They say a man never forgets his first time, and that’s certainly true for me. The place was Toronto, the year 1980-something. A fresh-faced reporter not long out of graduate school, I had just sat down at The Library Bar for an interview with a hot-shot investment banker when the waitress came over for our drink orders. The banker asked for a martini and I, wanting to look worldly and sophisticated, ordered the same.
In those days, martinis at The Library Bar were made stirred, not shaken, and generously served in glass pitchers. My martini arrived arctic-cold with no discernible taste save for its slight hint of dryness. It burned soooooo good. I felt like a grown up.
I’ve lived in New York for two decades now and in all that time – and despite the city’s reputation for having the best of everything – I have yet to find a place that serves one that rivals the mastery and flair of The Library Bar. Gotham is sadly lacking on the quality bartender front. You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than randomly finding a bartender who knows how, or will take the time, to serve a properly dry martini. Even some of the best and most expensive restaurants employ rank amateurs.
Fortunately, there are some notable exceptions. And one of them is Abdul Tabini, a longtime bartender at The Odeon who is beloved by Tribeca locals not only for his significant mixology talents, but also for his warmth, charm, and unbridled discretion. I suspect James Bond, a character known for his impeccable taste for the best of everything, particularly his martinis, would be most appreciative of Tabini’s handiwork with a bottle of gin or vodka, a few olives, and a splash of vermouth (although Bond would no doubt disapprove that Tabini also believes a good martini is stirred, not shaken).
The Odeon is, of course, the landmark New York restaurant that flashes in the opening credits of “Saturday Night Live” and was featured on the cover of Jay McInerney’s novel “Bright Lights, Big City.” From the day it opened nearly 30 years ago, the restaurant has always managed to attract a trendy crowd of artists and bold-faced names without making mere mortals like me feel somehow out of our element. Despite its impressive pedigree, The Odeon lacks pretension, which I suspect is one reason for its continued success. For at least the last 14 years, martini-master Tabini was another.
In the mid-nineties, 22-year-old Tabini left his native Morocco for the States with no more than a few dollars in his pocket and a handful of English phrases in his vocabulary. He quickly found work at The Odeon as a barback (essentially a bartender’s assistant), where he thrived. He kept his eyes and ears open, quickly learning both the language and the art of bartending. Tabini was promoted to bartender within eight months; I am proud to be counted among his first customers.
To describe Tabini as being a bartender would be tantamount to describing Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg as mere film directors. He does not simply pour drinks by rote following recipes long-ago locked in his head. There is exceptional art and pride to what he does, approaching each empty glass much like a sculptor must approach an unmolded piece of clay – as an opportunity to create a uniquely wonderful “wow” moment.
In addition to his sheer flair for making a great drink, I also very much admire Tabini’s inimitable warmth. He has a remarkable memory for details and always seems genuinely interested in how things are going for me and my friends, especially “Chuck” who was one of the regulars many years ago before work obligations took him out of the neighborhood. Tabini also is incredibly discreet: I’ve yet to hear him say anything about anybody to anyone. Whatever happens in front of Tabini stays with Tabini. The guy is a real class act.
This Saturday night will be Tabini’s last shift at The Odeon, a day that the regulars have looked toward with mixed emotions. While we hate to see him abandon his cocktail shaker and swizzle sticks and wave goodbye, he leaves to start Ward III, a 46-seat restaurant and bar he’s opening with two former colleagues around the corner at the site formerly occupied by QDT at 111 Reade Street.
Although Tabini’s myriad regulars earnestly pledge they will frequent his new joint, many also admit they will miss seeing him at The Odeon. “He’s like family,” confided Tommy, a local producer and director. “It’s devastating,” chimed his friend Patricia (before reminding me again to be sure to mention in this blog post that he makes the best martinis).
It takes real guts to leave a secure job to open a restaurant at the best of times, and even more so in the midst of a major economic downturn. Tabini says he isn’t afraid. “You can’t give up just because it’s a bad economy,” he says. “We believe in ourselves.”
Having enjoyed his company and his drinks for the last innumerable years, I must say I believe in them, too.
Tomorrow we drink to your continued success, Abdul. Bottoms up!
26 Comments for this entry
EleniJune 6th, 2009 on 6:45 am
I wholeheartedly agree. Abdul has always shown utmost respect for his work, cocktails and guests. It is an incredible art to master such skills as diplomacy, courtesy, speed, time synchronization, the skills of an MC- all at the same time having a watchful eye, making sure everyone is alright serving up perfectly balanced and his own original cocktails. There is so much more to say about Abdul. Running a bar with a big diverse crowd may seem fun but it is not always easy. Your eyes and ears have to be everywhere and his are. But somehow, Abdul always knows when and how to handle all situations with authority while his discreet poise does not call attention. Leaving this note with the fact that- no matter what as a bartender you have to have something. And Abdul has a rich personality that couples with old world character values. There is not enough to say and any room for being articulate before a cup of coffee is out the window.
M. JackJune 6th, 2009 on 7:44 am
Abdul Tabini is an institution in his own right; Odeon will not be the same without him. Looking forward to watching him launch his own venture.
AlJune 7th, 2009 on 2:25 am
He is a great person and bartender. He always make ur night special and uniqe with his amazing specialities.I can’t wait to go to his new place for an amazing time ,drinks and for his great personality.I hope I can able to find a seat in his new place.I’m sure his fanatics will be there for him and I will be there too.
June 7th, 2009 on 3:08 pm
The man, the legend, it is an end of an era at the odeon. I look forward to many years of inspiration and sucess with my friend and fellow traveler at ward3.Abdul I wish you all the sucess and happiness that life has to offer. Your friend , Kenneth .
VillJune 7th, 2009 on 5:37 pm
The most amazing bartender I be ever met..he gave me a lot of quality time to me and my girlfriend.I m so happy to read this article about him and for his new place.I will definitly be his custumer again in his place
YusufJune 7th, 2009 on 5:47 pm
Great article about him .he is not just the exelent bartender..he is more than friend & family to me..I’m sure his succes will be continue in his new place
AliJune 7th, 2009 on 5:55 pm
Abdul is the bartender who show me the magic part of bartending and that is not only making drinks..there is more of a art..goodluck to him and I will enjoy wonderful drinks @ward3
MicaelaJune 7th, 2009 on 7:04 pm
Abdul is what all bar tenders should aspire to. He is an ear to those who need to talk, a friend to the friendly or friendless, and a teacher to the curious. The Odeon will lose a true original.
hulya olffJune 7th, 2009 on 7:17 pm
I have been to Odean a few times and when ‘Abdul’ is bartending he makes the expireience so enjoyable. I never have to wait for my drink, he’s. Very attentive and a excellent bartender. He’s a extremely good bartender, by far one of the best in town…….
ManonJune 7th, 2009 on 7:54 pm
As my first memories go back 14 years, my then two year old son Marlon had a huge need to take over the management of the Odeon, and the bar.
Abdul who just started his Journey to success welcomed him with great warmth.
The two class entertainers looked like partners in crime behind the bar.
Ever since, I am a regular at the Odeon, and great fan and good friend of the master of bartending.
Being the child of manager of The Bleu Note in Amsterdam in the 60ties, I admire to find the art of true passion, descretion, chivalrousness and alchemie in Abdul.
As we all know, a rare find!
To have followed Abdul’s path, I am delighted and proud to see him follow his dreams and opening his own bar/restaurant.
I wish him and his partners the best of luck and without doubt a tremendous success to juice up Tribeca!!
DaveJune 7th, 2009 on 9:49 pm
You I bartender with abdul and that kid is amaZing. You say wHat ingredients u like and he’ll make u an amazing cocktal!
TommyJune 7th, 2009 on 11:28 pm
John Belushi cooking up a hamburger in the kitchen…pretty neat. The 80′s…crazy. “Bright Lights, Big City”…good book. Abdul Tabini behind the bar…remember that? Another great story added to Odeon’s mystic. He will be sadly missed but happily found just two blocks away.
June 8th, 2009 on 5:04 am
throughout the many life changes i’ve had over the last 10 years — break-ups & make-ups; new job & no job; pregnant & now single mom; etc, etc. — it’s nice to know that there has been this one “constant” that has seen me through most of it — abdul and his giving & ever-present energy! his presence at the odeon will be greatly missed! and so, i look forward to another 10 years of life changes, and sharing with the iconic abdul, at his new place, Ward III!
Ryan M.June 8th, 2009 on 9:35 am
I have been coming to the Odeon since I was a child…Abdul has been there the entire time. I hugged Abdul Saturday night with mixed emotions. Yes, I said hug. It’s part of what makes Odeon so special. Abdul worked as a bartender at Odeon, but was also a very good friend to many he served. While everyone is sad to see him leave, I think all of Abdul’s fans are excited for his next chapter to begin. Good luck to you Abdul in your new adventure. Nobody deserves it more than you old friend. Cheers!
Ben GonzalezJune 8th, 2009 on 10:10 am
Abdul will really be missed. He’s been a great friend and confidant. Always smiling and always able to make everyone feel special. He’s a great guy, a legendary bartendar, and one cool dude. I look forward to seeing you at your new place!
SarahJune 8th, 2009 on 4:10 pm
Abdul is a wonderful and dear man and a mainstay of the neighborhood as well as a fabulous bartender in every way. All best wishes to him and his partners on the new venture, and fortunately he’ll still be nearby.
Conor McCoyJune 8th, 2009 on 5:40 pm
Great article, I do not know the man yet but hope to be served many amazing drinks by him and his fellow partners at Ward III.
talliJune 8th, 2009 on 5:55 pm
I’ve only recently started getting my booze from Abdul and have been delighted to discover a real bartender. Eric, your description of him as a man of integrity, discretion and impeccable taste is right on.
While I’m sad that the Odeon’s drinks will no longer be enhanced by Abdul’s skills, I’m delighted he will remain in the neighborhood to ply his trade. Count me as one of his dedicated followers to Ward III!
CheekyJune 9th, 2009 on 4:42 am
Abdul is a true artist behind the bar. When you see him work you know he loves what he does. We’re all excited about Ward III — I personally can’t wait to see what happens when three of Tribeca’s favorite, most skilled bartenders are working together in one very cool venue!
KathleenJune 9th, 2009 on 5:39 am
Good things on the way for sure. Congrats to Abdul and the Ward III venture.
danielleJune 9th, 2009 on 1:09 pm
All of Tribeca is abuzz waiting for to opening!! Congratulations, it’s going to be amazing.
June 10th, 2009 on 6:12 pm
Abdul is a class act and all around fantastic human being! I look forward to being a part of the launch of his next great thing! Ward III is already a success because he is part of it! Cheers!
deniseJune 10th, 2009 on 7:57 pm
I can not wait! It’s so exciting!!!!
DanJune 11th, 2009 on 12:47 pm
Abdul. Congratulations on your embarking on a new adventure. Rather than bemoan the demise of the Odeon’s institution, we will celebrate the birth of a new one at Ward III. So, let’s raise a toast to a huge success for you and your partners and hope that your fan club follows you down the street. I know I’ll be there asking for my vodka martini, extra olives please.
Looking forward to your grand opening. – DPW
jenJune 13th, 2009 on 12:10 pm
Perfect. Bravo. Congrats. A success well deserved.
meriemJune 15th, 2009 on 5:38 am
hi abdul, m very hapy for you