Our Favorite Places: Wm. Farmer & Sons
Welcome to the first in our series of posts featuring some of the places I love in and around Hudson. In this post, I visit with Jay Manrique, the head bartender at Wm. Farmer & Sons, 20 S Front St.
But before I jump into my conversation with Jay, I want to create a reference point for those you haven’t yet treated themselves to a visit to Wm. Farmer & Sons. Between the restaurant, the bar and The Inn at Wm. Farmer, the vibe that Kristan and Kirby Farmer have created is what the best of Hudson tends to be about and what I truly enjoy about coming here.
From the moment you enter, the easy going, modern-rustic atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming. You have options of relaxing on a sumptuous leather sofa and club chairs, sitting at the expansive bar, a friendly row of two-tops or descending a few steps to the dining room. Little known fact—the chairs were a lucky find from the Annapolis Naval Academy. Check out the shelf below the seat— that’s where the midshipmen would store their hats at mealtime.
Another little known fact, at least to me, is that Wm. Farmer’s bar program is a modern version of pre-Prohibition cocktail making. Jay starts telling me a bit more and it seems neither of us is in a rush so he starts to make a few cocktails that have either been created or adapted from classic pre-Prohibition recipes and have become favorites at Wm. Farmers & Sons. He’s starting us off with a Polaris—a gin cocktail that includes muddled cucumber, Manzanilla sherry and Aperol and served in a Nick & Nora glass, today’s go-to glassware for straight-up cocktails and one that the bar at Wm. Farmers’ been using for several years now. I’m not usually a gin drinker (bad high school incident) but this drink, with its refreshing notes from the cucumber makes me reconsider.
Jay tells me he’s been in Hudson for about five years and at Wm. Farmer for a little more than two. He mentions that he began his career in the kitchen after studying at CIA, the Culinary Institute in Poughkeepsie. I was curious why the switch and he explains, “The combination of social and creative work drew me in. As a former cook, I loved the innovation and experimentation you can work with in a kitchen but I wanted more sociability. I found that behind the bar.”
I can relate having previously run a marketing firm before opening Valley Variety. I enjoy a similar version of interaction and sociability. In my case helping a customer find the right bar and kitchen ware or a dining table, chairs or stools. We agree that Hudson offers so much in that regard—and with that Jay starts mixing one of the most popular cocktails on the menu—the Every Rose which is Wm. Farmers’ version of a Mezcal Margarita created by one of their former bartenders. It’s shaken and served straight up in a coupe. The vigor with which Jay shakes the cocktail raises bartending to an art form and as he explains later a lot has to do with the ice. After a sip or two or three of the Every Rose, I understand why it’s so popular.
Jay follows up with a classic—the Bourbon Old Fashioned beautifully garnished with two orange twists. We talk a bit about the food menu. Some of my go to items are the oysters or one of the menu’s staples, the Shadowbrook Farm Bar Burger. Jay mentions his favorites on the current seasonal menu are the Fried Chicken Livers with raisins and caramelized onions and the Spring Bargoo a hearty pork cheek stew. Whatever you choose the bar at Wm. Farmers is a great way to relax, satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst.
I check out the large block-like ice cubes and mention to Jay that we sell large cubes trays at Valley Variety. I ask him the age-old design question—form or function? Jay begins by explaining how they are cut from even larger chunks of block ice from Twin Lakes Ice Co., a company started by one of their own, bartender Sean Meagher. And the importance the size and consistency of the ice factors into the mixing, shaking and serving different cocktails. For a home bartender, Jay suggests shaking for 10 seconds, but longer and more aggressively the denser the ice. I’m fascinated to learn there’s more than just a bit of theater that comes into play when making the perfect cocktail.
While sitting here and talking with Jay, I’m noticing Bourbon labels and Gin labels that I haven’t seen before and start asking about them. Wm. Farmer likes to offer lesser known labels from smaller premium producers. The results of bar patrons trying a small batch bourbon versus Makers Mark or Jack Daniels has been a largely positive experience as it’s been with other spirits like gin and scotch and even vodka. Somehow we segue into talking about the clientele, the mix of locals and visitors, of age groups and how gratifying that mix is.
Taking another sip of the Every Rose, the idea of seasonal drinks, foods and products winds up being a topic. With summer nearly here, the outdoor markets will start filling up herbs, veggies and berries. They all become part of a way to get into and enjoy farm to table and even farm to bar food and drink ideas—in Jay’s case different ways to create and garnish cocktails. He suggests mint because you don't need much and it's easy to strain out and cucumber because it’s easy to muddle in. Citrus fruits are a popular base for many drinks but berries are also great to use in cocktails, such as blackberries in a Bramble.
He gets into a bit of what might be the big drink for Summer 2023 like the Red Grasshopper made with Tequila, Honey, Lime Juice, Smoked Paprika. Ironically, this was my drink of choice on a previous visit to Wm. Farmer. Then there’s the idea of the classics for the home bartender to master and Jay’s picks are the Old Fashioned, a Negroni or a Gimlet and knowing that they’re perfect for any season.
I’m winding up my afternoon at Wm. Farmers & Sons but want to get Jay’s opinion on a few tools needed for a well-stocked and ready-to-go home bar. Most of what he suggests, like a jigger, a shaker, a mixing glass, a bar spoon, a strainer and a muddler are available at Valley Variety—but as people like to tell me, there’s always room for more. Who knows, you may soon find a version of the Nick & Nora glass at Valley Variety.
It's been a great afternoon and I have to say that Jay Manrique makes all his cocktail creativity look and sound easy—and he assures me, that with a little practice, it is.
I asked Jay to leave us the recipe for the classic Royal Navy Old Fashioned, which was created by their former head bartender Rhys Bufford.
2 dashes Walnut Bitters
0.25oz Honey Syrup (3 parts honey : 1 Part Water)
2 oz Blended Scotch
0.25 oz Smith and Cross Jamaican Rum (Floated on top)
Served in the rocks glass with a single large ice cube
Garnished with an orange and lemon twist
Wm. Farmer & Sons
20 S. Front Street, Hudson NY
518 828 1635
Copy Editing: Richard Boch | Video & Photography: Matthew Smith