People don’t have favorite bars anymore. They have favorite bartenders—or rather, favorite mixologists—like Michael Gray of Plat 99. And though he is at the forefront of the trendy craft-cocktail movement, in which thirsty patrons worship foraged ingredients and throwback brown-liquor standards, Gray’s ideas are rooted in something much less faddish. Few would connect this drink-slinger’s surname to the 88-year-old square-meal shrine, Gray Brothers Cafeteria. “I was sitting on an upside-down five-gallon bucket, stemming strawberries for my grandmother for pies, at the age of 5,” he says.
Perhaps his family name is what landed him his first bartending gig. The day Turner Woodard bought the Canterbury Hotel in 2008, he hired Gray to oversee the beverage program. Gray began to gain a reputation as a decent bartender, which likely led to Neal Brown poaching him. “He pulled up on his scooter in a white T-shirt and ordered a Manhattan at 3 in the afternoon,” says the barkeep. Next thing Gray knew, he was a part of the opening crew behind The Libertine Liquor Bar. Today, at his new Plat 99 post, the showman builds on bar basics like fizzes, punches, and flips. And luckily for us, his old-school past keeps the pretentiousness on the shelf.
Michael Gray’s Favorite Things:
(1) Motorcycles: “Love riding them. Always have.”
(2) Basil: “I want to put it in everything.”
(3) Wine: “Vermentino is my new favorite summer varietal.”
(4) Yard work: “It takes my mind away.”
Photo by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the August 2013 issue.