The Drinks We Sip When No One’s Looking

The guilty pleasures that beverage directors, bartenders, and retailers enjoy behind closed doors

Scroll through Instagram and it’s easy to be envious of the bottles your peers in the industry are drinking. While in theory, industry professionals can drink handsomely every day, sometimes it’s the simplest—or most cringe-inducing—drinks they enjoy the most. Here, beverage directors, bartenders, and retailers divulge their guilty pleasures—and what’s not making it into their social media feeds.

1. Brooke Sabel, Director of Wine, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, New Jersey

Brooke Sabel.

Guilty Pleasure: Champagne for Breakfast

Champagne for breakfast sounds like the ultimate indulgence, but for Sabel, it’s just as routine as a cup of coffee. The ritual was inspired by her grandmother, who had one cocktail every day with lunch. When Sabel asked her why she enjoyed the cocktail at lunch, her grandmother explained that she was celebrating waking up that morning, the fact that she was surrounded by people who loved her, and that she led a great life. “She looked at me and said, ‘You just need to celebrate yourself more often,’” says Sabel. “So when I make breakfast in the morning, I pour myself a quarter glass of Champagne to toast to her” and celebrate life.

2. Pete Vasconcellos, The Penrose, Manhattan

Pete Vasconcellos.

Guilty Pleasure: Cosmopolitans

“When I was young I could only handle drinks that tasted like candy,” says Vasconcellos. The beginning of his bar career coincided with the stratospheric popularity of the Cosmopolitan in the late ’90s. “They were on every cheesy suburban cocktail menu, and no one made them right. If the drink was pink, in a martini glass, and had vodka, it was a Cosmopolitan,” he says. “A bartender I worked with used to load them up with cranberry juice and sour mix. It tasted like a Sweet Tart.” Vasconcellos still has a thing for well-made Cosmos. Nowadays he goes for a more refined version, served on the rocks and made with real lime juice. “Substitute gin,” he says, “and it’s even better.”

3. Brittany Dolinar, Bartender, Putnam’s Pub, Brooklyn

Brittany Dolinar.

Guilty Pleasure: Amaretto Sours

When a customer orders an amaretto sour, Dolinar automatically thinks, “Underage,” which is exactly what she was when she started drinking the syrupy-sweet concoction. At a family wedding, her Uncle Carlo told her, “It’s pretty much just sugar.” She recalls him egging her on: “‘It’s fine,’ he said. ‘Drink up!’” She admits that she still enjoys amaretto sours. They’re easy drinking, she points out, and for her they’re associated with plenty of nostalgia. In fact, she often mixes a batch when she’s back home in Ohio with her large Italian family. “Although,” she says, “I add a bit of whiskey to it now.”

4. Debbie Zachareas, Owner and Partner, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant, San Francisco

Debbie Zachareas.

Guilty Pleasure: Anything by winemaker Emmanuel Reynaud

A retailer’s inventory is often a curated mix of workhorse wines and the owner’s personal taste, but sometimes it’s really, really hard to part with new deliveries of passion items. “We get a healthy allocation of the Château des Tours Vin de Pays—four cases of various vintages—and a nice smattering of everything else,” says Zachareas, “so I love to buy some for myself. The wine is like a baby Château Rayas at a fraction of the price. It is absolutely one of the most powerfully elegant wines I know.” Although she says there’s still never enough in her cellar, she does occasionally open selections from her personal collection for winemakers and aficionados.

5. Erik Segelbaum, Corporate Beverage Director, Starr Restaurants, and Ryann Deering, Sales Manager, Taub Family Selections-Esprit du Vin, Philadelphia

Erik Segelbaum and Ryann Deering.

Guilty Pleasure: La Croix Soda Water

When enjoying a romantic evening at home, Segelbaum and Deering often open … cans of La Croix soda water. Segelbaum, who credits Deering for his La Croix obsession, calls it guilty because it’s a “hipster drink.” Says Segelbaum, “I’m allergic to hipsters, but [hipsters and I] do share this one love.” While some might consider this calorie-free sipper to be rather virtuous for something deemed a “guilty pleasure,” Deering, who previously worked as the head bartender at Proof Restaurant in Washington, D.C., explains that she uses it in what she and Segelbaum have dubbed their “house cocktail”: La Croix mixed with gin (or pisco or rum) and lime. “It’s even better with a splash of Chartreuse Elixir Végétal [added] to any of those combos,” says Segelbaum. “This [evokes] more guilt, as that Elixir is not available in the U.S., and I feel guilty every time I deplete my stash.”


Sign up for our award-winning newsletter

Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.

Shana Clarke is a wine, sake, and travel writer, and the author of 150 Vineyards You Need To Visit Before You Die. Her work has appeared in Saveur, Fortune, NPR, Wine Enthusiast, and Hemispheres. She was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer 2020 International Wine Writers’ Awards and ranked one of the “Top 20 U.S. Wine Writers That Wineries Can Work With” by Beverage Trade Network in 2021. She holds a Level 3 Advanced Certificate from Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Sake Sommelier. She will always say yes to a glass of Champagne. Learn more at and follow her @shanaspeakswine.

Most Recent