I love to try to understand who my bartender is, what they know, and what exactly their attitude is about the cocktails they might make. Playing "Stump The Bartender" is never in good form, but that doesn't mean you can't test them a little bit.
Bartending is a job. It's just a job. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take pride in what you do and how you do it. It also doesn't mean that you can't get excited about your job and really get into it. Any job, and I mean any job, can be approached with that level of personal involvement that turns it into an art form. And wouldn't you rather be an artist, then just a lifeless zombie?
Test #3 : Knowing a good thing when you see it
For the third, and final test that I present a bartender when I want to check their abilities, is to request a drink that I'm pretty sure that they don't know. How they react to this goes a long way in helping me to understand their attitude about their role as a bartender.
I do try to avoid this test when things are too hectic behind the bar, and I also try to check to see that they have all the ingredients necessary before I ask. If there is an ingredient in question, I'll usually ask them if they have that before I request the drink.
Some bartenders will sigh and roll their eyes when I do this. I can just imagine what is going through their mind. "Why can't he just order a simple martini and be done with it". A lot of how they first react to this will depend on what the evening has been like for them so far. How busy they've been, how much of a hassle other customers have been, and whether or not their boss has been riding their tail. So I'm careful not to read too much into this too quickly.
And every once in a while, I get a pleasant surprise here. Sometimes, but not too often, they might actually know the cocktail I order. I remember once ordering a Bijou, and then having the bartender's eyes light up, and then whisk off to make it… I forgot to check their drink menu first. The Bijou was on their list.
The Right Selection
When I choose my "test" drink, I'll often try to select one that appears to be in keeping with the overall clientele of this particular bar. More often then not, I'll use the El Floridita, since it has a pretty wide appeal, and usually catches their attention with its slightly unusual collection of ingredients. There are even a few bars here in Seattle that now suggest this drink on a semi-regular basis to their customers. And while I'll usually select a drink that is old enough to at least have the "chance" of being known, every once in a while I'll request something like a Jasmine, Petit Zinc, or Black Feather just because its what I want to drink at the moment.
Of course, requesting a drink that the bartender doesn't know is in bad form if you don't know the recipe yourself. And here is where the second, and more important, part of this test comes in. I always carry my PocketPC with me, and so I always have my collection of cocktail recipes at the tip of my fingers. When the bartender says that they don't know the recipe I requested, I'll calmly pull out my PocketPC and once I locate the recipe, will hand it over to the bartender. At the same time, I'll usually describe some of the history of the drink, or some aspect that is important to understand in order to make it "just right".
My Pocket Reference
What I'm looking for at this point is some notion of recognition on the part of the bartender, that sitting in front of them is somebody who has more then a passing interest in cocktails. If after serving me three drinks, they haven't picked up on this yet, then one of us isn't doing our job properly. In most cases however, seeing the collection of cocktail recipes on my PocketPC is enough to cause them to re-evaluate the situation if they had been too busy up until that point.
And of course the final stage of this final test, is to see how well they can make a cocktail that they have never seen before. If there is a particularly tricky aspect of the drink, I'll be sure to give them a hint about it first. For example with the El Floridita, I'll be sure to mention that the Crème de Cacao should present just the faintest hint of chocolate in the background. Many bartenders are too used to being slightly heavy handed with this ingredient and so it is easy to put too much.
By this time, if the bartender is meeting my challenge, we will have become "good friends", at least from a customer/server point of view. I can settle back and enjoy my final drink, and we can swap stories, compare notes on various cocktail recipes and spirits, and when I finally settle up my bill, I'm sure to leave them a good tip.
|Yes, you too can carry around your own pocket reference of cocktails. If you have a PocketPC, Palm Pilot, or one of the new "Web Enabled" cellular phones, you can access a special "mobile" version of my site at http://drinkboy.com/mobile .