May 2019: The Legacy of Sasha Petraske Lives on in Upstate New York (for Liquor.com)

Originally written for Liquor.com.

The late Sasha Petraske, one of the most influential bartenders of the modern craft cocktail revival, is remembered for many things: his pioneering bar Milk & Honey, his championing of the “bartender’s choice” and his almost obsessive attention to detail, among them. His passion for the industry led him to consult on a variety of projects and bar openings—not to mention his successful follow-up concepts, such as Dutch Kills and Little Branch—where he always imposed his influence in the humblest of ways.

To this day, Petraske’s legacy lives on through the bartenders he trained, the staff he worked with and the philosophies he instilled in them. While he’s primarily known for his work in NYC, 120 miles north of the city is where his final project continues to live on in the form of Wm. Farmer and Sons, a barroom and boutique hotel in the tiny city of Hudson, N.Y.—the city, incidentally, where the definition of the word “cocktail” first appeared in print in “The Balance, and Columbian Repository” on May 13, 1806.

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“Sasha loved the timeless small-town feeling of Hudson,” says Georgette Moger-Petraske, the wife of the late Petraske. “When the opportunity to consult for Farmer and Sons arose, he saw a chance to bring a quality bar program to a town he felt so at ease in. The partnership with Kirby and Kristen [Farmer] was such a natural fit too. We all saw many years of friendship and collaboration in store.”

The Farmer family, the owners of Wm. Farmer and Sons, had a vision of creating a space for both locals and tourists to gather for food and drink. One aspect of their vision was to build a legitimate bar program, which was a bit outside of their expertise. Proprietor and chef Kirby Farmer connected with a few industry friends for guidance on where to start. One of them recommended Petraske.

Sean Meagher mixing the Cold Feet, made with  mezcal , white  Armagnac , blanc  vermouth , Licor 43 , and  Angostura  and orange bitters.

Sean Meagher mixing the Cold Feet, made with mezcal, white Armagnac, blanc vermouth,Licor 43, and Angostura and orange bitters.

Cold Feet cocktail

Cold Feet cocktail

Sean Meagher mixing the Cold Feet, made with mezcal, white Armagnac, blanc vermouth,Licor 43, and Angostura and orange bitters (image: Tyler Zielinski)

“I hadn’t even signed on with him, but he came up [from NYC], and we loosely went over my needs, the space, what I had envisioned,” says Farmer. “Toward the end of our conversation, he gave me a bar napkin. I don’t even know where he got it; he probably just had it in his pocket, because that’s what he does. He scribbled the bar diagram down on it, and as we were parting ways, he handed it to me and said, ‘Here’s your bar. There’s no charge for that. Whether you decide to use me or not, this is the bar you need.’ And that’s the bar we have.”

At Wm. Farmer and Sons, Petraske personally trained the bar staff, employed the same ice program that resides at Dutch Kills and helped craft a cocktail list that, to this day, still boasts some of the contemporary classic cocktails from old menus at Dutch Kills, Little Branch and Milk & Honey.

“From the beginning, Sasha insisted on a high-quality ice program,” says Moger-Petraske. “Why put so much effort into creating beautiful drinks if you’re just going to kill them with inconsistency and excess water?”

Shortly after Sasha passed away in 2015, his longtime partner, Richard Boccato (proprietor of Dutch Kills), stepped in to ensure that all the details were up to par, one of the key components of that consultation being Petraske’s Hundredweight ice program.

“This is the very last bar where Sasha presided, and so we are bound to uphold his core philosophies regarding the understanding, preparation, service and appreciation of the modern cocktail,” says Boccato. “Every drink that’s made at this bar is a reflection of our dedication toward maintaining the inimitable standard of service that Sasha imparted unto his disciples the world over.”

Today, the bar staff at Farmer and Sons is the second generation of those trained by Petraske himself. While the staff never had the opportunity to witness his brilliance firsthand, his influence still manifests itself in the service. “I find myself referencing his philosophy and the infamous Milk & Honey rules as often as I do the technique and recipes,” says Sean Meagher, the head bartender at Farmer and Sons. “It’s so helpful to have a moral and mental compass to guide us. It’s important for me to feel the presence of our mentors in every service.”

The current bar menu at Farmer and Sons displays many Petraskean touches, including a distinct less-is-more approach to cocktail making. Some standouts are the Netherlands Cobbler (a build of Bols genever, Licor 43 and lemon juice over crushed ice) and the Milk & Honey classic American Trilogy (rye whiskey, applejack, a brown sugar cube and orange bitters). And this month, Farmer and Sons debuted Willy’s Rum Room, a rum-focused bar set off the main barroom.  

“It’s a comforting thought to imagine part of his spirit keeping watch over Farmer and Sons,” says Moger-Petraske. “Or that he might be strolling down Warren Street on a sunny day, admiring the art nouveau pieces in Combray before taking his breakfast at Tanzy’s.”