Guy Ladouceur is head bartender at Peck’s Arcade and Tavern Bar. This interview has been edited and condensed. Photo courtesy of Steve Barnes.
The Alt: What does your job entail?
Ladouceur: I took over the head bartender role a couple years ago now, and in that time it’s been just myself and Emily. The two of us, almost exclusively, with help here and there. So we’ve been presiding over the bar as its sole operators and have had complete control and influence on the direction that it’s taken, what sort of liquors and cocktails we’re offering, and who we develop relationships with. Some of those relationships have now gone on for multiple years.
The general vision of the bar, being that it’s associated with the restaurant—which actually sort of changes things a little bit, it’s not just a cocktail bar, it also serves the fine-dining restaurant downstairs—is tailored to both clientele who just come up to The Tavern and also frequent guests of the restaurant who like to have after-dinner drinks.
Relationship building is everything at The Tavern. Troy is a tiny city, and the Capital Region is smaller than anybody thinks. A lot of our guests are either right across the street or coming here three, sometimes four nights that we’re open.
TA: Are you saying it requires a degree of personal attentiveness?
GL: Absolutely. I think the relationships always begin with what the people are looking for, which is offering cocktails and spirits that are new or interesting or catered to their personal tastes. But then, over time, those guests’ preferences become known to us and the relationship transitions into one that’s more personal and about emotional investment, about learning people’s stories. The cocktails are a prelude to that deeper relationship.
TA: What about relationships with vendors? Are you constantly looking for new ones?
GL: Distributors and vendors are always looking to get their product in the door. They’ll usually reach out to you and schedule appointments. They’re always a lot of fun because they bring six, seven, ten bottles—or even just one or two new ones on their lists. Sometimes it’s very casual—they’ll just come up to the bar five minutes before you open and pour you a shot. Other times they’ll sit down with you for an hour and just taste through and talk about products.
We’re pretty fleet-footed as a bar. We order in small quantities, sell out of that particular liquor, and then try to change it up pretty quickly. We’re always tasting—especially when it comes to New York products. There’s been an explosion in farm distilleries here, some of which use New York grain in the production of their liquor. We like the message that sends and the narrative they’re a part of.
TA: What fraction of guests care about the New York angle?
GL: Not every guest is interested, frankly, even at all in what they’re drinking. It’s a bar. But maybe 40, 50 percent care a lot. It’s always a conversation piece. It doesn’t have to be—we also serve the commercial spirits. But when it comes down to a person who is looking for that added element to their experience, then we’ve got them.
TA: Beyond a focus on relationships with guests, what’s your bar all about?
GL: Two things, I think, make The Tavern stand out from a lot of other bars. One, we’re a cocktail bar that’s part of a much larger wine-focused group of businesses. Heather LaVine and Vic Christopher both have an intense interest in wine. We have the Lucas Confectionary, 22 2nd Street Wine Co., and had Donna’s Italian before it closed, whose wine program was very small but elegant. We try to incorporate a lot of wine-based or wine-reminiscent additives. We have a pretty large collection of wine-based vermouths, and incorporate sparkling wine into certain cocktails. We cater to that lighter, less alcoholic taste that wine drinkers prefer.
The other thing that distinguishes The Tavern is that we’re somewhat more conservative in our approach to cocktails. We build off of the classics—subtle variations on tried-and-true drinks. If the guest wants it, we’ll get inventive, but we like to stick to what we know is good and play off of that.
TA: Not to ask you to speak for the entire Capital District, but we’ve heard the region’s cocktail scene might be under-appreciated. Do you think there’s some truth to that?
GL: I was in the Hudson Valley—I went to school in New Paltz and had an opportunity to drink at bars down there, in Kingston, Poughkeepsie. Just for its proximity to the city, it’s a little bit closer to the beating heart of tastemaking. In the Capital Region, having grown up here, I had never experienced anything like that.
But when I moved back here a couple years ago, I was shocked to see that the same thing was happening, just a little bit later on. I’m always surprised when I go to The Shop, for example, and have one of Sam Hooker’s drinks. I say, “I could get this in the city, I could this in New Paltz, and I’m getting it here.”
TA: You talked earlier about running The Tavern with Emily as your own sort of project. Do you have aspirations about transitioning out of doing less day-to-day bartending and being more of the “vision guy”?
GL: I love mixing cocktails. The thing that keeps me coming back to work are the relationships, the people. I’ve contemplated—as all bartenders have and anybody who does the grind has—about taking a step back, having a more general visionary responsibility. But I think that would sap the job of a lot of its enjoyment for me.