Justin Pasha raises cocktail creation to an art form. Chipping ice off large blocks results in a more dramatic presentation and fresher tasting drinks.
Photo by Aaron Kershaw
In ancient times, the cupbearer was one of the most trusted servants in the royal court. With constant worry of plots and poison, he was the only subject permitted to handle the king’s chalice, at times risking death by swallowing the first sip of wine before each feast. It was a title denoting respect and courage, and the cupbearer was often treated as the closest of confidants, advising the king in all his affairs.
Today, the profession of bartending has in many ways been reduced to the simple tasks of pouring pints of beer and shots of liquor. But the relationship between cupbearer and king reminds us of a time when service truly mattered, an age when the art of mixing drinks was of the utmost importance. “I figure it’s befitting,” says Justin Pasha, a 26-year-old Fairfield native whose portable bar and cocktail service, The Cup Bearer, draws its name from the ancient role and has become a new favorite among southern Connecticut party-goers. “My clients are like kings and that’s how they should be treated, right? Like royalty.”
To refer to Pasha as merely a bartender is to do him a disservice. Crafting each ingredient from scratch—the syrups, the sodas, the rinds, the juices—Pasha is more an artisan or entrepreneur than your out-of-the-box mixologist, creating his own balanced cocktail concepts for a host of exclusive clientele around Fairfield County.
When attending an event curated by The Cup Bearer, one should expect to witness Pasha cracking crystal-clear chips of ice off huge glacial slabs; to find handmade olive skewers whittled down from fresh cedar trees; to fill one’s glass from elegant and cascading champagne towers. The waitstaff, who Pasha discovered and trained himself during his time at the Bartenders Academy in Fairfield, always come “dressed to the nines,” as he puts it—never a dirty sneaker or wrinkled button-down among them. Pasha’s utensils are made of copper, wood, leather, and steel; the bar devoid of even a speck of plastic. The result is something classic yet cutting-edge, decadent yet seemingly unaffected.
“The slogan is ‘elevate the occasion,’ and that really is what it does,” Pasha says. “We bring the party to life. It alleviates a lot of the stress from the host to entertain, because it’s so entertaining in and of itself.”
Having worked at some of the finest restaurants in New England while attending school for hospitality in Boston, Pasha has come of age in the service industry, taking note of what works and of course what does not. While food, music, and ambience are all crucial components of a successful event, he’s come to learn that the bar is the true center of the universe when it comes to throwing a memorable party.
“When I come into a client’s home for the first time, the first thing I’m doing is I’m looking around their house, looking at the layout, to make sure I know where the bar should go,” Pasha explains. “The DJ is not the most important part at all. The bar is the hub of life.”
With The Cupbearer there is no set menu. Pasha meets with prospective clients twice before an event: Once to tailor the drink list to the host’s desires, and a second for a preliminary taste testing. There are the classics to choose from, like the old-fashioned, the Manhattan, etc., but clients are also encouraged to develop specialty cocktails in collaboration with Pasha, something unique and exclusive to their gathering.
The success of The Cupbearer is not an aberration. Recently in the world of cocktails there has been a shift away from the processed ingredients and clumsy presentations of years past and a return to the organic and artisanal. In 2015, it seems quality and care are back in style. “The trend is people are realizing what’s good again. I don’t know what happened the last 50 years, but people just forgot how to make proper drinks,” says Sean Nye, the beverage director of Artisan in Southport and L’Escale in Greenwich, who is seen as something of a cocktail guru in the area. “There’s definitely a lot more care and effort and time that’s going into what’s being served, and people are just remembering how to make good drinks.”
Still, for Pasha, The Cupbearer is delivering a level of quality to clients’ homes that is unmatched in Fairfield County, a service that aims to make hosts feel like royalty.
“We’ve totally elevated the craft,” he says simply. “No one else is doing this.”