April 25th, 2008

On coasters

On coastersBy Scott N. Howe

In these times of global unrest and economic anxiety, I’ll admit that my concern over what is the proper platform on which to set my $10 cocktail is frivolous at best. Still, I continue to be plagued by the fact that, in the finest bars across our fair city, my drinks are consistently placed on flimsy paper napkins that quickly become wet and stick to the bottom of my glass, creating a moist mess that deeply dampens my enthusiasm for the entire cocktail experience.

At beer joints, this problem does not exist. Those places have stacks of sturdy cardboard coasters at the ready. After you take your seat and place your order, an attentive bar guy or gal will deal out coasters like a Vegas pit boss. Shortly thereafter, your frothy mug or frosty glass is plunked atop one of these colorful, practical discs and — no muss, no fuss — the bon temps can roulez.

In a cocktail establishment, the process is, of course, more refined and more involved. A drinks list is studied, the mixologist on duty is, perhaps, consulted to offer a recommendation or clarify a question on ingredients, history or flavor profile. Then, when the decision has been rendered, the magical matters of mixing, muddling, shaking and stirring commence, resulting in a custom creation that is carefully poured in the appropriate vessel and placed ever so delicately on (wait for it) a thin white paper napkin.

Look, I understand where our city’s serious bartenders are coming from. If I just spent 10 minutes crafting a drink based on an 1890 recipe found in an obscure pamphlet I discovered at a Paris flea market — a recipe that, after much experimentation, I had altered to incorporate a drop of liqueur made by Austrian monks from tulip stems and a dash of my own secret stash of homemade bitters — I would not want to serve said drink on a cardboard coaster trumpeting the “2008 Coors Light Spring Break Ultimate Swag Giveaway.” I get it.

Still, can’t we come up with a compromise? Sturdier napkins, perhaps? Custom doilies bearing, subtly, the logo of some high-end liquor company?

Let’s work on this problem, people. Once we settle the coaster conundrum, we can take a look at this global warming thing.

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9 Responses to “On coasters”

  1. Mark

    Until the cocktail napkin revolution arrives, a good dash of salt on the cheap paper napkin will ameliorate (somewhat) the problem of the glass clinging to it and therefore avoiding that moist mess.

  2. Mod Betty

    trolling the internets it looks like custom coasters can be printed on the cheap- why not suggest to your resto/bar owners to purchase some? They’d make good souvenirs or conversation starters too, better than the free ones from beer distributors!

  3. ljclark

    Thanks, Mark. On humid summer days, even the sturdier coaster needs a dash of salt. MIT recently developed an undetectable, waterproof nano-coating for paper and fabrics. Let’s dip our napkins in that.

  4. Robert Heugel

    Just my opinion here, but a good bartender should be making sure that that problem does not occur. I am always switching out my bar guests’ napkins to keep them from getting too moist. At the very least, I always refill water and change napkins if needed at the same time.

    Also, sometimes, the napkins aren’t to blame; it is the glass. Glasses with smooth bases stick to glasses, while those with bumpy bases will not stick to the napkins. So, choosing a better glass for the bar initially can be helpful as well. That’s just a couple of issues I thought were relevant. Great post and topic by the way.

  5. pinky gonzales

    THANK YOU, Mr. Howe, for bringing great light to this subject! Frivolous not really, when one spends a lot of time at bars dining and drinking, like most of us here. Paper napkins are served in many of the bars I like to frequent and I don’t hold it against them. But I couldn’t agree more that napkins can really crap-up an otherwise pleasant drinking experience. And probably no one REALLY likes nursing their “vodka/cran” with sweaty, shreddy paper molded to it, or conversely stuck to the bottom like a playing card. Maybe some drinkers never spill a drop (my husband – at least not his first drink) or their glass never sweats. My thought is that coasters are ok (i like the custom/souvenir idea), and while napkins do come in handy, they mostly suck. Plus, all that bright paper scattered across a beautiful bar sometimes looks tacky.

    Call me crazy but I advocate nothing- i.e., no ‘bev naps’ scattered about; just the lovely wooden (zinc, marble, etc.) birthday suit the bar came in. And nearby, a stack of decent naps, so if i need one i can take one. Maybe a stack of non-swaggy coasters, too. Allow me to rant/share:

    I was once forced to use a napkin (could have been coaster, who cares) at Bukowski’s in Cambridge several yrs ago, a bar which annoyed me anyway because it was so loud. The bartender came over twice and put my drink back on one, saying something snotty about how it was their policy! (In fairness, a recent return there proved just the opposite.) Another bar once implied it was impolite of me not to use one, for they would then have to clean up after messy old me and it would furthermore leave ‘marks’ on the bar. Hmn.

    I wonder when it became taboo to set your damn drink on the damn wooden bar? I know I’m not the only one who likes the feel of setting a mug of beer or cocktail on the handsome natural surface I sit before. They usually go together like peanut butter & jelly. Maybe I watched too much “Deadwood”, but I think the sound of an empty shot glass on raw wood sounds pretty nice – who agrees? Bar towels hung underneath the bar on the patrons’ side was pretty novel, too. What’s so wrong with letting your bar get a bit well-loved and weathered-looking anyway? Have some soul? I might inadvertently damage my liver, but I’m certainly not interested in ruining anyone’s bar top, especially my friends’! But for now I’ll continue to take the bev nap and shush. I’ll keep it nearby though, just in case.

  6. ljclark

    Pure, clear-headed, liver-hardened poetry, PInky. Thanks.

  7. Adam

    I’m not sure that the micro-coating is a good idea; isn’t the whole idea to soak up some of the moisture? What we need, IMO, are very thick, highly absorbent coasters, coated with moisture-reactive inks. The inks would make it so that the very act of picking up and putting back down your drink would create cool psychedelic patterns that you can ponder in the elevated state of mind that only a $10+ cocktail gets you to…

  8. guest responder

    confucius sez:

    heed wisdom of guest blogger scotthowe

    bevnaps don’t cut it

  9. dave

    1. just drink shots
    2. just drink red wine
    3. double walled glasses (http://www.amazon.com/Strong-Double-Old-Fashioned-Whiskey-Glasses/dp/B000M1AGV0)
    4. keep the ambient temperature of the bar cooler than the drinks (just don’t lick anything metal)
    5. rip out that old dark wood bar and try some absorbent sandstone (http://www.thirstystone.com/)
    6. have another drink and quite bitching

    I work at a little bistro, we print our menu daily, the old menus get cut up into coasters, they are not absorbent, tend to fly away in the wind and are all but worthless after about half a cocktail, but they maintain the vision of trying to produce less waste. How many trees do we need for the perfect cocktail experience?

    Trees, make the bar top out of them, age my cognac in them, but I don’t need them as a plinth for a twenty minute indulgence.

    On the other hand I am a big fan of drinking and being totally convinced of one’s ability to change the world, some good ideas may come of it, and inevitably one of my friends will act on one of those ideas while sober. So let the war rage on.

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