Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Never trust a skinny tie

Been back on Long Island for about a month now, and have come to the deeply frustrating conclusion that there are no good bars within a half-hour of my parents' house. Despite this, I decided to go bar hopping with a friend of mine from high school in Port Jefferson on Saturday--I figured a nice area like Port Jeff must have at least one or two joints with a decent selection of something.

I'm not going to name the bar I'm about to complain about, because I don't want to be one of those bitchy Yelp people, and when all's said and done, I got what I ordered, and didn't pay nearly what I should have for it. But my experience there really... funny? disappointing? Another excuse for me to write about alcohol?

Disclaimer: This is a bar snob post. I am going to sound very pretentious. I'm particularly judgmental of sub-par bartending because it's a dream of mine to pour someday, so it irritates me when I see others do it worse than I think I could. I didn't tip the guy badly, if it makes you feel any better.

It was around 9:45pm on a Saturday night when we walked in. The place seemed like your typical not-quite-sports-bar: heavily lacquered wood framed by television screens and bar stools; nothing very distinctive.

My friend and I grab a seat at the bar, and I get up to see what they've got-- given the decor my expectations weren't very high, and I don't mind a simple bar, but sometimes places can surprise you. First thing I notice: about fifteen different flavored vodkas (and we're talking Smirnoff Raspberry Twist, here, not a respectable Van Gogh); not very encouraging. Then I see a bunch of whiskeys I don't recognize and quickly realize it's because they're all Irish (sorry, Jameson fans). Beyond that it's all your typical stuff. I'm trying to decide whether I want to settle for a Jack and (diet) coke or the bland IPA they've got on tap when two things catch my eye: on a lower shelf, cloaked in shadow, sit bottles of Pernod and St Germain. My standards for this bar immediately go up-- no one would carry stock they don't know how to serve, right?

It's pretty crowded so there are three guys behind the bar: two of them are dressed casually in ill-fitting polos and shorts, but the third was wearing a dress shirt, skinny tie, and proper trousers-- he's the one who took our orders. "Awesome," I thought, "we got the guy who knows what he's doing."

My friend orders a beer and I ask for a Pernod rocks. The beer he gets right away, but he spends about two-and-a-half minutes scanning the shelves trying to find the Pernod (I thought it'd be pretty obnoxious for me to point it out to him). When he finally finds it, he grabs a rocks glass, shovels in some crushed ice, and then completely fills it with Pernod-- way more than I was expecting to get, and not how I imagine it's typically served, but what the hell, I wasn't about to complain about that, and I wasn't really expecting proper ice at that kind of bar.

Normally when bar-hopping I like to switch after one drink, but I couldn't leave before having something with the St Germain.

"Could I have a gin and tonic with St Germain?"
"You want a single or a double?"
"Uh... double, sure."
"What kind of gin do you want, rack?"

And that's when I knew this guy had no idea what St Germain was. Personally, if I'd been tending and someone asked for that, I'd probably suggest a couple of our top brands, but certainly wouldn't assume they wanted the absolute worst thing we carried. For those unfamiliar with bar lingo, "well" or "rack" booze is the default you'll get served if you don't specify a preference, and usually means the stuff that's too cheap to display; they're often literally kept beneath the bar, hence the names.
St Germain and the kind of gin one one ought actually mix it with.
St Germain is a relatively expensive, high quality (notoriously delicious) liqueur, so a patron ordering that probably doesn't want to ruin it with a crap base liquor. They're also probably looking for some balance in their cocktail, so while I'm an alcoholic and will never shy away from a double, it was a pretty strange question to ask, especially because I'm a relatively petite young woman, and he'd just given me heaven-only-knows how many shots of Pernod (although maybe once he saw how I knocked that back he made some [correct] assumptions).

Still, because I am awkward as hell and didn't want to waste his time while I mulled over my gin options, I agreed to the rack gin. I also kind of figured it couldn't have been that bad. Hoo boy.

He grabs one of the mason jars they serve their beers and mixed drinks in (a cute touch, I'll grant), scoops in some ice, pulls a bottle of gin I have never before seen in my life from beneath the bar, pours in about two-and-a-half shots, and just about tops it off with tonic. Then he stares dumbly at the shelves behind him again for about two minutes before giving up and going into the back to find someone who actually does know where the St Germain is (again I was too awkward to just point it out for him). For all I know he didn't even know what it looked like. He pours maybe 3/4 oz on the top, squeezes a lime wedge over it, shoves it on the rim, throws in a bendy straw, and without giving it so much as a swish pushes it across the bar to me.

A lot of that I could forgive given the nature of the bar, but between not stirring it even once and the straw I sincerely had to keep my mouth from gaping. Who puts a straw in any kind of high ball? And what kind of bartender is in such a rush they can't stir a damn drink, especially when he's making it directly in front of the patron? I also found the lime distracting given the elderflower, but some folks will take a lime with their St Germain g&ts, so I can't really complain about that.

The rack gin was so flavorless that it let the elderflower really take the lead, which I didn't mind at all, so it did work out, but for goodness sake, bar owners: don't stock shit your staff doesn't understand.

He only charged me $8 for each of the drinks, which is actually a phenomenal deal, all things considered-- I don't know whether he was being nice or really had no idea what he'd served me, but, like I said, I tipped him well. I wouldn't have been half as nitpicky if they hadn't carried such nice things! I guess they just bought them to look nice on the shelf. A dangerous game, my friends.

In other news, I've decided that if I can't be a bartender, I'd be a great mystery drinker. Hire me to assess your bar! I'll do it for free if you catch my tab.

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