is the Sorella cocktail.

The Sorella signature cocktail!

KATYA – And she’s a Michelin star chef, so, it was a big moment.

MARK J – The drink you’d tweaked that very morning? What is it?

YANA – It’s a riff off a classic Whiskey Sour. But it’s layered, because it’s made with sage syrup, Creme de Violette, Averna, Redemption Rye Whiskey—and it had to be Redemption, because, remember?

KATYA – Yes!

YANA – We were going nuts?

KATYA – Absolutely.

YANA – Over the whiskey? It’s crazy, it only worked with Redemption. It wasn’t Bulleit Rye, or Rittenhouse, you know what I mean? And actually it got one more tweak when we were launching the menu. We added egg whites, and it’s even better now. And it has a twist of lime. It’s lemon based but with a twist of lime. And definitely saline solution, because salt is the secret to any cocktail. That’s why Margaritas are so damn good, because there’s salt on the rim. The secret is to put salt into all your cocktails to enhance the flavors.

MARK J – I have to go to Sorella now so I can try this.

KATYA – Absolutely. And it’s interesting because Whiskey Sours are very often ordered by men. But Sorella means “sister” in Italian. And I feel this cocktail can be drunk by anybody.

YANA – And that’s what Chef Suzette said. She always asked whether women and men will like it, the signature drink. She wanted the signature drink to be friendly for everyone.

MARK J – Very satisfying moment for her to look you in the eye and say that cocktail was the one.

YANA – Oh yes.

KATYA – Another satisfying moment for me was when we finalized the menu. It was one of our biggest projects, and pretty challenging how we had to arrange the whole menu around amaros. When we lined up all the cocktails on the bar, we were like, Yes, we did it!

YANA – It was pretty exhausting. But it was the love of the labor.

MARK J – Well, is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should have?

KATYA – You asked great questions. I think I will keep thinking on some of the topics you raised, so, thank you very much.

MARK J – Thanks for chatting with me.

YANA – Yes, of course.

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