Cocktail Club

Meet the bartender at Silvertone, the downtown ‘cocktail bar disguised as a dive bar’

We spoke with Oscar Simoza about his first signature cocktail, wearing masks at work, and more.

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When Oscar Simoza left Venezuela about 15 years ago to visit his brother in Boston, he didn’t anticipate what his father was going to tell him: “Make your future in Boston. Stay there.”

So Simoza stayed and found work at Johnny D’s in Somerville. “I’ve been in Boston for what feels like an eternity,” Simoza said.

After a stint in Harvard Square at Beat Hotel, now known as Beat Brew Hall, Simoza landed behind the stick at Silvertone in Downtown Crossing, where he’s been slinging drinks and saving lives — at least one that we know of — for about seven years.

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He credits the people who kept him coming back. 

“I realized that the people I was working with in the industry or the bar people, they were very, very welcoming and encouraging,” he said. When he felt down or homesick, people he came to know at work were there for him. “It felt like [having] a foster family to me, so I stayed.” He became close with regulars, too. “I realized the city was actually taking me in. And by the ‘city’ I mean the people I got to meet through the bar.” 

It may help that Simoza is upbeat, wears a long mustache, and can easily break the ice with strangers with topics like his “nerdy” video game and comic book-inspired tattoos. 

“I’m good with people,” Simoza said. He credits this trait to his dad, who died three years ago after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. “He was pretty much like me, but goofier.” 

Last week, Cocktail Club caught up with Simoza and mixed a whiskey sour and his own riff on the classic, called Mala Vida’s advice. Ahead of the class, we spoke with the local bartender about how his dad became the inspiration behind his first signature cocktail, how gaming became an escape during the pandemic, and why passion fruit brings him back to his childhood in Venezuela. 

Was there a person who got you interested in the industry? 

Jeremy Newcomer [at Johnny D’s]….he was so annoying! The more I learned why he was doing that…I realized that he was teaching me the hard way. He was just religiously teaching me how to be a bartender. Then he was like, ‘We[‘ve] got to go do rounds. Let’s go say hi to people at the Saloon and have a cocktail.’ I was fresh off the plane…I hated him, and he just became one of my best friends — my mentor. The one who gave me the jumpstart to bartending was him. 

Have you always been a gamer? 

My mom was 17 when she had me. She liked to play video games like Nintendo, Super Nintendo. My attachment to a lot of things with my mom is talking about video games. So they hold a dear place to me, but it’s games, right — they’re sometimes mindless, like a hobby — you have a good time with them. But now that video games have become very social, you can play games with people online all the time. It brings me back to playing with my mom — I’m playing with the community, and [I] play with social people. So during this whole pandemic, we’ve been playing a game Destiny 2. That’s an online game, and I’m literally playing with everybody from the Boston industry scene … all these people you know behind bars, they all play the same game. I liked the game before, but in the past year it’s become a total obsession. 

If you were a cocktail, what would you be? 

Maracuyá (passion fruit). We call it parchita in Venezuelan Spanish. It’s just so good. It has all the notes that I love. I grew up with it. The juice is weird. You open the fruit and there’s no juice, just seeds with some goo around it. It can be sweet, it can be tart, it’s bright, [and] it can be light. It’s one of my favorite things to work with. So if I had to drink any cocktail, it would be anything with passion fruit. It’s just like, yes, give me a gallon of that, please!

What has Silvertone been like since reopening? 

It’s been weird. Not weird, but it’s like this: It’s a Friday and it’s going to be busy, right? We run around, let’s set up, and then nothing happens. That’s weird. That’s not normal. On Friday, people go out. Then Wednesday, we’ll be quiet, but then get slammed. Staff are running around sweating. The flow of foot traffic has been really different, especially downtown where a lot of buildings are closed. 

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We’re not a touristy spot — we’re a basement with no views, no windows — what we offer is, you know, a commodity of a cocktail bar disguised as a dive bar. We have the best of both worlds … so we don’t get that foot traffic that often, but we do have the support and the love of the industry.

How has the pandemic impacted your work? 

I wear a nice mask, it covers just fine, but people just get very intimidated by it. I look like Bane from Batman. People don’t get to see me smile … I can see you having a good time I guess, but you cannot see if I’m smiling or being sarcastic or whatever I’m doing. Because the mask just makes me look like a serial killer. But I know. You can’t get around it. Let’s do it until we don’t have to do it. 

How did you create the Mala Vida’s advice cocktail? 

The director of the Gentlemen Jack promo video I did for Culture Shakers [asked], what drink will you make?

It started out just as an idea: passion fruit and whiskey. So the more I thought about passion fruit, I was like oh man, my dad. I lost [him] three years ago. He suffered from Alzheimer’s. It just brought me back to being very young, drinking passion fruit juice by the river and my dad drinking coffee and a panela, which is like a cinnamon bun. 

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I wanted to make something a little different. I added cinnamon syrup … I wanted to make it a little spicy because Gentlemen Jack is very smooth. And they have Jack Fire. I did lemon juice because the cinnamon [whiskey] makes it a little sweet and with the passion fruit, it just pops. With the lemon juice, it’s fantastic. And there’s a couple dashes of [Peychaud’s] bitters just to brighten it up. 

So I make the drink, serve it up, and I need to garnish it with something. I top it off with coffee. I have a caffeine problem — I drink too much caffeine. And I put that on my dad for giving me coffee when I was 12, which is not a thing you should do. 

[When] I knew this was the drink I wanted, I thought, I just made a drink based on my dad. I’m going to be a cliche and name a drink after him. [His] nickname was “Mala Vida” (Bad Life). It was sarcastic. … But it was sarcastic because he was always in a good mood, very goofy — like I’m goofy, but he was beyond goofy. So, Mala Vida. And the advice he gave me was to stay in Boston, “Make your future in Boston. Stay there.” This was the first time I made my own drink.

How can people support you? 

At the end of the day we do have to pay our bills. We do have the support from the city. I’m fine, I have the support, I have a job, and I’m happy where I work. But yes, of course support is always welcome. Venmo: @Oscar-SimozaMiszlai.


Join our next virtual cocktail class

Join us Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. for Boston.com’s Cocktail Club with host Jackson Cannon and his special guest Kyisha Davenport, BarNoirBoston founder, Edible Boston contributing writer, and former bar director at Tanám in Somerville. This week we’ll be making rum and coffee cocktails, catching up about the Boston restaurant and bar scene, and sharing tips the pros use to make great drinks at home. We’ll be mixing a cold-brew cocktail and an upside of down. Everything you need is in the shopping list here.

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