Like an artist that masters figurative drawing before approaching the abstract, Tiffany Short of The Library at the Public, learned the classics while tending bar at The Inn at Little Washington, before she resurrected the Shrub, a colonial cocktail, at the Library. Hired as a bar manager at PS7, Tiffany assembled a cocktail there that started to garner attention. “That’s when I started putting effort into it,” she said. “I read a couple of books for inspiration…I [came to] think of drinks like a dish. You have the main at the center, the meat, and then the accents.” Inspired by food at the time, she’d mimic certain plates in a cocktail, like the enchilada, using ingredients such as tequila, cilantro and chili. Nowadays, she said, “I lean towards classic ways of doing things with little twists. I take something like a Gin Fizz and give it a tweak. No one is reinventing, it’s just variations of the theme. It’s where the creativity lies.”
When Tiffany arrived in New York, she landed a job at The Dutch for one and a half years before she learned that the NoHo Hospitality group was opening The Library at the Public. “I wanted to be more hands on,” she said.
Taking her inspiration from history of The Joseph Papp Public Theater, now housed in the Astor Library, which opened in 1849, the same year as the Astor Place Riot, Tiffany dug deep into the history of cocktails to recover the Shrub. Originally a preservation method that saw sugar added to fruit, which then fermented on its own, the Shrub is now made by adding vinegar to the sweetened fruit juice. “I love taking things that have been around forever and reminding people about them,” she said. “They originated in the 1400’s in Europe as another method of preservation, a way to preserve fruit. Instead of a jam, you could drink your fruit. It was popular in colonial times. They’d have the shrub, and add water to it to drink it as a non-alcoholic beverage. But in the 1800’s,” she continued, “they started adding booze to everything, once club soda was an option and ice was readily available.
At the Library, Tiffany crafted the list of house cocktails along side a selection of two kinds of Shrubs: Fruity and Savory, each shrub with its spirit suggestion. With a selection that ranges from Blueberry-Clementine and Pineapple-Jalapeno to Beet Grapefruit and Lemon Lavender, Tiffany said, “We try to make them in the most traditional way possible. They’re fun to put into cocktails and we’ll do that, but the point of the shrub is to highlight the shrub. We sell tons as non-alcoholic drinks too.”
With in-house options that include The Public Theater, Joe’s Pub and offerings from Chef Andrew Carmellini, Tiffany tends to favor simplicity at the bar. “The clientele here has so much going on, we try to make cocktails [that are] food friendly,” she said. Working with Kevin Abbott, the company’s Managing Partner, to maintain a moderate wine list, Tiffany makes clear that the emphasis here is cocktails.
"We try to carry as much local stuff as we can, especially with this being a part of the Public. We want to support and be a part of the community. As soon as I tasted their vodka [from Brooklyn's Industry City Distillery], I was on board. As soon as TEW started carrying it, we had it on the menu. You can taste the difference when something isn’t mass-produced," she said.
As the winner of Eater’s Bartender of the Year in 2013, Tiffany might have been shocked, but to us it was no surprise. “I hadn’t heard anything about it, until they announced the nominees, and someone sent me the link,” she said. “I don’t think a woman had ever won…”