Sunday, August 8, 2010

Desparately Seeking Bar for Adults

When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
thought like a child, and reasoned like a child.
When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways.

1 Corinthians 13:11

When you are 25 years old, not much is better than sucking down multiple DayGlo-colored shooters on a Saturday night while trolling about for members of the opposite sex. The whole gang would have dinner at TGI McFunsters, eating fried foods and burgers. Good times had by all. The quality of the drink was equal to the quality of the food.

The bars that serve the twenty-somethings thrive on volume and cost control. For a small decrease in price (or a 2 for 1 happy hour) mass numbers of young patrons will move from one bar to the next. Most of the ingredients are pre-prepared, such as margarita mix, which might contain (as does one popular brand):

Water, corn syrup, sugar, citric acid, natural flavors,
sodium citrate, sodium benzoate and potassium
sorbate (to preserve flavor), cellulose gum,
polysorbate 60, gum arabic, glycerol abietate and FD&C yellow no. 5

This is a far cry from the classic margarita, made of triple sec, lime juice, tequila and a little sweetener.

On a recent trip to George's Brasserie, my party of four was thrilled to sit in the beautiful bar and have a cocktail before dinner. From my last visit, I knew that the kitchen was highly qualified and used great ingredients. Why should I expect less from the bar?

My wife and I arrived first. I asked for an Aviation Cocktail. First I was asked how to make it. They didn't know it. After I explained the recipe, I was told they did not have maraschino liqueur. I then asked for a gin and tonic with Hendrick's gin. It should have been simple, but it was undrinkable--it was cloyingly sweet, coating my entire palate with an unpleasant aftertaste. This was the type of drink that has sent gin into near oblivion, until its more recent revival.

My wife ordered another simple classic, a vodka gimlet (vodka and Rose's lime juice), which also disappointed. It was poured without measuring and had too much Rose's lime juice. It was also not shaken very well --shaking makes it cold and dilutes the alcohol a bit to make it more drinkable.

I gave up on the G&T, and asked for another easy drink, in which the quality of the ingredients is known: a Negroni, made with equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. The barman knew what I needed and proceeded to collect the bottles, none of which had a speed pourer. Instead, he poured each ingredient free-hand from the open bottle into a steel cocktail shaker. He had only a splash of gin left, so he opened a new bottle and continued his pour, again without measuring.

The resultant cocktail was an undrinkable mess--overly bitter and unbalanced. Although the Negroni is a simple drink, it has to be carefully measured. The bartender needs to ensure that the sweetness of the vermouth and the bitterness of the Carpari are in harmony. Alas, I pushed my second drink to the side.

About that moment, our friends joined us. Although they are not cocktail crazy like I am, they know what they like. One of my friends asked for a Gin Gin Mule, a relatively new cocktail that has quickly gained fans around the country. Again, the bar staff asked how to make it. I told them; they didn't have ginger beer. She ordered a mojito instead, a great drink of rum, mint and lime juice that is available in nearly as many restaurants today as the margarita (for good or bad). This drink was a unbalanced mess, with a poorly muddled mass of mint in the bottom and was made too sweet.

Our other friend ordered a gin and tonic. After a sip, he too declared it undrinkable.

The chef at George's would never use frozen french fries in his steak frites; nor would he use bouillon cubes in his beef bourguignon. The sous chef would always measure the ingredients that he would use in his fine sauces (and he would be tasting what he is making to assure that he is spot on with the flavors and balance). Why are we at the point that we expect less from the bar? We paid $10 a drink and received the quality and care that would be given a drink intended for a college kid on a night out. However, the kid's too smart to pay $10 for just a drink.

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