The Gannet Q&A

Noah Rothbaum

10th January 2018

Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Ebru Eldiz

Noah Rothbaum, a lifelong New Yorker, is the editor of the Daily Beast’s Half Full section. He also hosts its podcast, Life Behind Bars, with legendary cocktail historian David Wondrich. In addition, Rothbaum is the author of the book The Art of American Whiskey, which was published in the spring 2015, and the associate editor of the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, which will be published in the spring of 2018.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

I once got to sit next to Jacques Pépin at a dinner held in the French Embassy in New York. Each course was cooked by a different famous French chef. While the food was delicious, I feel like I squandered my opportunity with Pépin. We had an enjoyable conversation but I don’t really remember what we talked about. If we could do it again, I’d have so many more questions for him.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

I have a galley for the 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook that I picked up when I interned at Food & Wine during college. All these years later, I still use its signature potato kugel recipe. It’s a paperback and essentially flops opens to the kugel page itself.


What’s your biggest food or drink aversion?

I don’t like super bitter food or drinks. While I appreciate bitter in small doses, I find drinks that contain only bitter alcohols overwhelming. I also am not a fan of super dark chocolate or dark roast coffee.

Describe your perfect breakfast.

An everything bagel (it has to be a real New York bagelboiled and baked) topped with vegetable cream cheese, tomato slices and paper-thin slices of smoked salmon from Zabar’s.

It’s unpretentious, full of New York characters and offers a phone book-size menu

Of all the restaurants in the world, which makes you happiest, and why?

It’s kind of funny in a city of four-star restaurants that it’s my local Upper West Side diner that is my happy place: the Metro Diner, at 100th Street and Broadway. It’s unpretentious, full of New York characters and offers a phone book-size menu. The coffee is terrible but the food is good and the booths deep and comfy.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

Music is an essential part of my cooking or eating/drinking experience. I like to mix up, no pun intended, my playlists but they generally include tracks from an eclectic group of artists, including: John Coltrane, Sharon Jones, Mavis Staples, Sonny Knight, Shuggie Otis, A Tribe Called Quest, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, indie-sensation Margaret Glaspy and my three-year-old son’s beloved Ramones and Iggy Pop.

If you could only drink one thing, aside from water, what would it be? 

Whiskey. It’s versatile, flavorful and thoroughly enjoyable. My desert island bottle is Booker’s bourbon. It’s a delicious whiskey and, being well over one-hundred proof, it could be used to start a fire!

What’s your favourite cocktail?

Wow! That’s a tough one. I think the sour formula (2 parts alcohol, 1 part sweet, 1 part citrus) is pretty close to perfect. If you use tequila you get a Margarita, if you use rum you get a Daiquiri, etc. It’s a pretty magical formula.

Who is your food or drinks hero?

Dale DeGroff. In addition to being an extremely talented bartender and the father of the rebirth of the cocktail, he’s incredibly humble and amazingly generous with his knowledge and his time. Meeting him nearly 20 years ago when he was running the bar at Blackbird and tasting his drinks was a watershed moment in my life. It is thanks to him and his effect on cocktail culture that I can do what I do and have a career.

I think the sour formula (2 parts alcohol, 1 part sweet, 1 part citrus) is pretty close to perfect

Tell us about a dish you make when you’re short on time.

Every week I like to make a big pot of vegetarian chili for my family. Basically, you just brown onions, bell peppers and mushrooms then add an assortment of different types of canned beans, canned diced tomatoes and seasoning. Cutting and browning the onions and peppers is the most labor-intensive part of this incredibly simple dish. I serve it with hot sauce and brown rice. Cold leftovers taste good soaked up with slices of bread.

What’s your favourite food and drink pairing?

Champagne and anything – except cake. Bubbly goes so well with many savory dishes, including poultry and fish. Unfortunately, it’s usually reserved in the U.S. for dessert, which is kind of a waste, since cake is generally too sweet for the wine.

Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

A lot of restaurants in New York won’t seat you until your whole party arrives. It makes the experience of eating out stressful instead of relaxing and enjoyable. The people who arrive on-time are essentially forced to stand around hoping and praying that there will be a table available whenever the last person in their party shows up. If they sat me immediately I’d certainly spend my time ordering drinks and appetisers.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I love bubbly water. No matter if you call it seltzer or club soda I will drink it. I know it’s pretty silly but I don’t drink a lot of still water. It’s especially stupid given that New York tap water is really quite delicious but I insist on either carbonating it or buying bottles of sparkling water.

To find out more, visit Half Full at The Daily Beast, listen to the Life Behind Bars podcast, and read The Art of American Whiskey

Follow Noah: Twitter

Posted 10th January 2018

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Ebru Eldiz

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