Will Wyatt loves a good joke. Or more accurately, a stupid one. It is a key ingredient at his bar, Mister Paradise, which he opened in New York City’s East Village seven months ago with business partners Eric Kruvant and Jeremy Spector. “I love making jokes with guests, just to make them feel comfortable,” he tells me during a takeover of The Zetter Townhouse bar in Clerkenwell, London, ahead of a second London Cocktail Week takeover of Scout in Hackney on Sunday 13 October.
Will wants to move away from bars taking themselves too seriously while still serving up top-quality drinks. “I just think we are going in a direction where the things that you sell can be good quality but you don’t have to sacrifice guests feeling comfortable. A lot of people come in specifically for our cocktails and then are surprised that a bartender comes up and makes a stupid joke to them. I feel that it makes people feel a little bit more engaged. It takes a bit of weight off them.”
Mister Paradise has opened in the site of a former restaurant in the East Village on First Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets – an area that has become a destination for some of Manhattan’s coolest bars. Will previously worked at New York’s acclaimed NoMad Hotel bar after starting his bartending career at the city’s Experimental Cocktail Club where he was trained by Nico de Soto. Eric’s background includes another top bar, Drexler’s in the East Village, while Jeremy, who looks after Mister Paradise’s food menu, has come from the world-leading Employees Only in the West Village. The elegant Art Deco-style interior is broken up with quirky elements such as “weird” photos, with a Red Room at the back inspired by A Clockwork Orange. “When you walk in, it looks fairly elegant but it’s very friendly, very casual although we encourage everyone to sit down at a table,” Will says.
Bartenders come to the table to take orders, sitting down rather than towering over the guests. “Having your bartender part of your group makes guests feel more comfortable and part of your space,” he explains. “In some bars, people go in and they are afraid how they should approach things. They feel that if they go out to a bar, there are things they shouldn’t do. We’re just out to make people feel comfortable.”
Mister Paradise’s core clientele is people in their late 20s and early 30s which is reflected in the playlist. “The music is a bit nostalgic, a bit of fun: Tears for Fears, Steve Winwood, things that people know. A lot of sing-alongs break out.” Music is an important part of Will’s life. Before becoming a bartender, he started out as a musician, training at New York University, and has been guitarist for a Ukrainian band, Hrim, for over 10 years. “My dream one day is to have a live music bar,” he adds.
The cocktails reflect Mister Paradise’s ethos by combining “funny” names with some serious culinary techniques. After beginning with a list created by Will, new drinks are already being added from other members of the bar team. One of the most recent arrivals is sweet and savoury Corn Ultimatum which combines bourbon with genever, roasted corn, peach, Parmesan tincture and lemon juice. “I just like playing around with recipes, trying to come up with more esoteric pairings,” Will says.
The Cougar Magnum was added two months ago, mixing gin washed in popcorn butter with smoked grapefruit cordial, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice and some Islay scotch whisky on top. The most popular cocktail is one of Will’s original creations, the Party Lobster (pictured top and below) – 15,000 have been sold since the bar opened seven months ago. It was the star cocktail of Mister Paradise’s one-day bar takeover at The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell during London Cocktail Week this week, where it was made with Ilegal Mezcal, fermented habanero chilli, garlic, Campari, watermelon syrup and lime juice, served over one large ice cube. The New York bar has also got people talking with its CrossFit Breakfast shooter, a version of a Blowjob shot that is for drinking hands free. It is made with an aged rum, coffee, coconut and whipped cream made with malted pandan – a plant used in Asian cooking.
Pandan aside, Will is keen to avoid using ingredients that guests have never heard of. “I feel that in a lot of bars, people work with unusual ingredients which is awesome but I want people to have an easier time when they read the menu. They might say it’s weird but they know what to expect when they go into it.” However, he wants Mister Paradise to be known as a fun place to drink, not just for its cocktails. “I love looking out and seeing that everybody is drinking wine and beer.”
The name of the bar took a long time to choose. It originally came from a character, Sammy Paradise, created by US comedian Tim Robinson for an episode of TV series The Characters – an over-the-top Sinatra-style entertainer. But Will then discovered there was also a little-known short play by American playwright Tennessee Williams called Mister Paradise about an old poet who cares nothing for fame and just hopes people will one day enjoy his work. “I love the idea that you create something that is not about you creating it but about the people experiencing it,” Will says. “It’s entirely what I want to do.”
Mister Paradise, 105 First Avenue, East Village, New York City, NY 10003
The Zetter Townhouse, 49-50 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4JJ