Behind the pine: Tommy Lombardo
Name: Tommy Lombardo
Location: Ristorante Lombardo; 1198 Hertel Ave.; 873-4291
Current Title: GM / Beverage Director / Partner
Years behind the pine: 12
Tommy Lombardo, the prodigal son of one of Buffalo’s most celebrated restaurant legacies, grew up in the business. As a kid he worked nearly every position at Ristorante Lombardo, learning the ropes. At nineteen, he trained beside the restaurant’s longtime barkeep, John Spasiano. Eventually, Tommy went on to New York, as so many young Buffalo folk do, where he took a job at Gramercy Park Hotel and began the process of learning modern bartending/mixology. He committed himself to honing his craft and became quite successful, going on to work for the same company in three of its other well-respected restaurants, Dell’anima, L’artusi, and Anfora. During this period of his career, he gained an even broader understanding of Italian wines, and this, matched with his bar knowledge and the kind of exposure to high quality food that only an earnest restaurant staffer in a top-notch big city restaurant group can earn, provided him with the skills he now uses to delight local diners. In addition to Ristorante Lombardo’s long-standing reputation for great food and service, since his return, the restaurant’s guests now have the opportunity to experience exciting wine dinners, a balanced and interesting craft cocktail menu, and Tommy’s exceptional hospitality.
CGS: What is it that most guests don’t realize about being a bartender?
TL: How physically demanding it can be. After working Wednesday through Saturday, by Sunday morning, I always feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.
How would you describe Lombardo’s bar program to someone who hasn’t been there?
We offer a seasonally changing selection of innovative cocktails inspired by the classics. We use many Italian ingredients—though not exclusively—including a good selection of low alcohol aperitivo inspired by Italian tradition. That way, you still can have a bottle of wine or two at the table, a dessert wine, and a digestivo afterwards.
What is your least favorite drink to make?
Long Island ice tea. The people who order that drink, they’re always the same. Only one kind of person orders a Long Island ice tea. So, I guess it’s not so much the drink that bothers me, but the drinker.
What is your favorite style of cocktail?
Bitter aperitivos are my current favorite—I guess you could say I’ve evolved. They are lower in alcohol and easy on my stomach. This way I can have three or four cocktails. Really spirit-forward and boozy cocktails get me in too much trouble; I guess I don’t enjoy trouble as much as I used to.
Is there an ingredient you are particularly enamored with right now?
Amaro, or any kind of bitter digestif or aperitif, like Campari. An amaro can add so much depth and body to a cocktail.
What are the most innovative ingredients you’ve used in a cocktail?
Chef Obarka’s housemade beef jerky. It’s really a garnish, though I suppose a garnish is an ingredient.
How can I improve my home bar?
Fresh squeezed lemon and lime juices, bitters, and/or Amaro.
Is there a bartender you admire most?
John Spasiano, the coworker and bartender who trained me when I was a kid.
Is there a bar you’re dying to try?
The Dead Rabbit in New York’s Financial District. I know I’m behind the curve on this one, but I still want to see what all the hype is about.
Is there one mistake you see young bartenders make often?
Not putting the bottle or tool they’re using back in its place immediately after they are through using it. Also, inconsistently jiggering—I can’t stand that.
Is there any one misconception of bartending as a career that drives you crazy?
When someone who works a nine to five regularly, but isn’t really in love with their job— or is in kind of a transitory period and has never bartended before—and you can tell right off the bat that they aren’t serious about it, but they seem to have this belief that bartending isn’t a real job anyway, so it’s okay when they nonchalantly ask if there is a way they could pick up a few shifts at the place you work. You know, the gig you beat twenty other applicants out of by showing how dedicated you were to the position and because you had busted your ass working over ten years building up a reputation that would allow you to hold the position?
Favorite movie you could watch a thousand times?
8 1/2, The Godfather, or anything from the Man With No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, etc.). I also really liked Anchorman.
Do you have a favorite after work snack?
Australian meat pies. As far as I know, we don’t have those in Buffalo, so that sucks. We should have a place that serves Australian meat pies with buttery flakey crusts until four a.m.
If I wasn’t a bartender, I’d be…
A very rich musician.
Christa Glennie Seychew is Spree’s senior editor (and a big fan of Aperol).