Last week, we were stunned and saddened to learn of the passing of Sasha Petraske, the man credited with galvanizing the modern cocktail movement in New York and beyond. Petraske was a pioneer in the industry, opening Milk & Honey in 1999 and, with it, bringing a newly refined approach to the craft. Milk & Honey captivated New Yorkers with its expertly made pre-Prohibition drinks, sense of decorum and under-the-radar atmosphere, details which now seem to be ubiquitous throughout the trade. “In a Manhattan bar world then ruled by glitz and noise, sloppy drinks and sloppy behavior, it served as both a rebuke and a utopian alternative,” the New York Times wrote last week. “Terms like pioneer and innovator and brilliant were used, deservedly so, but there was an additional sense that these words were insufficient,” wrote Hugh Merwin for Grub Street in a touching and thorough tribute to Petraske’s life and legacy.
Bartenders who prize precision in measurement, care in construction, and quality in ingredients owe a great debt to Mr. Petraske—as do the many successful cocktail bars that followed in Milk & Honey’s footsteps, and the countless bartenders who began their careers under Petraske’s guidance and education. On Monday night, bartenders were invited to celebrate the luminary bar owner’s legacy around the world by drinking a daiquiri — Sasha’s preferred cocktail — at 9 p.m., the hour Milk & Honey opened its doors each night.
“Everyone at Tales of the Cocktail is just heartbroken over the loss of Sasha,” said Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. “He was a true visionary that helped to usher in a cocktail renaissance and shape the industry into what it is today. I hope industry members around the world take a moment to share a toast to one of our pioneers.”
An hour spent talking with Sasha was always inspiring,” said Simon Ford, co-founder of The 86 Co. “He would speak of all the crazy and ambitious ideas he had and all the things he was passionate about. He was a machine of creativity and that character trait of his infectiously inspired so many. He will be remembered for being the man that kick started a movement. I will remember him for being the ultimate gentlemen.”
Tales of the Cocktail would like to extend our deepest condolences to Sasha’s wife, Georgette Moger, and to Sasha’s friends and colleagues.
Below, a collection of tributes to Sasha Petraske, from just a few of the many, many people whom he inspired.
“If not for Sasha Petraske, we’d all be shaking Manhattans. Except many of us wouldn’t be bartenders, and most of our bars wouldn’t exist.” — Matt Piacentini, The Up & Up and Clyde Common
“When I was coming up in the cocktail scene back in 2004-2005, he was a huge influence on my drink-making style, but more than that, it was Sasha who indirectly inspired me to take a chance on the Daiquiri Festival. When he opened Milk & Honey, followed by a string of other NYC bars, he did so with multiple credit cards and tremendous faith in the success of what he was doing. That thought gave me hope when I started the Daiquiri Festival with almost no capital and my credit card. He trained many of the greatest bartenders in the world today. He will be missed.” — Jeremy JF Thompson, New Orleans Daiquiri Festival
“Sasha Petraske made me the first 50-50 Dry Martini I ever had, back in 2002. I thought it was weird. Now, it’s how I drink ’em. Thanks, pal.” — Dave Wondrich, Esquire
“Deeply saddened to hear of Sasha Petraske’s death. A dapper gent who changed the way we drink. A toast to his memory. RIP.” — Dave Broom, ScotchWhisky.com
“I only met Sasha Petraske a few times, but I sure as hell had the pleasure of enjoying his vast influence on bar culture. Such sad news.” — Kat Kinsman, Tasting Table
“A gentleman, a scholar, and a bartender. We’ll not see his like again soon.” — Philip Duff, Liquid Solutions Bar & Beverage Consulting
“Having a Sazerac in honor. First drink I ever had in M&H; made by Sasha himself. Was perfect. Few have both integrity & influence. He did.” — Robert Simonson, The New York Times
“Only went to Milk & Honey once. Was probably 27. Felt like a dream version of NYC. Had my first Bee’s Kiss. So sad Sasha has died so young.” — Ryan Sutton, Eater
“Sasha helped invent modern cocktail culture, when it was still a counter-culture. Now that every hotel chain has a craft cocktail list it’s hard to remember, but places like Milk & Honey were implicit protests against the mindlessness and incivility of what passed for drinking culture.” — Pete Wells, The New York Times