Growing up in Mexico, Junior Merino was only 16 when he arrived in New York in 1993 and began work as a server assistant at the Boulevard Café. He stayed for six years, working his way up to bartender and manager, all the while learning English, working towards his high school diploma, and becoming certified in graphic design.
It was at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse that Merino was first given the opportunity to put together a wine and cocktail list, designing menus that would later be given an award of excellence by Wine Spectator. In his spare time, he invented cocktails and sangria blends for the restaurant and also took courses to be certified by the American Sommelier Association. Over the next six years, Merino studied and passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ exams until finally becoming a Master Sommelier.
When Union Square Hospitality Group opened their restaurants at the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art in 2005, Merino joined the staff Terrace 5, the modern European-style café. A few months later, he transferred to The Modern, overseeing the cocktail menu of the museum’s showpiece restaurant. There the familiar spices, fruits, and vegetables from his Mexican upbringing inspire Merino’s innovative cocktails. Merino draws upon these and other ingredients to mix and matching uncommon flavors, adding an exotic twist to his original cocktails. One of his signature cocktails, Coming Up Roses, was awarded first prize at the International Bar Show’s best cocktail competition. Merino has also made an independent study of chocolate, flowers, tea, coffee, cheese and cigars, hoping to compile a service training manual for front-of-house workers.