Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | February 4, 2011

PRZ Man

A couple months ago I was approached by a friend of a friend who was starting a new online men’s magazine called PRZ Man. The concept is that unlike many men’s magazines that are targeted towards guys who are already pretty stylish or fit or socially savvy, PRZ Man would seek to appeal to all guys. From food to style to relationships and cars, the idea was to provide approachable content. I was asked to be their in-house cocktail columnist. My first post at PRZ Man, “My Martini Isn’t Blocking Your Shot,” is now online.

I don’t have a set posting frequency, but I’ll hopefully have a post up every week or two. I’ll also be doing occasional podcasts. Check out the column and the rest of PRZ Man – they’ve been live for a couple weeks and have a ton of content up already. A reprint of my first piece is printed below the fold, though it is a modified version of a post from 2009 called Expanding Horizons.

My Martini Isn’t Blocking Your Shot

 

Picture a bartender in 2010. I know what you’re thinking. He’s got an ironic mustache, tattoos and a vest, right? And he’s making you a drink with five rare spirits, many of whom he’s infused in his own garage.

But not all bartenders embrace this style of mixing (or dressing, for that matter). In the Washington Post last year, bartender Nick Wineriter wrote, “Being an old-school bartender, I often wonder: Whatever happened to just a beer and a shot? Or a classic Manhattan? Or a classic anything? These old-school cocktails will always stand the test of time.”

But this is misguided. Most cocktail bars actually primarily serve classic cocktails or drinks inspired by old classics. Their menus include items that have roots going back 100, 150 or even nearly 200 years.

I don’t think the efforts of craft bartenders to come up with new drinks as alternatives to classics or reviving forgotten classics in any way stands in opposition to the work of 99.9% of American bartenders. In the few years that I’ve been heavily involved in the craft cocktail movement, my interest in well crafted drinks has never stopped me from enjoying more common tipples. On any given night, I’m more likely to order a domestic light beer, bourbon and ginger ale, or Jameson’s on the rocks than any fine cocktail. If I want a fancier cocktail, I’ll go to a bar that I know makes them. But I certainly haven’t stopped going to good ol’ fashioned dive bars, sports bars, hotel bars, or restaurant bars because I can’t get a perfectly made Martinez or Singapore Sling.

A great deal of what appeals to me about the craft cocktail movement is that it adds a level of history and culinary adventurism to drinking that goes far beyond comparing vintages or flavor profiles of the spirits themselves. It’s just fun to geek out on cocktails. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t also fun to hang out at a deep dive, chat with the other patrons and make a new bartender friend. In fact, I consider myself a dive bar guy above all else. I can think of no other bar I’d rather hang out than a joint like Cherry Tavern in New York City’s East Village or Stetson’s in Washington. They’re dingy, concrete floored, beer-and-a-shot type places with great punk rock on the jukebox. My embrace for exquisite cocktail bars hasn’t tempered my love for simple, no-frills bars.

I can’t adequately assess how craft cocktails are impacting the business of old-school bartenders. But I would hope that every now and then, it means a customer will order a new drink they had tasted at a fine cocktail bar, and they want to tell him about it. At worst, it will mean that your average bartender has to learn a few new tricks to keep customers coming back. I don’t think either of these things is bad and, in the end, I don’t think many bartenders really do either.

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Responses

  1. Many of these craft bars do not even know 50% of classic drinks and they certainly aren’t on any menu. Why not have the true history of classic cocktails in your arsenal? Not what wikipedia said, not what dale, david, or ted wrote about either, they are paid by harry’s new york bar in paris to purport them as the proprietors. Not to mention how out of place you make 90% of the patrons feel when they can’t get a dirty martini or cosmo. Who are you to deny someone a drink they know they like? what’s hilarious is these craft bars are going out of style faster than girbaud’s and it hasn’t even hit most cities yet. It’s not the fault of these “craft bartenders” who are chefs and have little to no real bartending experience, they haven’t been in the industry long enough to know what it’s truly about, THE PATRON! Who cares how good your drink is if it takes 10 minutes to get it and you make me feel like white trash for wanting to get what I love to drink. 10% of bartending is the drinks, history, and creation, the very important 90% is how you interact with guest, which sadly these craft bartenders do not know anything about.

    • I’m not really sure where you’re coming from here, from your broad attack on craft cocktail bars to bartenders to some of the people who made the craft cocktail movement an international thing, grounded in solid practices and precise recipes. I think you’re creating a straw man about what craft cocktail bars offer and, in my experience, this description simply does not exist as you describe it.

      Also, the Cosmo and the Dirty Martini are not classic cocktails. They are modern creations. And for what it’s worth, the only Cosmopolitan I ever had was served to me by Dale DeGroff at the DC Craft Bartenders Guild Repeal Day Ball. So, um, yeah…

      If someone wants a certain drink, yes a bartender should make it, as the customer requests it. If the bartender thinks that you might benefit from trying something along the same lines but unique to their bar, it’s fair for them to suggest it, on the condition that if you don’t like it, it should be free to you. I’ve seen countless craft bartenders go that route with guests ordering Vodka & Soda or Cosmos or Dirty Martinis. Most people will take that challenge and end up happier for trying new things.

      Most importantly, while the bartender should strive to serve the customer what they want, the customer should know where they are going and behave accordingly. It would be weird to go to a French restaurant and complain about their lack of sushi on the menu. It’s equally weird to go to a craft cocktail bar and complain about them not having Bud Light or Dirty Martinis on the menu. I’ve seen a guest complain that they couldn’t get a Bud Light or a Corona at The Pegu Club in NYC. I’ve seen someone complain about a cocktail bar focused on local spirits in Healdsburg, CA not carrying Grey Goose (or some other high end brand of flavorless spirit). People are entitled to be disappointed, but they’re not entitled to be dicks about it. At the end of the day, I’m a dive bar guy. I am about 50 times more likely to be drinking a PBR or a Jameson than I am to be sitting in a high end cocktail bar. But if I go to a cocktail bar, it’s because I want classic, professionally made drinks or new, experimental cocktails unique to that bar. Not everyone has to like fancy cocktails, let alone pre-prohibition ones that aren’t common, let alone those cocktails that cost $12 and a wait of about 10 minutes to be served. But if you do want those things and you go to a bar that specializes in them, you should take it as it comes and not be bitter about this bar working differently from your usual beer and shots dive.

  2. Call it a rant if you like, but living in New Orleans, i’ve visited all the “craft cocktail” bars and I do not recall seeing one single classic cocktail on a menu. Let’s look at that a second, what is a classic cocktail? Is it something that thomas wrote about? Not certainly, there are several drinks that are not currently served today that he wrote about. I’ve seen crafties put a drink on the menu that was in one book and think it’s a classic. Secondly, they stock things like 18 vermouths, chartruese, and strega which they have no idea what they were originally served in. They proudly throw away cremes and schnapps because “it wasn’t available in the time of their bar” but carry other spirits that are as recent as 1980. Not to mention creme de cacao and mint have been around since atleast 1859, so they must have been used in something. But you really throw away common liquors because you know people would rather order that than your made up drinks. I would agree I am bitter, but for good reason. Ill-knowledgable bartenders thinking they know something because they have wondrich, degroff, or regans book. like they are the end all be all of drinks. All these guys will tell you themselves that recipes are guidelines, so what exactly are you crafties measuring? you guys just don’t get it. I think what’s worse is spouting off the ridiculous cocktail history only to be made a fool in the minds of educated guest and bartenders. Stop researching drinks on the internet, nearly every single thing written about drinks on the internet is entirely false. The worst of it is that you crafties make up “fairy tale” drinks like it’s a skill!!#@$@ you drive me nuts with this. You know who else makes up drinks? guest and 1st year bartenders, goes to show what level you guys are really on. It is far more difficult to make something taste bad that is properly proportioned than it is to make something taste good. Because most people will drink anything and it’s so subjective it’s not even funny. How can you make up drinks if you are not even sure on what is being served today? or how are you even sure that it’s not already something else? Noobs. Atleast a guest doesn’t think they know everything about drinks. You seem to have a great misunderstanding about the many types of bars there are. If it isn’t a craft bar it’s a dive? Wierd because I make a majority of classic cocktails all day, many of which you’d be lost to make. Did you know there are several bars that have been in operation well over 100 years and most of them haven’t changed the drink menu in over 100 years? Must be doing something right. I would agree that there are great trends, but only if you agree there are bad ones. And by the way, “fresh juices” is not a trend, at one of these century old places I work at we never stopped using fresh juices and we actually know what classic cocktails are. And yes we have strega and chartruese and we know what they are used in, but we also have $5000 bottles of wine and louis the XIII, jw blue, etc… So you can see why I think that these craft bars are a joke, more importantly the people working for them are a joke.

  3. I never called what you wrote a rant, but this second response clearly deserves that title.

    David, you’re making up straw men. I just don’t see the world as you describe in existence. Maybe we have experienced a different set of bars and that’s the source of this, but I’ve been to a few craft cocktail bars and never had a bad experience.

    Your conception of how craft cocktail bars put together menus and describe things with words like “classic” seems really off base. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that if Jerry Thomas wrote about it, then it is a classic. More likely I’ve seen people reference cocktails from that era as Pre-Prohibition; what they do with them, well, that depends on the drink. A Martinez is inarguably a classic. A Hannibal Hamlin? Not so much. For every old cocktail book, there might be a couple truly great drinks, but just look at an even more modern project – Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp – and you’ll see that old cocktail books are filled with crappy drinks that didn’t stand the test of time.

    I think we would both agree that something is not good simply because it is old and something is not good simply because it is new. Great cocktails survive the test of time because they are well balanced, interesting, and as a result, things that guests want to drink.

    As with before, I don’t see where coming from about bars not carrying creme de cacao or creme de menthe. I’ve had Brandy Alexanders and Grasshoppers at craft cocktail bars. Moreover, craft cocktail bars have helped bring back to prominence spirits like creme de violet and creme de mure. Can you get Sour Apple Pucker or Whipped Cream Vodka at a craft cocktail bar? No, but as I said in my first response, you have other places to go for those things and no, they’re not limited to dive bars. I never said it was an either/or situation.

    What’s really clear is you have a tremendous amount of anger towards the idea that people are creating establishments that just serve craft cocktails, be they from Pre-Prohibition, the years after Prohibition, or contemporary creations. You think the people who are taking part in this movement are misguided, as far as I can tell, because they don’t give you sufficient deference, both to your experience as a barman and your taste as a guest. For what it’s worth, your tastes as expressed in this thread are for Dirty Martinis, Cosmos, creme de cacao and schnaps. I’m sure you like other things as well, but if those are you actual taste preferences, I can see why you’d not be a happy customer at craft cocktail bars, much in the same way if my preference for savory food was Chinese stir fry, I wouldn’t likely enjoy eating at a Moroccan restaurant.

    What is odd to me David is the assumption you are making that a craft cocktail bar must be all things to all people, when these bars are completely clear of what it is that they are intending to do and what sort of drinks they are intending to serve. If you don’t like them, don’t patronize them. If you think you can offer customers a better drinking experience, by all means, keep delivering that to your customers. Just recognize that it is not an assessment of you, your experience, or your tastes that other people like drinking at these craft cocktail establishments and they are burgeoning around the country as a result.

  4. You are right, other people do enjoy these bars. A few may not, but i’m sure not the majority. It seems to be the latest trend, which is only partially correct, there are greater trends on the rise. It just seems these themes could have been much more historically accurate and you’ll always find critique if you are looking for it. Aside from molecular mixology, there is a great trend rising taking drinks to the next level. If nothing else, every style of the craft should be appreciated and correspondingly adapt techniques, ingredients, etc.. We should all grow and learn from eachother, rather than this one upping bs. I’m sure you are a great mixologist with loads of knowledge and it is always important to realize that although there are many styles within the craft, no one particular style is better than the other, but rather, we all possess a different level of skill at their and/or many styles. I apologize for trolling all over your blog

  5. I think you’re right – there is value in all aspects, styles and tastes of cocktails. One of the things that I’ve long thought is that people should drink what they like and no matter what that is, it isn’t wrong. I encourage people to be open to trying new and different things and there’s plenty of stuff that I don’t personally like. But I think it’s a big world of cocktails and people should drink things that they think taste good and give them pleasure. This is something everyone should understand – whether it’s people who are elevating recipes from forgotten cocktail books or people who have their one brand of lager that they never vary from. If people can do that, I think we can all have a good time.


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