Joel David Lisco, the Wine Director and Bar Manager at Bin 14 (1314 Washington Street), is a classy individual at a classy establishment. The rare “classy” edition of the “Ask Your Bartender,” I opted to trade my most of my dive-oriented questions for some Q&A about wine. In turn, there was plenty to learn about how an upscale establishment chooses the wines it serves. However, I was even more impressed by Joel’s answer about what he likes most about bartending.
For those who haven’t yet checked out Bin 14, it offers over 75 wines by the glass. Beyond the wine—and its list of original cocktails—there is a full dining menu that includes salads, bruschetta options, pizzas, and traditional entrees. Tuesdays also offer up an All-You-Can-Eat Mussel Night option. For more info on Bin 14, click on over to www.bin14.com.
hMAG: I understand that you grew up all over place, being from a military family. How did you wind up in New Jersey?
Joel David Liscio: My mother is one of 13 brothers and sisters: six boys and six girls. One of her brothers passed away while we were living in North Carolina and many years before that, her father died while we were in Hawaii. Her side of the family is from New Haven, Connecticut. Most of her family lives in and around that area. She regretted not being closer to home. It had been seven years since we lived in Connecticut and that was only for about two years. Outside of those two years, she hadn’t lived at home since she enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1979
So, my uncle, Chef Paul Liscio, was having success in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey with his restaurant, La Casa Bianca. He knew she wanted to get closer to home and he needed someone to manage his restaurant. He wanted it to be a family affair, so he hired her to manage and I started bussing tables. We moved to Whitehouse Station in the summer of 1998.
H: Having lived all over, including Hawaii, what does Hoboken offer that other places do not?
J: Hoboken is the type of place that makes you feel like you’re in the city, but with a hometown feel. Whenever I end up driving through Hoboken, I come across something that I didn’t even knew existed. Parks, restaurants, specialty shops, art galleries. I live in the middle of nowhere and you have to drive everywhere. Here you just walk out the front door and everything is at your fingertips. It has a very cosmopolitan feel and yet everybody knows everybody.
H: Do you remember the first bar in Hoboken that you ever visited?
J: The Whiskey Bar. I met some friends there to see a band, [Sublime tribute] Badfish. That was back in 2003. I love dive bars and this place definitely fit the bill.
H: When did you realize that you had a taste for wine versus beer or spirits?
J: I was working for the Harvest Restaurant Group and I had to learn wine. I had just left Macaroni Grill and wasn’t very knowledgeable. It was a big jump from fast casual to casual/fine dining. They demand that you know wine and you actually had to take a test. Your score determined your position and your position determined your cut of the pooled tips. So you either learn and make more, or don’t and make less. So I jumped head first and learned as much as I could. I started tasting as much as I could. Just taking it all in. One night I bought and opened a nice red from Spain. It was unreal. All the subtle nuances and the power behind the fruit and tannin just took over my palate. It was like I wasn’t in control of my senses. Beer and spirits have a special place in my heart, but I’ll remember a wine long after I’ve had it.
H: What is the best cheap bottle of wine you’ve ever had?
J: That’s a hard one. I would have to say the Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir. It’s Gamay from Michigan. Mind…blown! Good luck trying to find it. Very small production.I can’t even get it.
H: How do you usually find out about new wines? A particular magazine or media outlet, or is it more word of mouth?
J: New wines usually come to me through my wine reps. They tend to be just as passionate as I am and will not hesitate to spread the word, even if it’s not a wine they represent. Bin 14 regulars and friends in the industry like to reach out as well. I try to stay away from most media outlets because the best bottles usually aren’t mainstream.
H: What do you enjoy most about bartending?
J: You get to interact with people on a different level than if you wait tables. It’s a different type of interaction as well. A lot of bar guests come in alone. They also tend to speak to people next to them. The bar is a mini community, where tables are more for intimate interaction. You can also get a better sense of what guests want and you can cater to them more efficiently. I love to get people excited about a new wine or cocktail. It’s harder to do when you are on the floor.
H: Does bartending in a wine-friendly establishment present any challenges that bartending elsewhere may not?
J: Guests love to talk to people who have a working knowledge of wine. So when you have a number of people who want to have those conversations, you can’t always get to everyone. You don’t want to leave anyone out while servicing the bar. Unfortunately, there are times we get very busy and you just can’t accommodate everyone who wants to have that conversation.
H: How would you describe Bin 14 to someone who has never been there before?
J: Bin 14 is that place that has that special something. You feel right at home with food and beverages that everyone can relate to, but then we take you out of your comfort zone and add some unexpected twists. The best part about it is you won’t go through it alone. The staff will guide you through our menus and make you feel confident in your choices. It’s a venue for tasting and sharing with a community of new and old friends.
H: What is your favorite item on the menu?
J: Wine-wise, I’m in love with the Copertino, Negroamaro blend. It’s a funky, dirty wine with just enough fruit to smooth it out. Food-wise, the Old School Nduja Pizza on gluten-free crust. They pair great together.
H: Do you have any special events or promotions coming up at Bin 14?
J: We have wine tastings nine months out of the year. July, August and December are our off-months. We have a theme and we pair six wines with three courses. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The first tasting this year we had Andre Mack from Mouton Noir. He was absolutely amazing. There was standing room-only. He is a Master Sommelier and worked at Per Se. It’s a lot of fun and we bring in wines you probably can’t get or wouldn’t see otherwise. We also have All-You-Can-Eat Mussel Night every Tuesday. I’m behind the bar with Paul, my partner in crime, and we have a lot of fun with it.
H: Being part of a hospitality group, does Bin 14 have anything in common with its sister restaurants?
J: The same great food and commitment to service. I would definitely say that you know you are in a Pino Hospitality restaurant as soon as you walk through the front door. You just feel at home.
H: Is there a particular song that you never want to hear again while bartending?
J: “Hotel California” — not much of an Eagles fan. The song gets old real fast. It’s even worse when it’s the live version. We get it, it’s a lovely place.
H: Beyond Bin 14, is there a bar in town that you enjoy?
J: I go to different bars for different things. I go to Stingray [Lounge] for the cocktails, The Madison for the food and the staff, Carpe [Diem] for the wings and Las Olas for their Dark and Stormy’s.
H: Finally, Joel, any last words for the kids?
J: Truth be told, I didn’t think I would be where I am. I came from very humble beginnings. Me working at Bin 14 was a happy coincidence. Many who know me knew it was a dream of mine to work here ever since I was invited, not long after I started my journey with the wine industry. I’ve made a lot of friends along the way and I intend to make more. Come on down to Bin 14, pull up a seat and dream the impossible dream. I did and now I get to live it with you. Peace be the journey!