Joseph O'ConnorNovember 17, 2011
Bartender of the Year Entry
Name of Bartender: Joseph O'Connor
Name of Bar: Red Lantern Restaurant & Lounge
Location: Boston, Mass.
Ownership/Parent Company: Big Night Entertainment Group
Square Footage: 9,000
Open Date: June 9, 2011
Head bartender and bar manager for all Big Night Entertainment Group venues, Joe O’Connor is the creative force behind the unique and tasty cocktails and bowls gracing the drink menus at High Rollers and The Scorpion Bar at Foxwoods Resort Casino, SHRINE at MGM Grand at Foxwoods and Red Lantern Restaurant and Lounge and The Estate in Boston. Undoubtedly the hottest bartender in New England, O’Connor has mixed special drinks for a host of A-list celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Pete Wentz, Paris Hilton and the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Bruins.
O’Connor started in the restaurant industry washing dishes at Mulcahy's Bar and Nightclub on Long Island at 16 years old; by 18, he was picking up bartender shifts. A year later, he made his way to Boston, where he quickly landed a coveted management job at Gaslight, an upbeat brasserie in the trendy South End.
When Big Night Entertainment Group offered O’Connor the opportunity to head the bar at SHRINE, he jumped at the opportunity; from there, the group put him in charge of the bars at all of its establishments. The position allows O’Connor to join forces with award-winning Chef Kevin Long; together, the two create unique food and drink pairings, using only the freshest seasonal ingredients and high-end liquors.
O’Connor also draws inspiration for his campy-themed cocktails from Big Night’s diverse locales: the Pan Asian-themed Shrine and Red Lantern; over-the-top Vegas-style High Rollers Luxury Lanes & Lounge; the hard rock Mexican flavor of Scorpion Bar; and the sultry, club-land vibe of the Estate. His Shrine specialties, for example, include: “The Emperor Cosmo” (Gekkeikan sake, Absolut Mandarin, citrus and cranberry) and the “Blushing Geisha” (Grey Goose La Poire, St. Germain, grapefruit and cranberry).
Red Lantern, BNEG’s newest establishment, is situated in O’Connor’s old neighborhood, the South End, where he first made a name for himself at Gaslight, one of the most renowned restaurants in Boston at the time. At Red Lantern, his unusual drink concoctions — such as the Grass-Fed Mule (lemon grass-infused Grey Goose Citron, fresh lime and ginger beer), the Wasabi Mary (Grey Goose and Red Lantern’s special Wasabi Mary Mix) and the delicious desert-like Fortune Cookie (Ciroc Coconut, Kahlua, Frangelico and milk) — have patrons begging for more specialty beverages.
And his menu of classic-inspired signature cocktails and fruity, elegant martinis at High Rollers, along with his extensive, thoughtfully chosen list of wines and imported beers, have made this swanky bar the perfect destination to watch the big game, shoot some billiards or bowl with friends.
His willingness to try anything and his fun-loving personality has led to his creation of three different 60-ounce Scorpion Bar Bowls, designed to quench the thirst of four. These bowls are unique to the Scorpion Bar, where customers can order the famous “Classico Margarita” or choose from more than 100 pure agave tequilas.
In addition to his mastery of premier mixology, O’Connor is uniquely valuable to Big Night, in that he fulfills an extremely demanding role for the expanding entertainment group; as head bartender of five very different venues spanning from Boston to Southern Connecticut, he spends much of his time on the road, lavishing individual attention on his loyal customers and bar staff. Motivated by his dedication to serving patrons and his desire to maintain a strong connection with all of his bars, O’Connor logs hundreds of miles on the odometer every week. But the freedom he has to create amazing, swanky and fun cocktails make this challenging position well worth the drive time for the talented cocktail guru.