Return of the Well-Poured Cocktail


Wouldn't this look better with even just a sliver of lemon rind?

It would seem easy enough, right? 2-3 parts of anything mixed together over ice, yet, so many fail, and charge so much for it.  Hard to screw up a Rum & Coke right?  But if you are using too much rum, too much coke, too much ice and/or a cola that is not coke and something from the fountain that tastes funky, you have a really lame cocktail you paid a premium price for at a restaurant which is more than what you would have paid for one of its appetizers, soups or salads.   Cocktails and beverages are only a compliment to whatever you are eating (and yes you should always be eating if you are drinking, its just common sense).  So, how is this so easy to screw up so often?

I don’t want to rant on this too much.  So let me say my peace (or piece?), but many years ago I was reading a restaurant trade magazine and they advertised an ice cube machine that produced flatter ice cubes that stacked higher, flatter and more together so it took up about 33% more in the glass when half full, claiming this would increase profits by a third because the restaurant or bar would have to dispense less mixer or alcohol.  Well, the truth be known, the energy it takes to make all this ice these days would certainly cost more than a couple of extra ounces of soda.  The spirits, I am not sure, but I did learn years ago that because of taxes/laws, bars pay nearly the same price for a bottle of gin, scotch or vodka as we do in the retail store.  So, if you order a Vodka Tonic, they can’t just charge you $1 more for Stoli, they have to charge a significant amount more because now they are paying $22 per bottle opposed to $11 for the “no-name” brand.  We can argue the base price of a cocktail being $7, but if you want a premium spirit, I can understand it being $11.

The only redeeming factor of not ordering a cocktail with a premium top-shelf spirit, is the fact that its retro.  For example, I am still curious as to why Del Posto serves a Negroni with Plymouth Gin, yet charge $15 per cocktail.  Part of me wants to believe because its the purists like Batali that believe the cocktail should be served with the original spirit the cocktail was invented with and should taste the same, and on the other hand, the restauranteur like Joe Bastianich wants to turn a reasonable profit to stay in business.  Either way, don’t expect to get a well-poured or crafted cocktail in top restaurants for anything less.

If you want a dirty hand grabbing some ice from a stainless sink, throwing it into a glass, a loose pour and a squirt of soda from the fountain, then go to the many authentic and old school Irish pubs in any city (they are still around, and nothing wrong with that). Sometimes you need a good stiff drink, and other times, you just want a great cocktail to savor and enjoy.

So if you really want a margarita, even if you go into a place like Chili’s, you are not going to get it.  Even if you ask for no sweet and sour mix, only pure, fresh lime, the bartender either won’t know how to make it, or will try to charge you more, or, just not know how to make it even if you give them instruction.  Here is when you are just better off ordering bottled beer, or something straight from the bottle “neat” or over very little ice.  I will never forget the time I went to a franchise/chain, whatever it was, and I asked for a cocktail with no ice.  No, not because I wanted more alcohol or “drink” but because at the time I had a condition and my throat was especially sensitive to ice.  The “bartender” brought me back a drink not quite half but certainly less than 75% full and when I questioned what happened to the rest of it he said “I am only allowed to pour a certain amount for each drink”.  Sure, that $1 you save for one in every 100 customers really saved your bottom line, I am sure.

Everything has boiled down to money so much that the bartender of today has to take food orders, wait on tables, bartend and couldn’t make a proper dry martini if his or her life depended on it.  I remember “the old days” where food was free, there were serving trays of chicken wings, rice, beans, and were all served “free” at happy hour.  In fact, when all of us from the office went out on a Friday night to happy hour, we got our own table and our own hors d’ouvres served to us so we would not have to fight over the buffet because the owner and  manager knew we would make up for the food 10 times over in alcohol and might even end up staying for dinner, and ordering yet more wine, beer and cocktails.  Its no joke that we often left there after 10-11pm.  Today, you are lucky to find some nuts on the bar if you are having a beer or cocktail.

So, today its no wonder why the well-poured cocktail is making a big comeback.  A place that uses the right ratio of ice, fresh mixers and not too little or too much spirits to make a perfect cocktail.  It might be a few bucks more, but its legitimate when its given the same care as the food itself.  Who serves a Negroni without a wedge of orange or at least the rind?  Just a think straw that a bartender used his dirty hand to stir with is my only garnish? I can’t even sip from it?  No napkin? No coaster?  Am I being picky? YES!  I paid $7 or more, its a cocktail (derived from the term “fancy” when drinks were actually served with the feathers of a beautiful bird). If I want something else, I will just go to the pub down the street and pay less.

Why all this? Because my next post is going to be the best cocktails I’ve ever had, and this was the preface to the next blog… stay tuned…


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