Passing the Bar Exam
When pondering where to have a drink one has many choices: sports bars, pick up bars, meat market bars, sophisticated cocktail lounges, late night bars, happy hour bars, beach bars, ski bars – the number of variants is impressive. For this exploration we’re turning our attention to the quintessential classic cocktail bar. We’ll visit the rules of engagement we feel are important to know and understand when conducting one’s self in a dignified manner. We’re talking about establishments where the professionals behind that gleaming serving surface take a professional approach while transforming patient spirits into that most splendid of civilized enjoyments – a properly prepared cocktail.
The term “cocktail” was coined from the visual similarity of the often-colorful alloys of alcohol-infused liquids that, when shaken, whirled or stirred, often replicate the chatoyant display of a cock’s tail. Ironically, it’s not these colorful concoctions that a gentleman should waste his time on. A gentleman knows the secret to ordering a fine drink lies in subtleties not flamboyance.
Like most things in life a satisfying experience is collaborative. It’s important to remember that you, as patron, have responsibilities that are equally as important as the lady or fellow formulating your order. That’s a good place to begin – you, well-informed reader, should know what you want. When the bartender inquires, “What would you like?” It’s not hollow rhetoric. It’s your cue to articulate your desire. You should know. And it shouldn’t involve miniature umbrellas, dry ice pebbles, pineapple slices or anything served with a sippy straw. A gentleman should have a signature drink. He should know its proper preparation and monitor how the tender of the bar translates the order. That’s so if it arrives improperly prepared he’ll know and not be the ignorant fellow who paid for their mistake. This writer was once served a vodka martini – up – with a twist – the first sip confirmed the newbie bartender had very carefully prepared it with the finest tequila in stock. When the bartender returned to inquire how he’d done he was politely informed of his error. Any establishment worth its bitters will toss their mistake and do it correctly – on the house.
If you don’t have a signature drink then set to the task of finding one. Perhaps your elders can offer guidance. Patriarchs often influence their scions. Either continue the tradition or strike off on your own. Keep it simple. A proper gentleman’s drink doesn’t involve frothing, fizzing, cream, sugar crystals on a stick, a blender or other cloaking devices. A gentleman’s drink orbits the basics – premium vodkas, reliable bourbons, aged whiskeys, single malt scotch, premium gin, and small-batch tequilas. The rest of those cleverly named entries on the bar’s impressive cocktail list are for tourists, the ladies, or both.
The term “well” refers to the establishment’s standard fare – the brand they’ll pour if you don’t specify. Be advised that the well brand is usually a choice of economy not quality. You truly do get what you pay for so learn which brands you drink and avoid never-heard-of-it labels. Women like it when a man knows what he wants. You should intuit what she likes to drink – it may not be what you’d enjoy but you really should know. If you don’t then for chrissake don’t presume. If she invites your opinion then reply with useful, informed suggestions. The Cosmopolitan still enjoys popularity. It’s a variant of a vodka martini popularized by HBO’s circa late ’90s feminist series, Sex and the City. Women modeled what Carrie and her friends drank. Carrie’s crew drank Cosmos. They drink Cosmos. It’s important that she enjoys what you’ll be paying for. Many women prefer wine to eighty proof so it’s useful to have cursory wine knowledge. If in doubt don’t pretend to know. Be pragmatic and ask the professional.
If you’re alone select not the middle stool or any other combination that selfishly denies couples a proximity pairing. If you find you’re snookering a stool then rise and graciously offer to move down one stop. They’ll thank you for your thoughtfulness. If you’re with a lady offer assistance seating her then help her find that often-elusive under-bar hook designed to hold her purse.
If it’s crowded two-deep at the bar remain patient. Establish eye contact with the bartender and use her/his name if possible. Don’t bark at them. Mentally prepare your order including your brand preference. Speak clearly. Confirm that you’ve been understood. If it’s happy hour then all bets are off and you deserve the compromised level of service. TIP: happy hour is to be avoided if you’re motive is to impress your companion. It screams “cheapskate”. Good liquor is expensive. The experience shouldn’t be about saving four dollars.
The raison d’être for going out instead of drinking in is the opportunity for social intercourse. Savor your drink as you engage in conversation with your partner or chat up the person Fate has placed beside you. Silence your phone. Be in the moment. It’s not a speed contest. Enjoy the subtle bite of the whisky, the cool brace of the vodka, the warm burn of the premium tequila or the single malt’s whisper of peat and smoke. If you’re a Scotch man ask the bartender if he has a favorite. It’s OK to sample variant brands of the same variety. Many bars take great pride in procuring obscure brands so go with the flow and give it a go. They’ll usually offer a complimentary sip so indulge your self.
Know when to curtail the experience. Prosecutors call it over serving. Don’t be the boor who doesn’t know when enough is enough. Bartenders hate having to inform their clients that they’ve had too much. This isn’t about getting wasted. That’s a waste of good hooch.
If you made the invitation – you pay. Even if you’re with a hard-core feminist politely insist that you pay. If your tab hasn’t already arrived lay your cash or card on where it can be seen. Now is not the time to tip light. Twenty percent – minimum. If paying with cash settle accounts with tens and twenties – not singles.
If you’re on your home turf it’s wise to frequent the same place or a few select venues. They’ll get to know you. Once you’re acknowledged as a regular you’ll enjoy dignified preferential treatment to reward you for your allegiance. They’ll learn your preference. It’ll become your bar.