Category Archives: Bar Tales

Rookie Bar Gaffes to Avoid

Watching the latest Game of Thrones season (I’m not going to expound on GoT. It’s just a TV show), my boyfriend pointed out how much Bran-as-Three-Eyed-Raven sounds like all of us after our first year of college. That I’ve been out in the world, I’ve learnt things about philosophy and hidden histories and now I can enlighten all you old people aura of smugness. We have all been guilty at one point or another of “schooling” an elder on the reality of things.

This reminds me of what it was like to be a craft bartender the first few months after training. Six weeks of memorizing drink recipes and scribbling tasting notes about spirits and all of a sudden I KNEW EVERYTHING, and I wanted to drop this wisdom in every bar I graced with my presence.

Ugh, the memories of trying to order a Bijou from some hotel pool bar, then trying to walk the flippant woman behind the stick through an inevitably wretched concoction. That was the start of a realization, that just because I made fancy-pants cocktails didn’t mean I could expect everyone else to make them for me, or be grateful for my definitely-not-annoying schooling.*

As time went on and I spent more time behind my own bar, I learned more about what it meant to be a good customer.  I’m all on the side of capital-H Hospitality, here, and definitely don’t think a guest at a bar should be eye-rolled or belittled, but if you’re in the industry, you should hold yourself to a higher standard than civilians. Here are some of the most annoying things bartenders do to one another, trying to show off how in-the-know they are. I state these in full knowledge that I may have perpetrated any number of them over the past five years.  Continue reading

Advertisements

Pre-Tales Prep Agreements

Prep List for Tales

  • Milk Thistle extract for liver function
  • Turmeric extract for inflammation
  • Liquid B-complex for energy and clarity
  • Coconut water x4 for electrolytes, in theory, but really just because one likes it.
  • Bottled cold brew with Peruvian superfood maca
  • Melatonin, for use in the absence of cannabinoids, which even in liquid high-CBD medical form one is too sensible to try to fly into the South with
  • Energy bars to ward off hangry travel tantrums
  • Sandals for hot weather running around
  • Wad-able cardigan for conference rooms chilled to meat locker temps
  • Extra strength natural deodorant mini to carry around
  • Large “bite-and-suck” camelback bottle aka “the water boob” for constant hydration
  • Large granny purse for carrying cardigan and water boob
  • More than week’s worth of outfits for inevitable sweat-throughs
  • Courage

Agreement between partners, Tuan and Hope

Thankfully, I’m not in this alone. I’m here with my partner in life and in journalism, photographer Tuan Lee. He’s taking the photos and doing what he does best, spreading the word on his enthusiasms to everyone who will listen. It is dangerous, however, to travel with a loved one to a bacchanalia. No, not for nefarious reasons. Because nobody likes that drunk arguing at the bar. Here’s how we are going to keep the peace and our sanity. 

  • Utilize spit buckets in all tasting rooms. Really.
  • Share sample cocktails at industry pairing events.
  • One-and-done policy at evening events. Soda water for lengthy networking.
  • No drinking in the hotel room.
  • Use hotel gym every morning even if feeling awful
  • No turning stress and liver fatigue into quarrels
  • Maintain a united front. If partner appears neglectful, it is because they are drowning. Go rescue them.
  • Stay away from bad influences, those industry lifers who appear to be operating just fine with a low-level hangover going 24 hours a day. These people will pressure one to over-imbibe with them, then be right back up and at ‘em while one is buried in bedclothes praying for the merciful hand of death the following morning.
  • Eat. and eat and eat.
  • Have fun.

Rewatching Cheers as an adult who has since been to a bar

In honor of achieving my lifetime bartender win by serving a drink to Ted Danson, I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had about watching the epic, childhood-filling sitcom that launched him to stardom.

The show shuttered in 1993, and I clearly remember the frenzy leading up to the final few episodes, but the early years are hazy.

So I started again.

Continue reading

Serious Chops

“You went to Columbia?”

“Yes.”

“What field is your MFA?”

“Fiction.”

“So you’re writing a book?”

“Kind of.”

“So what do you really want to do?”

(Look at shaker tins arrayed artillery-like in front of me) “This.”

I have this conversation at least once a week. Mostly while I’m making hand-chipped ice balls with a bread knife or simultaneously building four to six no-shortcuts cocktails behind a 34-seat bar in a 180-seat restaurant. The regular customer chit-chat loops from “How long have you been in LA?” to “Why aren’t you using that expensive master’s degree?” in no time.

I’m not sure why a near-stranger would ask this. Most of the time, I don’t think they mean to make me feel bad. There’s simply an incredulity to it, no one can believe that, with the credentials to at least get a decent desk job writing ad copy or reading slush piles, I would choose to be their bartender. There’s an even greater disbelief that I would go through all the drama and expense of a private university MFA and not be banging away at some hopeless writing project 24/7. I have a hard time believing it sometimes. But the truly surprising part, for these strangers and for me, is how little it seems to bother me these days. How, when I actually think about it, what I want to do is make drinks and talk to them about whiskey.

One of the redeeming aspects of my graduate school experience was getting to learn about books from Heidi Julavits, Deborah Eisenberg, and Stacey D’Erasmo. The other was that I started working in the hospitality industry again after an eight-year hiatus. And that, as the over-used line goes, has made all the difference.

Some of these concerned customers become very intent on introducing me to their friends who work in TV or advertising or whatever. I’m very grateful for their intentions. But unless it’s a freelance situation I can do between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m., I’m not interested. Because I really like bar tending. I like being able to concoct things and experiment with new booze. I like the prep that goes into it, the meditation that comes with tedious physical labor that you hope will result in a transcendent taste experience. I like making something heretofore unsampled for someone and seeing that look of surprise and delight. That I love this moment. I like this about writing, too. Other than calming the voices in my head, the major perk of writing is creating something that someone else might find stimulating. Trying to contribute some joy or awe to the world.

The first time I tasted a Last Word felt a lot like the first time I read Grace Paley. That experience of consuming something so simple and perfectly built that made me want to do THIS, THIS, THIS. I would have had neither of these experiences if I hadn’t gone through the period of my life when I attended Columbia. Not to be too gross about it, but those two moments were worth the work of getting the degree. It’d be nice if it had cost something more in the range of what I would earn over the entire rest of my life, but that’s a discussion for a different time.

So no, lovely, well-meaning customers, I’m not pining day after day over the time spent behind the stick and not at my computer, not thinking woe is me, if only I had a nice office job where I could finish my magnum opus. I make more money at the bar than an adjunct professor, and I like the company better. I did the sit-down job thing for eight years, and haven’t missed it since. I’m not ruminating on regrets, I’m thinking of the satisfaction I get from your enjoyment. So shut up and enjoy your drink.

R&D Night at MessHall

It seemed odd, at first, to be “guest bartending” at a bar where I already work. But the MessHall bar houses an amazing array of spirits and fresh ingredients, and we love playing around with new recipes, even if it doesn’t all go on the menu. So last night I clocked in as “guest” and served some off-menu drinks. 

  

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

Every week, MessHall opens its patio bar to someone to try out some new recipes or showcase a spirit. 

MY R&D NIGHT

Having just published this here article on PUNCH about Skinos Mastiha Spirit, I decided to use some of the recipes I collected from Athens cocktail superstars Spyros Patsialos and Thanos Prunarus to further prosthelytize my love of liqeurs made from tree sap. Additionally, I had some drinks of my own I’d been cooking up for a while and wanted to test them out on some unassuming Wednesday night diners in Los Feliz. 

Here was the menu:

The copy was hastily written. So sue me.

The first and last drinks are riffs on the Skinos recipes. I didn’t have all the ingredients handy for Spyros’s Mantequilla, so I substituted blood orange syrup for his passionfruit syrup,  and Branca Menta as a similarly minty-ish-herbal-oddball bittering agent comparable to the Underberg bitter. The result, after a little tweaking, was awesome. 

The Ruby Jane (my own recipe) and the Mantequilla #2 (original recipe c/o Spyros Patsialos of huntingspirits.tv)

Prunarus’s Jalisko Flower was the other hit of the evening. Skinos and celery bitters are a natural match (carrots and celery!), and the tequila really brightens up the mix. Not having the time to do an infusion with the tequila, I snagged some of MessHall’s handy Kaffir Lime tincture and used it to rinse the glass and add a spritz to the nose. Just wonderful. 

Jalisko Flower, recipe c/o Thanos Prunarus, Baba au Rum, Athens

I think the winner of the stirred drinks was Colabórame (not pictured), a perfectly clear mix of pisco, dimmi, and salers apertif with a drop of mole bitters, which when combined somehow tastes of a really good espresso–a very subdued note in the ingredients by themselves, but somehow thrust to prominence when they are stirred over ice and sprayed with a little grapefruit oil. 

Guest bartending is like moving, though, in that unless you’re a celebrity you really only get one or two goes at it before your friends stop feeling obligated to come support you. So maybe I’ll do this again, if they let me, but not for a while. It was a blast while it lasted, though. 

How to Yelp Like a Human with Empathy

 

The problem with Yelp is it’s so personal; reviewers only think about themselves: “I don’t think anyone should go to this restaurant. It’s the worst.” There’s just not enough empathy to think about how other people might experience it. It’s only from their lens. Also, Yelpers don’t have any professional protocol. They sit down and say, “If you don’t do this, we’re going to give you a bad Yelp score.” We’re like, what the fuck?

David Chang, Momofuku Chef/mastermind and lover of burritos.

Sure, there are some valid, non-hateful reasons to look at a restaurant’s Yelp page. Paraphrasing Chang: it is great for finding an address, but any chef worth his kosher salt wouldn’t give a Yelper’s dramatic recounting of his or her tragic date night a second thought. My professional opinion as a server is that Comments are the worst part of the Internet, and Yelp is all Comments, all the time. And I have almost-successfully trained myself not to read the comments, on YouTube, on the NYTimes site, and in life.

The problem is, however, that review sites are likely the first or second search result that appear when you search for a restaurant or type of food in your area. Which means restaurant owners and managers read these comments like it’s their job. ‘Cause it is.
Continue reading

What I’ve been doing

Well, whatever. I’m not much of an updater. Mostly I’ve been doing this:

http://greatbooisup.tumblr.com/

Esperanza2DaiquiriInDaWorks

Abelinkon

PassionWhiskySour

IE, making myself fancy drinks at home, taking pictures of them, and writing too-wordy-for-Tumblr posts on how they came together.  Actually, I’ve been enjoying it a bunch. Writing about food and drinks is way more pleasurable than thinking about that novel that’s not going to write itself.

Please check it out. The Mason Jar Shaker** tumblr was basically me looking up and tinkering with the recipes from posh bars so that I can be a fancier hermit. I’m sure many of you can sympathize. The fact that I live down the street from a Goodwill thrift store that always had a plethora of natty drinkware is key.

But I do have to change the name. Because it is misleading. I originally chose “Mason Jar Shaker” because I’d lost my cocktail shaker and was making all these drinks in empty canning jars. But then I went out and got a new shaker. And I don’t even serve the drinks (that is, to myself) in canning jars, cause how twee is that?

Any suggestions? Best name gets a jar full of delicious infused booze from me*

*Over 21 only. May not be valid if you live somewhere I can’t get to.

**UPDATE: So I went ahead and renamed it without any suggestions. As the above link illustrates, the page is now called “Great Boo’s Up.” If you do not get this reference, you are not nerdy enough. Didn’t think THAT was possible, eh?