Jeff Bell

Jeff Bell

America’s King of Cocktails

Jeff Bell might just be the best bartender in America at the moment, having won the title of Best Bartender in the U.S. at the 2013 DIAGEO World Class Bartender of the Year competition. Bell not only dispenses drinks at Please Don’t Tell, one of New York’s hottest bars, he also travels around the world to help train the next generation of cocktail creators. He tells us the story behind his lyrical libations, lets us in on the worst drink you can ask him to make and even shares a few of his signature cocktail recipes.



After coming to New York City in 2009 with little more than two suitcases and a passion for making great drinks, Jeff Bell has quickly climbed the bartending ranks to become one of the most celebrated cocktail creators in America. He plies his trade at NYC’s Please Don’t Tell, an ultra-hip bar set up like a prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with a secret entrance located inside a vintage phone booth (which is located inside of a gourmet hot dog diner).

Bell entered the ranks of the bartending elite when he took top honours at the American finals of the DIAGEO World Class Bartender of the Year competition last year. He recently completed a whirlwind trip through Asia to spread his knowledge and love of cocktails, both classic and cutting-edge, including a training session for the bar staff at the new Softiel Bali Nusa Dua Hotel and a special PDT event at Jakarta’s Potato Head Garage.

Q: It seems like you had a very busy schedule during your recent trip through Asia, judging cocktail competitions, hosting events and doing training sessions. What were some of the highlights for you?

A: I had an amazing journey visiting seven cities in four countries throughout Asia and it’s extremely difficult to pick out one single highlight from such an incredible trip. In Japan, the turnout for our seminars was unparalleled; each session had nearly 200 bartenders show up dressed in suits with pen and paper prepared to absorb as much knowledge as they could. Not everyone is as formal as the Japanese, but all throughout Asia the bartenders were eager to learn and were more committed to improving their craft than what I’ve seen in a lot of other places in the world.

Q: You won the title of Best Bartender in the United States at the 2013 DIAGEO World Class Bartender of the Year competition. When you’re competing with the best of the best, what are the judges looking for? What do you think put you over the top?

A: When you compete in a competition like Diageo World Class, you have to understand that everyone involved is talented and will be bringing their A game. At that level, everyone is making top-notch drinks. To win, I had to prepare more than I’ve prepared for anything else in my entire life! I viewed each individual challenge as though I was opening a new bar and the theme of the challenge would be the theme of the bar. I stressed the details so I had a different theme for each challenge: menus, music, attire, glassware, trays, etc. I knew that I had to focus on all of the little things to separate myself from the rest.

Q: Which do you prefer: bartender or mixologist?

A: I like the term bartender because, at the end of the day, we tend to the bar and the people sitting at it. I’m not mad when someone calls me a mixologist, I actually take it as a compliment.

Q: What is the newest cocktail recipe you’ve developed? Can you give us a little insight into your creative process when coming up with a drink?

A: I just came up with a new drink (yet to be named) with equal parts whisky, yuzu sake and a Belgian style wheat ale with a rinse of shiso essence. It’s a long drink served in a Collins glass and finished with a shiso leaf. Spring has just sprung in New York and we need to start focusing our menu towards our upcoming warmer weather. I love the way that malt whisky interacts with yuzu and I thought the combination needed some effervescence in the form of a citrusy ale.

Q: What ingredient combinations have surprised you with how well they worked together?

A: The cocktail I just came up with is a great example of a surprising combination: yuzu sake from Japan, wheat ale from New York and malt whisky from the British Isles.

Q: When you go to a bar you’ve never been to before, what do you usually order? One of the signature cocktails off the menu? The bartender’s recommendation? A standard classic to gauge the bartender’s skill?

A: I try not to judge bars when I go out for drinks, but, inevitably, I will make an opinion. I always like to look at cocktail lists, more out of curiosity than anything else. I typically order drinks that are well known and utilise readily available ingredients, like the Margarita, Daiquiri, Negroni and Manhattan. Those are my go-to cocktails, but I always try something from a menu.

Q: If somebody comes into PDT and seems bewildered about what to order, how do you steer them towards the right drink?

A: A lot of people come into the bar and are overwhelmed by our cocktail list, so I take time with each guest and try to determine what kind of flavours they typically enjoy. I’ve found that concrete descriptors work best rather than subjective descriptors like sweet because palates vary from person to person, but no one can object to what a raspberry tastes like.

Q: What is the worst drink that a customer has ever asked you to make?

A: A dirty martini is one of the worst cocktails that I’ve ever been asked to make and I get asked to make them a couple times a week. I’ll make them, but would never recommend one to my worst enemy!



Q: What are the hot cocktail trends in NYC at the moment? Do you keep an eye on what the competition is doing or just focus on doing your own thing?

A: I love visiting other bars and seeing what’s going on. I’ve been so busy travelling outside of New York recently that I’ve been a little removed from the bar scene. The use of sherry and madeira in cocktails is really popular now, and rightfully so!

Q: What aspect of your job do you find the most rewarding? Conversely, what’s the least glamorous part?

A: I have the most amazing job because I have the chance to help create a memorable evening for people. I love it when I have the chance to talk to people about spirits and cocktails and create a unique experience for them. The least rewarding part of my job would be the physical demand. We work about 12 hours per shift and make roughly 400 cocktails a night, so we are moving quickly for long periods of time. It’s a little taxing on the body. Also, going to sleep at 5 or 6am is a few hours later than ideal.

Q: What is the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in a bar during the course of your career?

A: I’ve worked in a handful of bars and have seen my fair share of crazy things, most of which happened before I worked at PDT. I’ve been swung at twice on separate occasions and been spat at.

Q: Besides PDT, what’s one other place we need to visit the next time we go to NYC?

A: After PDT, please go visit The Dead Rabbit, The NoMad, Death & Co., Employees Only and Clover Club.

Q: Hypothetical scenario: Your doctor tells you that you can only have one more alcoholic drink, ever (any more than that and your liver will explode). What would your last drink be?

A: A Manhattan.


The Lion’s Den


• 1.5 oz. Don Julio Reposado
• 0.75 oz. Lime Juice
• 0.75 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
• 0.25 oz. Agave Syrup
• 1 Shishito Pepper

Muddle Shishito Pepper – shake, then fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with togarashi and kosher salt

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