Behind the Pine / Megan Lee

Megan Lee, bar manager at Marble + Rye


Name:Megan Lee 

Current Title: Bar manager

Nickname (if applicable): Mega

Years behind the pine: Eight years in the restaurant biz, five years specifically bartending


Like many involved in the restaurant trade, Megan Lee does "something else" on the side. In this case, the soft-spoken Lee is a painter—most recently of pet portraits. "I did one for a friend, and now, in any spare time, I am doing more," she says. "Since I’m too busy to have the dog I want, I love it!"


Lee started out pouring wine and beer at Tabree in its earlier, Elmwood location. When the restaurant decided to head to Williamsville and upgrade to a full bar, an internship of sorts was arranged so they could keep her around: she got on-the-job experience during Sunday shifts shadowing an experienced bartender at Mother’s.


After her stint at the relocated Tabree, Lee headed to New York City. She landed a gig at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, where she honed her skills further. Taking a chance on Invecchiato, a new Upper East Side project with DBGB’s beer sommelier, she learned a lot, but the establishment was short-lived. Citing family connections and her long-time desire to "bring a skill learned elsewhere back here," Lee returned to Buffalo, and is now proudly ensconced at Marble + Rye.


Proudest accomplishment behind the bar?

The bar that we’ve set up at Marble + Rye is my greatest professional accomplishment. It’s an entirely collaborative effort; I’m so pleased with the way that Christian Willmott [M + R co-owner], Jess Wegrzyn [bartender], and I work together. To be there from the beginning of the restaurant, when first impressions are so important, and to have the positive response we’ve received is gratifying.


Least favorite drink to make? Why? 

There’s no drink that I hate to make. There was a drink that we had when we first opened–the Mr. Peabody. It is very involved, with muddled peas and tarragon. It’s a gag that our barback still plays on me–at a very busy time, he’ll call out "Five Mr. Peabodies!" You don’t want to hear that when you are super busy.


Favorite style of cocktail? Why? 

Stirred aperitifs–drinks that are simply spirits and bitters. The elegant balance, the comingling without tempering or added ingredients–that’s a beautiful thing.


What sets Marble + Rye’s bar program apart?

I feel like we’re gentler. The atmosphere at M + R is meant to feel intimate and comfortable, not intimidating, while offering exciting options for beer, wine, spirits, and cocktails. We’re relatively young at what we’re doing; we approach it with humility, honesty, and enthusiasm. Also, there is a strong female presence and elegance that we hope comes through in our cocktails. My co-bartender, Jess, and I work together so closely, it’s like we finish each other’s sentences.


Is there a cocktail on the Marble + Rye’s menu that you’re responsible for and particularly proud of?

As soon as it got crisp in the air, I used to love to drink London Fog, which is Earl Grey tea steeped in steamed milk. So I created the London Smog. It’s a milk punch with Earl Grey-infused rum, cognac, vanilla, and grated nutmeg.


Is there an ingredient you are particularly enamored with right now? How are you using it?

Italian amari (the plural of amaro) are liqueurs made by infusing herbs, roots, barks, and spices into a distilled spirit or a wine base. There are many different versions; they’re great for mixing in cocktails. We have a version of a Manhattan with rhubarb amaro (in Italian, it’s rabarbaro). Amaro is a nice way of adding depth and complexity to round out the cocktail.


What are the most innovative ingredients you’ve used in a cocktail?

In the summer, we took the innermost kernels from stone fruit pits. They’re like bitter almonds—we infused them into falernum, which is a syrup or cordial. That ingredient is often found in Tiki-style cocktails.


The bar you’re dying to try and what/why?

I would love to go back to Nitecap on New York’s Lower East Side. I was impressed with their cocktail menu; they confidently use many new and interesting components in their drinks. It’s located in a dimly lit downstairs–you can barely see the playful décor, featuring funny wallpaper and a cuckoo clock. 


Books/websites/films, etc., about bartending that you’d recommend?

A great tool for learning is Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology. It’s got a little history and etiquette, plus he categorizes the different styles. It’s got a lot of classic cocktail recipes.

Then, there’s Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence. He’s like a mad scientist; there are thirty pages on ice. He addresses juices, infusions of spirits, even how to use liquid nitrogen. It’s my technique go-to.

Finally, The Flavor Bible, while a culinary text, is about pairing flavors and ingredients; it’s good for coming up with cocktail ideas.


What is a mistake you see new bartenders make?

Over the years, and with my service background, I’ve learned to try and get everyone served as close as possible to the same time--and particularly ladies first. That means you try to make more than one drink at a time, so that they are all ready at the same time. You don’t want to have one finished drink "dying" on the bar while you make all the others and customers are waiting.


Favorite cocktail and food pairing?

I love a brunch-time spicy Bloody Mary and grits.


What Buffalo’s bar scene really needs is ________?

It’s something we are doing already–bars and bartenders are helpful and neighborly, like with Toutant, which is right around the corner from us. There’s no sense of rivalry or competition; everyone works together and shares ideas.


Favorite after-work snack?

Fries are easy to grab by the fistful.


Favorite non-alcoholic beverage?

I’m a big coffee drinker.


Signature last-call tune?

We usually play Robyn’s "Call Your Girlfriend." People can’t help dancing. It’s a good end-of-the-night, "we-did-it" kind of song.


Death row drink?

Negroni, on the rocks.


Particular type of booze you hate, and why?

I don’t hate any booze. It’s possible to find potential and inspiration in all things. For example, Jaegermeister may seem unappealing, but mixed with the right ingredients, it’s fantastic.


Do you have any creative/artistic influences from outside of the bar/hospitality world?

I collect antiques, a hobby I inherited from my grandmothers–I love old glass bottles. Our bar is adorned with odd-shaped vessels and weird tools; the collection is always growing. I like to be surrounded by the authenticity and curious charm of old things. 



Jana Eisenberg writes frequently for Spree.

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