Words by Alana Samoles with Photos Provided by Sekend Sun
Since Jay Zimmerman was five years old, he’s been aware of the comfort of a great beer—whenever Jay went to his local doctor’s house for a shot, the physician would give him a sip of beer before sticking him with the needle. He “loved it.” It was also probably more fun than the numbing spray and band aid other kids typically get. Now, as co-owner of Astoria’s Sekend Sun bar, Jay (along with his partner Derek Vernon) he’s sharing this unique, warming relationship with beer with the neighborhood.
It sounds strange but at his first job, which was dragging clay tennis courts at a country club in Virginia (a job not usually associated with bars and restaurants), Jay Zimmerman started to experience the gratification of offering hospitality to people—or working to make people happy who sometimes didn’t even notice he was there. That’s something he hasn’t lost over the years. He has, however, refined his training in the business of pleasing since graduating from the Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management school at the University of Delaware and working various bar and hotel management jobs in New York City and Miami. But, while Derek Vernon has a similarly impressive resume in the industry, ranging from owning a successful Lower East Side bar for the past seven years to managing restaurants and bars from Boston to New York City, the pair seems to pride themselves instead on their ability to “be good and nice to everyone.”
This prioritization of “taking care” of “everyone that walks in the door” hasn’t escaped bar-goers, either and has actually made Vernon and Zimmerman’s joint ventures, including their first bar Ba’sik in Williamsburg, local favorites. These bars are essentially a countermovement against the modern trend of apathetic, passive servers and bartenders that populate New York City—the kind that rolls their eyes whenever anyone orders a vodka cranberry, as if to say the only time that drink is acceptable is in a dorm room, out of a dirty, plastic cup. But Vernon and Zimmerman believe people deserve to be served in “their own way,” unique to their own tastes and without a side of snark.
In fact, while the menu of Sekend Sun has six different craft cocktails to choose from, many visitors are known to opt for a craft beer. And that’s the point. Vernon describes his and Zimmerman’s bars as “a living room for people outside of their apartments,” and that means some nights having a classy drink like the Me & Her with Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye and other times lounging around with a bottle of Lone Star. But they’re not trying to “reinvent the bar.” Rather, they’re only “bringing it back to what it used to be: a welcoming place with good service and food.”
They also don’t look to reinvent neighborhoods—again countering the modern norm of bars and restaurants rapidly moving into formerly low-key parts of Manhattan’s boroughs with high drink prices and mandatory stilettos. Instead they strive to be “a local in a neighborhood as it comes into its own” and “contribute positively to a neighborhood.” But that’s not to say they don’t also pay attention to a neighborhoods history while joining it as it cycles forward. While Zimmerman describes their drink, the Black Baby Grand (an Jameson Irish whiskey cocktail with orange blossom water and barrel aged angostura bitters) as “the perfect drink to sip as a pianist while slowly pulling music from the piano’s keys,” it is also homage to the Steinway family, who constructed some of the world’s most renowned pianos right from Astoria
New York City has always been known, since its foundation, as a place persistently evolving and overturning the old. But, an aspect that has endured through every era is the constant oscillation of people, from across the country to across oceans. With that, the importance of a friendly, reassuring place for neighborhood residents, new and old, to gather, has never faded. Derrek Vernon and Jay Zimmerman only hope to become one of the lasting favorites.