Dive Bar Jukebox with Conor Johns & Benny Ogando
"A smile relieves a heart that grieves. Remember what I said."
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Welcome back to Dive Bar Jukebox, where every Friday bartenders, writers, chefs, musicians, and a host of dynamic people answer the question: If we were hanging out together at a bar and I put ten credits on the jukebox, what songs would you punch in and why? The answers reveal thoughts on their favorite dive bars along with a hand-picked, annotated 10-song playlist for your weekend listening pleasure.
Please welcome today’s special guests…
Conor Johns & Benny Ogando
According to Resy, Red Hook Tavern was my most-visited bar in 2022. Even though I usually sneak in as a walk-in, Resy has a way of keeping up with your business, and it tracks as Long Island Bar isn’t on Resy. I love so much about Red Hook Tavern (the wonderful team, when Billy is posting up at his back corner table, talking wine with Rebecca, that Tavern Burger, those Country Ham Croquettes, Bun’s PEI Mussels and ‘nduja sausage in a spicy tomato broth with charred sourdough, Ryan’s Tricolor Cookies). But I’m especially fond of Head Bartender Conor Johns and his associate behind the stick, bartender Benny Ogando, from their generous hospitality to the excellent drinks they’re shaking and stirring up (especially the Caffè Amaro Tini).
I’m thrilled to have Conor and Benny in the mix for Dive Bar Jukebox, and the fellas deliver with some excellent bar stories and an eclectic double-album playlist situation that, when combined, comes together like Voltron landing all over the dial—from hip-hop, disco and soul to country, classics, and Yacht Rock—to deliver a weekend playlist that will definitely put you in a mood.
Hailing from Pass Christian, Mississippi, Conor Johns has been working in bars and restaurants since college and joined the opening team of Red Hook Tavern in 2019 where he oversees the bar program. His first job when he moved to New York in 2009 was at Rosie O'Grady's, the historic saloon on 52nd Street and Seventh Avenue, and over the years managed Siggy’s Good Food, an organic cafe in Brooklyn Heights; helped open The Cecil in Harlem along with the reopening of Minton’s Playhouse; tended bar at Rider, where he was a Star Chefs nominee; and at Maison Premiere’s sister bar, Sauvage.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Benny Ogando’s “ridiculous journey we call life” began at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which led him to a summer working at the United States Embassy in Paraguay where he would help coordinate dinner parties for visiting generals and diplomats. “That’s where I fell in love with food and beverage as a medium of entertainment, happiness, and community building,” says Ogando. Back in New York in 2019 he was part of the opening team at Red Hook Tavern as a host (aka “curator of vibes”). (I first met Benny one snowy night in Brooklyn when he turned me and David Lebovitz away at the door—rightfully so as we didn’t have a reservation—though he did find room for us at the bar).
“In order to provide the best experience possible I wanted to learn every aspect of the restaurant business and Red Hook Tavern allowed me the opportunity to learn more about food, wine, and the steps of service but I needed to leave in order to figure out my own voice and style,” says Ogando. He left for a bit and ended up at Air’s Champagne Parlor and Tokyo Record Bar in the Village where he continued to master his art of personalized, professional, but always fun, service. “My thirst for knowledge and a mentor led me back to Red Hook Tavern to join the bar team and work under the tutelage of my main man Conor,” says Ogando. “So here we are now… just a couple of me boys trying to get activated.”
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