Favorite Drinks of All the Top Stars? He Has Them Memorized.

From a New York Times story by Julie Besonen headlined “Favorite Drinks of All the Top Stars? He Has Them Memorized.”:

In 1968, Sardi’s was still enjoying its decades-long heyday, commanding the limelight as Broadway’s foremost hub of show folk, from big shots to wannabes to poignant has-beens. Playwrights, agents, publicists and newspaper columnists vied for strategic tables in the restaurant’s dining room, trading artful glances, gossip, poisoned barbs and air kisses. Elated tourists, always an ingredient of the Sardi’s experience, basked in the presence of Groucho Marx or Liza Minnelli entering to applause, a Sardi’s tradition.

That was the year a young Croatian immigrant, Josip Petrsoric, whose English wasn’t so great, arrived to far less fanfare. Soon he was making drinks for all of them.

This week, Mr. Petrsoric, Sardi’s avuncular bartender known to all as Joe, is ending his nightly performance of stirring, shaking and pouring after 55 years. He is ready to do last call for good, retiring on Friday.

As unlikely as it seemed in the moment, Sardi’s, at 234 West 44th Street since 1927, instantly felt like home to him. “Hair”; “Promises, Promises”; James Earl Jones in “The Great White Hope”; and Marlene Dietrich, in a one-woman show, were the toasts of Broadway, and he was excited to be at the center of the heat. Joe’s brother Mike had emigrated to America earlier and got work as a Sardi’s chef, which eased Joe’s way through the door.

At 23, Joe became a bar boy, lugging cases of liquor, and was soon promoted to be a service bartender, which meant filling drink orders for the mostly Italian-speaking waiters. He worked off the main stage, not directly interacting with customers like Jackie Gleason, Lauren Bacall, Sammy Davis Jr., Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Raquel Welch and Henry Fonda. In those days, Mr. Petrsoric said he would make 2,000 drinks a day, an almost unbelievable number: 150 Bloody Marys, 150 bullshots and innumerable martinis — “Gin martini-gin martini-gin martini,” he said, buzzing the words in speed-talk. “I was like a machine.”

Vincent Sardi Jr., the proprietor at the time, took notice, and in 1972 summoned him to his office. Mr. Petrsoric recalled his boss demanding, “Joe, I want you to go behind the bar.”

“I was scared,” Joe said. “I said, ‘Mr. Sardi, no, I don’t know enough language. I can’t talk to customers.’”

Mr. Sardi prevailed. And so, Mr. Petrsoric has been a fixture behind the upstairs bar ever since, other than for a couple of hiccups, like the temporary shutdown of the restaurant in 1990 after a bankruptcy and the roughly 22 months Sardi’s was dark during the Covid pandemic. As Broadway began ramping up again, for Joe it’s been a blur of gin martini-vodka martini-dirty martini-espresso martini-manhattan-cosmo-gimlet, whatever people want these days.

Earlier this year, Mr. Petrsoric, 78, was working alone around 10 p.m. when 60 or so people filed in after Broadway shows let out. He found himself going back into machine mode, a calm beacon of cocktail efficiency. Matthew Broderick happened to be sitting at the bar, watching with admiration. He expressed his amazement, which Mr. Petrsoric subtly acknowledged, with a hand placed gently to his heart. While he appreciated the accolade, he gives the same polite treatment to the star-struck as to stars like Mr. Broderick, as well as cast members, directors, producers, lyricists and composers from nearby productions.

When a younger bartender recounted to Joe the list of celebrities who flooded the Sardi’s premiere party for Wes Anderson’s latest film, “Asteroid City” — Margot Robbie, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Jost, Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Maya Hawke, Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman — Mr. Petrsoric simply shrugged.

“I’m not that crazy about celebrities,” he said. “To me, everybody is human, not gods.” Many years ago, watching Lucille Ball in the restaurant, her storied career over, taught him something about fame. “She hated to be old,” he said. “She was not happy. It’s got to be very difficult when you’re that popular. It goes to your brain, and then you see it’s not forever and you’ve got to come down to earth.”

Trying to squeeze stories from Mr. Petrsoric while he is on duty rarely bears fruit. He is as watchful as an owl, swiveling his head, his brown eyes alert to any movement, someone signaling for a check or another round. He perks up at familiar faces.

“You don’t know the names, but you know what everybody drinks,” Mr. Petrsoric said, citing dozens of regulars from around the world and their drink orders. He readily recalled what the restaurant’s founder, Vincent Sardi Sr., preferred (“Every morning an espresso with a side of Courvoisier, and he lived to be 83”) as well as Mr. Sardi Jr., who liked “two Rob Roys, and he died at 91.”

To have a fuller conversation with Mr. Petrsoric required catching him in between shifts. For once, he was sitting at a table, not on his feet, dressed in a crisp tuxedo shirt, black bow tie, maroon jacket and black pants, his white hair neatly combed back. Hundreds of framed caricatures of patrons of the past rose up around him, helping to jog his memory.

Not to pick favorites, but the actor he liked waiting on the most, he admitted, was Jack Lemmon. “He was a down-to-earth person,” Mr. Petrsoric said. “He would come in every time he was in New York. James Gandolfini, Vanessa Williams, they were good. Paul Newman was very quiet, drank Heineken. His wife” — Joanne Woodward — “would come with him, and every time he went to the bathroom, she would wait for him at the door, I don’t know why. Elizabeth Taylor was human. One time she came from the bathroom and a guy had just thrown up — she didn’t know him — and she got the waiters over to help him out.”

One of Ms. Taylor’s husbands, Richard Burton, was another regular. “Richard Burton, oh, my God,” said Mr. Petrsoric. “Three, four, five martinis. Not when he was working, on his day off. He was quiet, kept to himself.”

People don’t drink like that anymore, at least in public, Mr. Petrsoric observed. He doesn’t have much of a thirst himself except for the occasional glass of chardonnay.

Back in 1968, martinis cost $1 or $1.25, he said, expressing embarrassment that today Sardi’s charges almost $20. He exudes pride in his expertise, never daring to shake a gin martini, for instance, which he learned as soon as he took the job. “Are you crazy?” he exclaimed. “They’d kill you. People taught me here years ago how to stir. It took me three weeks to learn. It’s very difficult to do it right.”

There is not much call for pink squirrels, grasshoppers or brandy Alexanders anymore, recipes he can easily recite. He has always loved making cocktails, any kind of cocktail, he said, but did not like to get people drunk.

Throwing drunks out of the bar was anathema to him. “You say nicely, ‘Time to go,’ and they go,” Mr. Petrsoric said. “One time we got a guy who was carrying two guns. I saw he was nuts and said, ‘We’re having a private party,’ and he said, ‘OK, I’ll go.’ I don’t want to hurt anyone. I worry about the person. I’ve had to take a lot of people home when they got drunk.” By which he meant back to their hotel, usually near Times Square. “Not lately,” he added. “We get good people here, absolutely.”

Since news about Mr. Petrsoric’s retirement got out, regulars have been crowding in, some of them tearful, to get Mr. Petrsoric to pour them one more for the road. He is leaving the place in good shape but taking his institutional knowledge with him.

“He has been here a lifetime and seen it all, from the ground up,” said Max Klimavicius, Sardi’s managing partner, who started working his own way up the ladder in 1974. “Look at how youthful he is. He still has a lot of pep, always smiling.”

“Come on, it’s time to go,” Mr. Petrsoric said, discounting the fact that other Sardi’s employees of the past had stayed even longer. “I hope I live a long life but why work? The house is paid.”

“The house” is where he was born in 1945, an olive-tree-shaded villa on Krk, Croatia, an island in the northern Adriatic Sea. His father and paternal grandfather lived to be 98, and his older brothers are 96, 89 and 80, so a longer life might well be in the cards. The deaths last year of two close friends unsettled him, though, tugging him toward home permanently, not just for a summer vacation. Divorced long ago, he has two grown sons and now three grandchildren; his 62-year-old American fiancée will be going with him.

Mr. Petrsoric couldn’t think of a thing to complain about, not his health, his feet, his back nor the salary and tips that sustained his largely unsung career.

“I’m happy, but I’m very sad,” Mr. Petrsoric said. “I know so many people I’m never going to see again. I want to say thank you, and I’ll miss you, like a friend, like family. This job was made for me. If I’m born again, I will come right back here.”

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