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You Don’t Get It, You’re Not That Cool, Now Leave My Bar

Submitted by on July 4, 2011 – 10:19 pmOne Comment


 

 

The craft cocktail world has been under assault of late. Its detractors have been busy grabbing online territory taking umbrage to a slew of its characteristics ranging from accusations of trying to hard to that of extreme pretense at the expense of service. These complaints are often nothing more than a whine about perspective. The new so-called mixology bars offend them because they do not represent their view of what a bar should be. They do not like new cocktail menus, house made ingredients or service staff genuinely interested in sharing the knowledge of a true craft cocktail. With little effort their rants can be reduced to an orgy of pre-adolescent-like self importance defined by the silliness of the other, which, in this case, is us. The real truth, as truth often is, is painfully simple. They don’t get it and should just find a new bar and get over it.

Photo174 300x225 You Dont Get It, Youre Not That Cool, Now Leave My Bar

Part of the house cocktail menu at Clyde Common

Like with anything else, all bars are not for all people. This seems easily understood in the context of restaurants. Any reasonable person would agree that a countless number of restaurants exist sharing a myriad of cuisines at various price points and levels of creativity and culinary exploration. Yet, when a bar, either in a restaurant or free standing, employs the same level of discovery in the creation of a house cocktail menu these folks become offended. Drinks should be one way, they argue, which can be define as whatever way they want it.

 

In the article Deming Against Mixology, author Sarah Deming finds great offense when she is qualified on ordering a Manhattan.

““Rocks or up?”
“Up, please.”
“Perfect or sweet?”
“Um…perfect, I guess.”
“Shaken or stirred?”
“Stirred?” Good answer! It’s considered terribly un-Mixologically Correct to shake a Manhattan.
“Angostura bitters or housemade miso bitters?”
“Angostura.”
“Cherry or twist?”
“Twist?” Correct again! This particular mixologist has authored a series of scathing blog posts denouncing the cherry garnish.
“Rye or bourbon?”
“Uh…”
It’s not your fault. You are tired and thirsty and from up close that beard is really scary. You say something disastrously un-MC.
“I’ll take Maker’s Mark.”
A wave of relaxation spreads over the mixologist’s face. He strokes his ascot with a little smile. “We don’t carry industrial liquor here.”
“Industrial?”
“Any brand that has a production of over a thousand cases a year.”
“Oh.”
“In addition, most educated drinkers agree rye whiskey gives more complexity to the finished cocktail than bourbon. Since you’re obviously a little new to all this, let’s start you off with a Kentucky rye that’s been aged in Madeira cask and contains thirty percent corn…”

I have no doubt that this type of interaction happens daily and can be frustrating to some. Upon seeing it laid out in this fashion, I too find it silly and with high level geek factor. However, this is just a case of someone who knows how to make something well while making sure their guest gets the best drink possible. Most of us would think nothing of a waiter who suggests a wine appropriate to the entree or helping someone navigate the dinner menu.

Earlier in her piece, Ms. Deming implores bartenders to just “shut up and pour.” She orders a Manhattan and wants you to just bring her a Manhattan regardless that there may be many possible variables to make one. Those of us on this side of the cocktail fence know that a couple of well placed questions will lead to her having a Manhattan she is truly pleased with. She, on the other hand, is just annoyed.

While it is true that service staff can be better trained to handle guests such as Ms. Deming, it is also true that she just doesn’t get it. Bartenders who make homemade ingredients and are interested in exploring what is possible in a cocktail menu are, to a fault, some of the most giving and sharing people you may ever meet. They believe in the ethic of service and find actual satisfaction in creating something that is enjoyed by a patient and appreciative patron. Of course, there are exceptions, but in my experience they are rare.

In my experience people like this just want to say “beer,” slap money on the bar and have a beer present itself.   They are those who are conditioned to believe that any form of discussion from service personnel are a not so subtle attempt at add on sales or a prelude to some sort of localized attempt at marketing such as a buy ten get one free loyalty card. Their defense against such shameless acts is to treat all service personnel as faceless automatons tasked with quietly and invisibly serving their every need. In my experience, these are the people who also push to the front of every line, toss their $1.25 at the barista for their morning coffee and comprise the single biggest contingent of abysmal tippers the world has come to know.

In the latest attack on mixology’s good name, the site americanscholar.org prints Looking For Mr. Goodbar by author William Deresiewicz. He has many problems with the craft cocktail scene. Having just moved to Portland, Oregon two years ago, Mr. Deresewicz is appalled at the proliferation of custom house cocktail menus throughout the Rose City.

“It’s all just way too clever: too self-conscious, too “creative,” and too damn cute. But there are also two more problems with these drinks. They’re too sweet, and they’re too weak. In other words, they suck.”

Mr. Deresiewicz continues by pointing out, erroneously, that the great classic drinks were developed in the 1920′s and 1950′s as an antidote for the rigors of male work and daily responsibility and were thus fairly stiff.

“It’s the ’20s, or the ’50s. A man in a business suit (let’s call him Don Draper, just to pick a name at random) gets through with a stressful day at the office and heads for a cool, dark establishment in the heart of the city to meet a glamorous woman for drinks. She’s had a stressful day herself. (Being glamorous is hard work, too.) They want something strong–they need to take the edge off–and they want something dry–they’re adults. They also want something simple and predictable. Classic, in other words. They don’t want to have to study the menu and choose among a dozen different things they’ve never seen before. They want a martini, or a gimlet, or a whiskey sour.”

There is so much that is blatantly incorrect here that I am almost not sure where to start. Judging by the rest of the brief piece it is clear that Mr. Deresiewicz is being playful. However, his glimpse into the cocktail past is both factually incorrect and insulting. While I enjoy his not at all racially and socio-economically offensive yarn I also enjoy that he specifically calls out the time frame (1920′s and/or 1950′s) as a time when stiff and dry drinks were created as an antidote for tough times while going on to list three cocktails whose histories all date back to at least 1863. I know, only a cocktail geek would find that funny.

Mr. Deresiewicz surmises that these cocktails were simple and stiff to take the edge off of a day lived in New York. Portland, his home of the last two years, is much more laid back and has no “edge” to take off.

“The typical Portlander hasn’t spent the day at the office in a business suit, he’s been sitting in a coffee house in a pair of shorts, working on his website. They’re all kids here, and they should stick with what they know: beer.”

Okay, I did enjoy both of those lines. Has this man been in a cocktail bar in New York or Chicago in the last five years? He appears to not realize that for every one such bar in Portland, Oregon, there are five or more in New York. While it is true that a strong creative and DIY culture exists in Portland these days, the bars of the Rose City are participating in a larger world-wide trend in cocktails. Bartenders today, like the best chefs of the 1980′s and since, are reconsidering nearly every aspect of what they do and are bringing more creativity and skill to that exploration.

Let us also take a closer look at one of those statements again.

“They also want something simple and predictable. Classic, in other words. They don’t want to have to study the menu and choose among a dozen different things they’ve never seen before”

Again, the restaurant analogy is an apt one. Unless one is visiting a burger joint when do you hear someone complain about having to look at a menu? He also seems to forget or is unaware that any place with a custom house cocktail menu is more than likely capable of delivering a quality Martini, Gimlet or Whiskey Sour. If what you want is something simple, predictable and classic then you should not look at the house cocktail menu and just order it. Even if you did look at a house cocktail menu knowing that you have already decided to order a Manhattan, why would that be met with such offense?

Another gaze at Mr. Deresiewicz’s short four paragraph piece highlights another interesting trend among the attacks on mixology. In his piece, as with others such as Ms. Deming’s, lay a bit of the slightly older taking a swipe at the somewhat younger. Notice these selected statements:

“They also want something simple and predictable. Classic, in other words,”

They’re all kids here, and they should stick with what they know: beer,” and finally,

“But here’s the really frightening thing: they’re all kids everywhere. Brooklyn, Berkeley, it doesn’t matter. Now it’s all twentysomething hipsters who try to sell you drinks with names like For Esme or The Violent Bear, then hover over your table nattering on about locally sourced ingredients and how they “craft” their own “tinctures” and “infusions.” Craft this, boychik. Just bring me a whiskey.” (okay, that’s funny).

Statements such as these are common in the online rants against mixology. This is a clear case of those in their 30′s or beyond looking back with disdain at a select group of those in their 20′s. The cool of this group of today’s 20 somethings is being mocked by today’s 30 somethings as totally non-cool. As a member of today’s 40 somethings I find this all quite entertaining.

I find the rants against the so called hipsters fall into the same class. Surely, since the first grade we have been socialized to mock those different than us. It becomes an art form in high school as we make fun of each other based on our taste in music or our hair or our clothes or our friends. It is a lazy part of our humanity wherein we define what is cool and deride others who march to a distinctly different drummer.

As a society, we tend to always deride anyone who is an enthusiast of anything beyond what we assume is a sensible level. We first made fun of kids who collected stamps or old men who erected model railroads and it has extended to nearly anyone who has a hobby that others define as not cool.  The beautiful lesson of age is that we all have our own nascent geekery and it is truly better to embrace your own while not judging others for theirs.

That aside, dude, you are only in your thirties. Now is not the time to become the annoyed old man on the block angry at the kids for playing stick ball. If what you want from a bar is a whiskey then order it. You do not even have to gaze upon the house cocktail menu if it offends you. It should not, but there is an easy work around. Just order what you want. Yes, we in the cocktail cognoscenti will mock you when you get order a Jamesen with a Coors chaser while we drink Michter’s, a Rittenhouse 18 year or a Balvenie Single Cask. But at least we will do it quietly and behind your back like civilized people.

Yes, a fair gaze into the world of mixology and the bars and restaurants that claim residence there is to recognize that there is a fair amount of pretense. There are theme bars who take the themes a bit too far and with too much zealousness. There are, unfortunately, places with an unearned air of haughty exclusivity resulting in disinterested service. There are also places who devise house cocktail menus that are just okay. However, these failings, and many others, are true of nearly every endeavor and are not an indictment on the lot.

At the risk of oversimplification, I wish to restate a most obvious truth, all is not for everyone. All restaurants do not appeal to all tastes. All movies are not enjoyed by all cinema goers. All whiskeys are not loved by all whiskey lovers. Yet, there exists a rather vocal virtual contingent of drinkers who are not only not impressed by the ever growing constituency of craft cocktail bars but are, in fact, down right offended by them. Their range of their ire is broad. While they bemoan the continued spread of house cocktail menus into non-theme and even non-bar establishments, they forget our previously expressed fundamental truth. All bars are not for everyone. Whatever your apprehension for disliking a bar, the bottom line is simple: this place is not for you and you don’t get it. You may now depart feeling safe in your annoyed snobbish superiority. That just frees up more space for me and mine to feel safe in our annoyed snobbish superiority. Can someone please pass the house cocktail menu?

 


 

article clipper You Dont Get It, Youre Not That Cool, Now Leave My Bar
 

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One Comment »

  • finmagik says:

    I don’t own a bar, or tend a bar. But I do love the craft cocktail movement. It has inspired my dabbling into DIY mixology at home. I love getting obscure liqueurs online. Many of generation don’t get this. They drink to get ‘wasted’ I drink because I like the taste and the combinations of flavors I can get from a cocktail. I love making syrups. So far bitters are beyond my ken. My dream is to go Drink in Boston. This says what I’ve been saying and thinking for so long. I do not get the detractors AT all.

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