Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Defense of the Bar

I love a bar. Pretty much any bar will do. A wine bar, hotel bar, neighborhood dives, a subterranean bar with the hipsters sporting unfortunate hair, a craft bar, an airport bar, the bar at a steakhouse sitting on a tall stool with a leather seat and a martini, casino bars, strip club bars, the bar down the hill from my house with mariachi music and flaming margaritas; even a suburban bar at a suburban restaurant where the singles mingle and the sweet and sour flows. I enjoy sitting at a bar.

As 2012 really starts to get under way, I am finding my thoughts in defense of the bar. I write in defense of the old school bar, the bar with everyone in mind where the bartender handles a crowd with silent or loud lightning fast panache, making drinks with the speed of a gun slinger at high noon.

Historically, my favorite bars, let me tell them to you. The Post in downtown Sacramento, way back in the eighties when I first turned 21, along with the Brass Rail across the street from the capitol building where I chronologically turned 21. Add the Round Corner Tavern with its pool table to the Sacto list.  The Pilsner Inn at Church and Market in San Francisco was a favorite when I lived there, and before the remodel The Owl Tree up the hill at Post and Taylor. I also lived for the times my roommate and I would swing by the Redwood Room at the Four Seasons Clift in the early nineties before it became a Morgan's property. After moving to LA, I fell in love with Max's on Fairfax (now The Dime) right around the corner from my house and I used to love to drink vodka gimlets at Jones on Santa Monica. I spent eight years sitting on my ass at the east end of the long bar at Three Clubs where I met my husband in a dark dank corner. Nowadays, I find myself eating and drinking at the Mexican bar down the hill from my house, popping into the Library Bar now and again and once a month or so dropping in at 4100 for old time's sake.  All these spots hold a special place in my heart. A place you can sidle up to the bar, utter a friendly or subdued how-dee-do, and wet your whistle with something pretty standard to leave the day behind or celebrate or just about whatever.

These bars are all what I think of as an old school bar. Not really old school in the old school that was the school when my parents were young and free. Old school in the sense that I am usually anywhere from ten to twenty years older than most bartenders in today's new school bars and I think of old school as being the school to which I had grown accustomed prior to the new school being new.

All of this isn't to say by any means that I don't like the new generation of bars that have overtaken our drinking habits on both coasts, I do like them very much (yes, NYC, we know you had them first). I love all bars. I really like a bar.

But you know the type of new bar I mean. If you don't know, you need to drink out of the house more often. A craft bar is a bar where the provenance of every label is not only known but  a point of pride. Cocktails are made with artistry using herbs, local and seasonal produce, agave nectar and berries muddled together with unlikely combinations of spirits creating heretofore unknown yet delightful flavor combinations. However. I take issue with this new generation of craft bars on a few points. (And yes, I know if you are from the East coast you have known about these bars forever, like that band no one else knows about yet). My issues are as follows:

I don't always want a dispatch on the glories of Velvet Falernum, an essay about our heralded return to Genever, a monologue about  how vodka drinkers only use vodka to get drunk (and?) and miss so much in the way of flavor profiles by ignoring the rest of the bar, a veritable dissertation about the shape and henceforth melting properties of ice based on total surface area of aforementioned cube. And I certainly never want to hear from another bartender that if the owner knew they were changing the recipe of my drink slightly to suit my taste buds there's a chance s/he would get shit canned. No lie, this happened a few months back.

I theorize my taste for certain cocktails evolved as a rejection of what was popular in my youth.  I was drunk for the first time ever on a stomach heaving combination of cheap champagne and gin, something readily available in someone's parents' liquor cabinet. The flavor of gin henceforth holds no appeal. Coming of age in the eighties meant being subject to a decade specific style of cocktails including Sex on the Beach, B-52s, sweet and sour based margaritas and daiquiris (heresy), Long Island Iced Tea, the Fuzzy Navel and so on. I have been drinking vodka and soda since I can remember.

Given the right bartender and a collaborative environment, a leopard can change its spots. A few well constructed drinks around town that I love include the Old Cuban at The Association, The Chanel at Pattern Bar near FIDM, pretty much anything made by Matt Biancaniello at the Roosevelt in Hollywood, and recently a custom made multi-citrus vodka gimlet at Hatfields. And the daiquiris at La Descarga? All the daiquiris.

I love a bar, and even in a new school bar am excited to see the drink list and experiment with your pet ingredient. However, reserve the lecture and the subtle eye rolling if I order something pedestrian. The only thing I don't like about a bar is not being able to wait to leave.


Kristine G said...

I would like to go back in time and meet this Liz who first got rip-roaringly drunk off a champagne and gin cocktail.

I hate gin, too. Not that I'm one to imbibe too many drinks (since I am allergic, lol) but gin is at the bottom of the list!

Food, she thought. said...

Kristine, It wasn't a gin & champagne cocktail but rather gin & champagne in succession. There IS a gin & champagne cocktail though, called French 75, that is utterly lovely. It tastes of neither gin nor really champagne. If you are nearby when I drink one I will insist you have a sip!

Jennifer said...

I hate gin, but this weekend I ventured into my new fave restaurant-Jacks and had a cucumber cocktail that had gin in it. It was delicious!

It's With A K said...

Gin's on the bottom of my list, too. Only acceptable if complete undetectable.

Cheers to all bars!

Food, she thought. said...

Jennifer, I am finding nowadays that the right bartender can make something I will love from gin. Those herbal flavors can really bring something subtle if done right.

Karla, Yes, again. It is all about how gin is combined. Combined with tonic, gack. Combined maybe with a little cucumber or elderflower, we could be looking at a winner. I do love a bar.