"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning it's as good as they are going to feel all day."
I'm not usually one to count Frank Sinatra in my pantheon of quotable sources, but I ran across this one recently and just loved it. While writing about farmers markets and herbal infusions such as my new favorite vermouth, I know, vermouth(!), I started thinking about my favorite bartenders and bar experiences. I've been known to be a stickler for rules about Martinis.
- Never forget Dorothy Parker's quip: "I love a martini, two at the most. Three - I'm under the table; four, I'm under the host."
- Don't even ask me what happens after that.
- Bone dry. This means you do not, repeat: do not, ever drink a martini when you spy the bartender pulling out a jigger in one hand, vermouth in the other. I used to have a rule about never ordering a martini from someone with less gray hair than me. Had to drop it, since my gray hair appears to have vanished. (Shhsh. Tito, Chris, you know nothing!)
- Gin, not vodka, is a purist's martini. Preferably, Hendrick's with a slice of cucumber. My adorable C. used to have such an aversion to gin that if I wanted smooches, I had to learn to drink vodka. It was a temporary and intermittent sacrifice and worth it. I even learned to appreciate different vodkas. Wise man that he is, C's even learning to appreciate gin. Talk about a good match. When drinking vodka, don't be afraid to try a twist instead of olive or how about TomOlives little pickled tomatoes? Mmmm.
- Yes, I love chocolate. No, not in my martinis. Chocolate, fruit and other such lovely items are for dessert, not for cocktails. Don't show me "martini menu."
A good bartender understands these things and will often have a unique trait or two that elevates them in my book. Exhibit one: Gus at the Beverly Hills something or other. Possibly the most exclusive enclave for barflies I've ever visited. We walked over swans in the pond to get the dark, quiet bar. Luckily, my fabulous friend Catherine had established a relationship with Gus through some admirable advance work. Where else, I ask you, will the bartender upon seeing your arrival, begin sorting the bowl of mixed nuts to place in front of you. Oh yes, none of the nuts that La Cecil disliked were ever going to interfere with our dainty bar nibbles. Oh no.
Another good bartender: Leigh, was one of my very favorites when I was single and making regular stops on the circuit. Leigh cleverly read my body language would even come 'round my side of the bar on occasion. What occasion you ask? When some offensive clod missed every polite clue I could think of, Leigh would simply appear next to me, expertly insinuating himself between the poor sod and me, "So Jacqueline, how have you been?" We'd have a brief catch-up while the other guy lost interest. Brilliant!
A good bartender will also remember what you drink and how you like it. Bone dry Hendricks? Got it.
And now, a word to my fellow barflies. Listen up, you know who you are!
Good bartenders are also made, not just discovered. We must cultivate these relationships. It is our duty. Don't pout, it has its rewards.
First, introduce yourself and let them know you understand that you are not their only customer. I loathe people who treat service industry folks like furniture. (see my rant on the Raytheon CEO who got my blood boiling by offering this wise chestnut: a diner who is rude to the waiter but obsequious to you might not be a good character.)
Second, let the bartender know you understand they work for tips. If I happen to find I've brought non-tippers to my favorite watering hole, I will let the bartender know of my chagrin at the appropriate moment, and through discrete compensatory tipping.
Third, patience is appreciated especially on busy nights (see rule #1) and a sense of humour is always a good thing. This does not mean tying them up while you try to remember how the punchline goes. It means laughing off things like bumps or spills.
Fourth, if a complementary beverage is offered, tip what you would have paid for that drink or at least tip more generously than you might have for that round. (see rule #2)
Just as there are few perfect barflies, there are few perfect bartenders. My pet peeves?
- Ignoring me on the assumption that because I am female, I won't tip. It pains me to say so, but it is slightly more often that female bartenders have committed this offense, in my experience. You can see them work up and down the bar, flirting with the guys and skipping over the girls.
- Pulling a glass away before it's finished. Do you really want to engage in that, "I'll make you order more drinks." "Okay, I'll tip you less!" battle? Not with me.
- Serving me a cold drink in a hot glass, just out of the dishwasher. Or a chipped glass. How about the guy who when the chipped glass was brought to his attention, simply dumped that drink into a fresh glass to be reserved. Not even kidding.
- Using a puny glass or packing a larger one to the rim with ice, especially if I've ordered a single malt, one cube. Or forget which single malt I ordered and assume I will not notice when you give me an Islay when I asked for a Highland?
- Getting a fat, pithy hunk of a lemon when I've asked for a twist. Pith: bitter. Twist: aromatic oils.
- Lack of discretion. No secrets or past drinking history should be given up until I've indicated what my new friend's relationship to me is. I may not want the client I've just brought in to hear your opinion of my state of mind leaving your establshment last time.
Finally, I once was a no fan of vermouth. Vya vermouth from Quady Winery has changed my mind. Not only is it wonderful for cooking but it adds lovely hints to a martini. See Of Herbs and Cocktails.