Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why We're Like This

I was in New Orleans a little over a year ago for a cocktail conference. I'd never been before and I was excited as it was one of the few large cities in the contiguous US that I hadn't yet visited. The conference, Tales of the Cocktail, is debaucherous blend of work and play; we drink, listen to people talk about alcohol, take a break to eat, then drink more, listen to people talk about alcohol, then the fun begins when we go out and play... The conference ends up being what I think most people think our careers are like instead of fishing lemons out of floor drains and the end of the night, cleaning up vomit/blood/shit, or banging out hours of prep and studying menus only for people to be pissed that we don't have their brand of vodka/energy drink/mixer du jour, or losing their shit because they can't stand in the aisle and drink not because the bartender is a pretentious asshole but because that's what the boss says are the house rules (sorry). Instead, Tales is/was wild, late nights full of too much alcohol, too many stories, and more that a little bacchanalia. And the best part? It starts again in the morning w/Kahlua sponsored coffee bars and Bloody Mary bars sponsored by some anonymous vodka or another. In short, it is (or was...that's a different post), fun.

The anecdote I want to quickly relate, one that I'm sure if you've heard before if you've either been served by me at the bar or had the misfortune of drinking w/me at another establishment, is my last night in New Orleans. I'd had a wonderful, surreal time for 4 or 5 days, when on the last night I was drinking at one of my favorite bars in the world, Bar Tonique. I'd been there many times and I've been back subsequently and it stands up every time. I was enjoying a couple drinks before catching a red eye back home when I asked the bartender for a quintessential New Orleans cocktail. I explained that I was in town for Tales, that I loved Bar Tonique, and that I would like something to send me off on the right note. Without hesitation, he knew what to make. However, before making it, he went over to the stereo and changed the music to Slayer's Reign in Blood and then proceeded to make me the best Ramos Gin Fizz I've ever had. It was amazing, he was gracious (as has been every bartender there), and it was exactly what I needed to wrap up my experience.* My takeaway was that fancy, obscure, pretentious cocktails do not a bar make. I wanted Bar Tonique in Tacoma more than I ever wanted Zig Zag, Alembic, Sambar, or Bourbon and Branch.** I wanted (and am still wanting) a divey kind of place that I can get a fantastic drink, listen to Fugazi, and play pinball. While we can't be all things to all people (or even really everything I want), I did stop wearing ties (at least for a long time), we did start playing more rock (although Botch is still a bridge too far), and we've tried to be more of a neighborhood bar (which is what we were always trying to do), and we strive to give good service and make everyone comfortable.

This is a really long way to say that if you come in and we're listening to Nas or Fugazi, or if you order and Apothecary Cup and get a BLUE DRINK(!) or something spicy or bitter over a large ice cube, this is where we're coming from. We know we're not the fastest, but we try to say hello, to remember your drink and/or your name, and to treat you well regardless of what you order.***

* What made this even better was that as soon as he starting playing Reign in Blood I bummed cigarette from an attractive, older woman who was talking to me. I hadn't smoked for a long time at that point and I was thoroughly enjoying the cigarette when the drink arrived. As soon as he set it in front of me the thought, persistent and unbidden, c to me that I was going to spill the drink all over the bar. I drank a third of the drink while obsessing about this before accidentally spilling the Ramos Gin Fizz all over the bar. I was embarrassed and apologized profusely, but he never missed a beat in cleaning up the drink and quickly whipping up another, which I enjoyed in its entirety.

** Links aren't working for me tonight. Go to these bars and also Liberty (Capitol Hill, Seattle) because they're awesome and doing it right.

*** It's your money and your drink. If you want your vodka, vermouth, and scotch shaken, or if you want all of the ice chunks in your cocktail glass, I don't give a shit. You're paying for it, so you get it your way. Just don't be an asshole, please.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MxMo: Retro Redemption!

Over a decade ago I was working at Boeing mopping floors, taking out trash, and trying to work as little as possible while avoiding my bosses and co-workers. It was a pretty sweet job as I was paid fairly well, I only had to work about half my shift (while I spent the other half getting caught up on my reading), I had full benefits, and Boeing was paying for school. However, there was also mandatory overtime and I worked nights, which definitely put a cramp on my style (by style, I mean ability to go to punk shows and chase girls). At the time I had a friend who was waiting tables at a shitty chain restaurant and making the same money as me, but working half the time. That was really all it took for me, so I quit Boeing and took the f job waiting tables that I could get with no experience, which was a graveyard shift at Denny's. Suffice it to say, it was awful, and after months of grinding it out working 16 hour shifts, having customers threaten to beat me over brown vs. white gravy, and making pennies (literally bags of them), I was given the option to get off graveyard if I would take over for the bartender who'd just walked off the job. This was in the late nineties, so when Jacob over at Liquidity Preference chose Retro Redemption as this month's Mixology Monday theme, it resonated with the young bartender in me who made too many Alabama Slammers and Alien Urine Samples.

Those of you who've been in the bar know that I don't really stock any of the saccharine sweet, sticky, hypercolor liqueurs that seemed to dominate the back bars of my early bartending jobs. So, here's what we've come up with:

Hilltop Slammer
.5 oz Evan Williams bourbon
.5 oz Pacharan
.5 oz Lazzaroni amaretto
.5 oz Kuchin peach brandy
Splash of oj
Splash of lemon juice

Combine ingredients in shaker over ice, shake, then strain over ice into pint glass. Finish with orange twist.

It actually wasn't too bad. Sweet, orange, and boozy. I definitely won't be having another, however.

Hilltop Iced Tea
.5 oz well vodka
.5 oz well rum
.5 oz well gin
.5 oz lemon juice
splash triple sec
house made cola
.5 oz Lemon Hart 151

Combine the first five ingredients in a shaker over ice. Shake, strain into a pint glass over fresh ice. Add cola. Light the 151 on fire, make an ostentatious show of it by swirling the flame around the glass, then pour over the top of the drink.

Ya, so, this one is kinda tasty and really boozy. It does exactly what it's supposed to do, which is why we have a two drink limit.

Finally, I finished with a Balvenie Doublewood as a palette cleanser because through this entire endeavor I was reading Pacult's Kindred Spirits. He mentioned that the popularization of scotch in the late eighties opened the door for the proliferation of single barrel small batch whiskeys. Regardless, I needed something a little..sturdier. I do this for you guys...