The Playhouse/Swillburger has a lot going on. Located on the border of Rochester’s Swillburg and South Wedge neighborhoods, the sprawling barcade is housed in an old Baptist church building. Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of both vintage and newer arcade games ranging from Ms. Pac Man to Big Buck Hunter to (everyone’s favorite drinking hazard) Skee-Ball. Many similar game-heavy establishments would be content to serve up domestic beer bottles and watery highballs to their screen-captive guests–but not here at The Playhouse. While the adjoining burger joint, Swillburger, serves drool-inducing sandwiches to the masses, The Playhouse boasts an inventive-yet-accessible cocktail menu and an equally impressive craft beer list. Bottom line: it’s nearly impossible not to have fun here.
This is in part thanks to Abiose Spriggs, The Playhouse’s bar manager, whose infectious laugh, ease with guests, and delicious, cheekily-named cocktails make chilling at the bar just as fun as any game in the building. We recently chatted with Abiose about cutting his industry teeth by washing dishes, his favorite bar book, and his longstanding love of amaro. He also shared the recipes for two super-tasty Belle Isle concoctions–Hipster’s Delite and Swipe Right? And yes, there is an emphasis on the question mark.
First thing’s first, who are you?
My name is Abiose Spriggs, and I’m the bar manager and a bartender here at The Playhouse.
How long have you been bartending?
I’ve been bartending about three and a half years. Maybe more like four. I kind of lose count sometimes.
What first got you behind the bar?
I started working at The Owl House, which is a sister restaurant to this bar. I was in the kitchen there first, and they lost a bartender. They were like, “Is anybody interested in doing this?” And I was like, “Yeah, I want to try something different.” I was used to washing dishes and expediting food, so it was a total 180 for me.
Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?
Read a lot of books. That’s how I got most of my knowledge starting out. Also, just go to your favorite local cocktail bar and watching the bartenders.
Do you have a favorite bar book?
My first one was the Death and Co. bar book. I thought that one was pretty informative and pivotal to the building of my bar knowledge.
What’s your favorite drink made by someone else?
I like to stick to the classics. I usually do like a rye Old Fashioned or something else that’s whiskey-forward.
Favorite drink that you make?
My go-to is the Old Pal. It’s another rye whiskey cocktail that’s a variation of a Negroni–so rye, Campari, and dry vermouth with a lemon twist.
Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
Genny Light, but I drink that when people are looking, too.
If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Any amaro. My first real amaro love was Cynar, and I still have a love affair with it.
What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?
Definitely the staff I work with. Everyone’s amazing, everyone’s hands-on and definitely invested. Plus, it’s just a fun bar. You never get to see bartenders truly have fun like I feel that we have fun here. I mean, we work at an arcade.
Where do you like to stop in for a drink?
My favorite watering hole would probably be Caverly’s. It’s an Irish bar not too far away from here–just a little hole in the wall. I actually really don’t drink cocktails when I’m not working. I’m just a beer and a shot kind of guy.
What make Rochester's food & drink scene unique?
As far as the drinking scene, you have to give a big shoutout to RCR [Rochester Cocktail Revival] and what it’s done for Rochester and the cocktail community here. I’m pretty sure it’s the only [weeklong] cocktail convention in New York state–but don’t quote me on that [ed. note: he’s right!]. Those who are into the scene here find their bars and their bartenders. It’s great.
Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.
Hospitality’s pretty important to me, in terms of customer service and making sure the guest feels comfortable, and that they’re happy and enjoying themselves. It’s harder to do on the weekends when it’s super busy, but when you find the time to make the experience unique for someone, it feels good.
What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?
I like to use the Cold Brew Coffee moonshine in White Russians. Or just that with our Cold Brew is pretty darn good.
¾ oz. Aperol
¾ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin over ice. Shake vigorously and double-strain into a chilled coupe glass.
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Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.
We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.
Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.
From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.
Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.