Clark Moore, Itinerant Cocktail Magus and Bard, on his River Town Youth
The Poet Barman
It’s hard to describe Clark Moore with a pithy title like General Manager or barman. He’s one of the more original voices on the Westchester restaurant scene, known for wildly complex and delicious cocktails—but he’s also a respected poet and college instructor. He tells wonderful stories.
We’re talking about poetry in the revamped iteration of Chef Alex Sze’s beloved Hastings-on-Hudson restaurant, Juniper. (He parted ways with Juniper soon after this interview.) “Right now, I’m having the exact opposite problem that every other poet in the world has, which is that Poetry Magazine, the premier poetry journal in the world, loves my stuff. I send my poems to a lot of other journals, but they don’t want them at all,” Moore laughs, with some chagrin.
Moore was raised here in Hastings-on-Hudson, a town that, even in the ’90s, nurtured its freaks. “I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t have the environment of Hastings to grow up in. I wasn’t burdened by weird social pressures. You know, I was told that it’s cool to go be an artist and just rock that out.”
He began writing verse when he joined the high school poetry journal. “From where I was standing at the time, that’s where all the cool kids were hanging out. And I wasn’t wrong. I even had a poetry band. We called it the Omaha Beach Poetry Band because someone had a tag sale with metal pins from Omaha Beach—you know, the Battle of Omaha Beach—and they had three of them. I was there with my saxophonist and bassist and we each bought one.”
“Yeah, that was growing up in Hastings for me.”
I’m sorry. Did you just say that you performed spoken word with musical accompaniment in high school and you didn’t get beaten up? “You bet. We wore crazy costumes and makeup and all that stuff. And there were bands with electric guitars, and those were a lot of fun, but we’d get up and do our own thing. And we were really well-received, you know—for a high school poetry band? We played gigs in the city. We were asked by neighboring schools to play their homecomings.” He laughs, “Saying this out loud, because I haven’t thought about this for years, it just sounds bizarre.”
Moore has been around the River Town restaurant scene for years. “Well, I’m 40 now, so that would be 52 years? No, this is my 20th year in the biz.” He continues, “When I was 20, I went and got myself a job. It was the overnight gig at the Executive Diner making waffles and milkshakes for stoned teenagers coming from the movies.”
“What was fun about that gig, though, was that I’d be there—all night long—with the owner’s son. And they had a very small liquor selection. But what I did was, I said, ‘Every week, let me taste one new thing from behind the bar so that I know what it is.’ That’s how I started in the booze business. And this was a diner, a Greek diner, and there was no cocktail program to speak of. But, you know—they had a bottle of Midori back there and I wanted to know what the green thing tasted like.”
Moore worked at several restaurants (the now defunct Brute on 9, Harpers) but credits his time at Blue Hill at Stone Barns for teaching him the highest levels of food and service—which, like the grammar he corrects in his students’ work—you must master before choosing to abandon it. Now, he prefers a much more relaxed style of service. “It’s the same thing David Foster Wallace talks about when he says that if you speak in Shakespearean language on a playground, you’re going to get beaten up. And rightly so. It shows that you’re not adjusting to your environment, and part of what it means to be a well-adjusted adult is to have an appreciation for context.” He continues, “If I’m here at Juniper and I’m trying to organize servers into a synchronized, Ice Capades–style drop, people are going to look at me funny … and rightly so.”
Moore might move from restaurant to restaurant, but you can always spot a Clarktail. Besides names that riff on art or Beat poetry, they often contain far-flung ingredients that’ll stump even a beverage expert. “I’ll be honest: When you hire Old Clark, Old Clark is exactly what you get. I certainly have my brand and way of doing things. Yeah, you can accuse me of being highfalutin, but, you know—at the end of the day, I’m gonna throw in something that’s fun. And if it’s not delicious, there’s no point in doing it.”