Archive for September, 2010
September 25th, 2010
It’s a pretty good list. That is, GQ magazine’s first attempt at choosing, in ranked order, The 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America. Let’s get out of the way the fact that, like any “best of” list, this one has provoked some gripes. No Teardrop Lounge (Portland), no Vessel (Seattle), no Milk & Honey (New York)?
And don’t get Bostonians started. Ranking “evolved music venue” the Whistler in Chicago above our city’s Drink, an actual cocktail bar? And what’s with back-handed compliments like, in the Drink writeup: “Don’t cringe when the bartenders … ask for your ‘flavor profile.’ They mean no harm” (this notion that Drink’s bartenders behave like New Age therapists has got to die); and referring to Eastern Standard as “(perhaps unintentionally) the most elegant sports bar in the country”? Ouch.
But wait. Maybe Eastern Standard really is the most elegant sports bar in the country. That’s part of what makes it great. And GQ chose the ZigZag Cafe in Seattle as the number-one cocktail bar in the land. Is anyone going to quibble with that? Let’s congratulate both Drink and Eastern Standard for making the list and also raise a glass to GQ for promoting to a mass audience the idea that “every city in this country deserves a bar that cares deeply about the craft of the cocktail.”
» Bartenders on the move… We applaud and lament the departure of Superman Sam Treadway from the 21st-best cocktail bar in America (see above). The poor thing left Drink for a job offer to open three new hotel bars in Hawaii… Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, who left Craigie on Main early this year, will soon open the Island Creek Oyster Bar as general manager in the Kenmore Square space that used to house Great Bay… Meanwhile, a few doors down, the talented Bob McCoy is wrapping up his tenure at Eastern Standard to join ICOB as principal bartender. The new restaurant won’t be cocktail-centric, although something tells me you’ll be able to order a top-notch drinky there… Speaking of top-notch drinkies, the talented bar staff at Craigie on Main offers best wishes to their colleague Paul Manzelli, who is leaving to pour libations at the new restaurant Bergamot. This development, along with Greg Rossi’s presence behind the now-full-liquor-licensed bar at Dali, makes the intersection of Beacon and Washington streets in Somerville an unlikely spot for dueling fine-dining barmen… Finally, two of Boston bartending’s big guns, Todd Maul of Clio and journeyman Ben Sandrof, will appear for one night only tomorrow (9/26) at Woodward at AMES ongoing Cocktail Wars.
» Freaky Tiki Fridays II. You might remember that July’s Nips column mentioned a fun new thing called Freaky Tiki Fridays at Think Tank in Kendall Square. Well, the day after the inaugural happy hour, Cambridge experienced the Great Flash Flood of 2010. Think Tank’s sub-basement space was nearly destroyed. Now the joint has re-emerged from the deluge, and Boston’s Emperor of Exotica, Brother Cleve, reports that the weekly after-work shindig with Polynesian-styled cocktails and app specials and “an array retro/futuristic sounds of nu/old school lounge, tiki/exotica, surf, soul and other titty shakers” is back on.
» Bittermens Bitters. Finally, finally, finally, Boston has its own bitters producer. The saga of Bittermens Bitters, which Avery and Janet Glasser started in 2007, has included a long and drawn-out licensing application, an ill-fated partnership with the Bitter Truth, and, finally, today’s status as a legal producer and seller of “non-potable” elixirs — like Xocolatl Mole Bitters, Grapefruit Bitters and Boston Bittahs — beloved by craft cocktail bartenders nationwide. Congrats and best of luck to this local concern. Here’s how to buy Bittermens Bitters.
Tags: Bittermens Bitters, GQ, Think Tank
Posted in Bitters, Booze in the news, Boston bars, Nips | 8 Comments »
September 16th, 2010
Ted Munat blogged this recently: “I love the cocktail industry. It is brimming with creativity and with beautiful and amazing people. The affection people have for what they do, and for the others that do it, is unmatched in any other community on earth I have ever encountered.”
You might view that as mushy hyperbole from a happy drunk if Ted didn’t just publish a book, Left Coast Libations, that makes a solid case for the above statement over 160 pages of bartender profiles, city descriptions and recipes/photos of the splendid mixology that’s happening on the other side of the country. Left Coast Libations is an intelligent, cheeky, utterly heartfelt love letter to “the art of West Coast bartending.”
The book grew out of a pamphlet that Ted and his brother Charles put together and introduced, as I remember it anyway, at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. “One copy fell into the hands of Scott Bodarky, a Bay Area book publisher,” writes Ted on the LCL website, and soon thereafter work on a “real life big boy book” began in partnership with recipe guru Michael Lazar and photographer Jenn Farrington. Here’s a brief excerpt and recipe from the Portland, Oregon section’s writeup of Evan Zimmerman of Laurelhurst Market (which I highly recommend):
“Evan’s a tornado behind the bar. And creative, wild, borderline insane shit flies in every direction from where he stands. For the love of God, the man’s drink in this book calls for smoked ice. Do you have any idea how far gone from reality a person has to be to conceive of smoking ice? I was a teenager once, and I tried smoking just about everything… but never ice.”
1 1/2 oz Tennessee whiskey
1 oz manzanilla sherry
3/4 oz Pecan Syrup
1/2 lemon juice
1 dash The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter bitters
Combine all the ingredients except smoked ice in a shaker with (not smoked) ice. Shake hard. Double-strain over a 2″ by 2″ block of the smoked ice in an Old Fashioned glass.
If you want to know how to make smoked ice and pecan syrup — and you like fun cocktail writing and tasty recipes — you have to buy the book. (Don’t worry, not every recipe in LCL calls for such complicated ingredients).
I don’t know if there will ever be an East Coast Cocktails-or-something-or-other to rival LCL, but, Ted & Co., you have officially fired the first shot. Cheers and congrats to you all.
Tags: California, Left Coast Libations, Oregon, Ted Munat, Washington, West Coast
Posted in Books & resources, Cocktails | 6 Comments »
September 7th, 2010
“I’m thinking of becoming a bartender. Where do I start?” is a question I get asked regularly. It generally comes from people fired up about the rise of craft mixology, the notion of bartending as a “real” career, and the infectious passion and knowledge displayed by many of today’s serious bartenders. People fed up with their day jobs, or just out of college and considering career choices, dream of hoisting a Boston shaker and making the world happy with good drinks and banter like Ted Lange on the Love Boat.
These are all fine reasons to want the job. Oh, the money can be good, too. But unless you own the bar or are very close to the person who does, you’re probably not going to find yourself behind the slab if you don’t have experience. OK, so how do you get there? Here’s some advice that comes from conversations I’ve had with career bartenders. By the way, this isn’t a step-by-step process; it’s a multi-pronged strategy.
You don’t need a license or a bartending-school diploma. There’s no such thing as a bartending license. (However, many bartenders must take the TIPS course on avoiding overserving or serving to minors.) Most bartenders don’t recommend bartending school; very few of the professionals I know have attended one. They say that while it won’t hurt your chances of getting a job, it doesn’t really prepare you for working in a real bar, and that your money and time are better spent on some of the following.
Learn all you can on your own. Get some basic bar equipment, some recommended books (Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology and Dale DeGroff’s Craft of the Cocktail are good places to start) and some booze, watch a few videos by bar/mixology experts, and start mixing drinks at home. (Also, consider taking a short, basic mixology class at the Boston Shaker in Somerville.) This will give you a certain comfort level with pouring, measuring and shaking/stirring. Your friends and neighbors will serve as your first customers.
Take a lot of field trips. Again, this is where your bartending-school money is probably better spent — at actual bars. Go to a top-notch cocktail bar, park yourself on a stool and observe, observe, observe. Watch the bartenders’ drink-making technique, see how they multi-task and interact with guests, notice the types of spirits they use, witness them card or shut off a customer (hopefully not you).
Talk to your bartender. It should go without saying that you only do this during lulls in service. And don’t ask, “How do I do what you do?” Rather, think of specific questions like, “Why do you shake some drinks and stir others?” or “Could you tell me about the bitters you used in my drink?” or “What do you do to prep the bar for a shift?” or “How did you start tending bar?” Note: being a good-tipping regular will greatly facilitate these interactions. See: How to treat a bartender.
Get experience any way, anywhere you can. Even it it’s unpaid at first. Got an acquaintance who works for a catering company or does events where drinks are served? Offer to go along and cut limes, fetch ice, etc. Find a bar that has sleepy daytime shifts and offer to work other positions that need filling in exchange for getting a shot at a bar shift. Put feelers out to all those bartenders you’ve been getting to know as a customer. See if a bar is willing to try you out for a couple of uncompensated bar-back shifts.
Be realistic. The bartenders who are truly adept at what they do have usually been at it for several years. They have the personalities, talent and toughness it takes to stick with a job that demands long hours without a break, is physically and psychically stressful, generally offers no benefits of any kind, and involves the various hazards of late-night shenanigans. You will probably know very quickly whether you are cut out for this. That said, I don’t mean to discourage you. Give it a try. A good bartender is always in demand.
Tags: bartender training, bartending career, bartending school
Posted in Bartenders, Books & resources | 4 Comments »