Today, I'm writing about the bar that never gets written about.
There are lots of bars getting odes and tributes these days. The current revival of interest in classic cocktails and obscure spirits has been prompting the creation of a new style of bar. It's been happening for several years, and your town probably has one at this point.
You know the kind of place I mean...
Cranberries. They're everywhere this time of year...especially if you're in a part of the world that celebrates Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. Just glance at food magazines and websites and I guarantee you'll see the li'l guys peeping out at you in one form or another. But regardless of how you prefer to consume them, cranberries remain tasty, nutritious and pretty versatile. Plus, without cranberries we'd have no cranberry sauce, and therefore no fodder for the endlessly entertaining debate of whether the stuff in the can is better than the kind you make yourself.
You've probably had a margarita. Some sources say it's the most-ordered drink in the world, and whether that's actually true or not, its enduring popularity can't be denied. Like many classic drinks, its origins are disputed (there's at least two credible stories on how it came about) but that's not the important thing. The important thing is knowing how to make one.
Let's take a few minutes and talk about leprechauns. This time of year you see them all over the place. The weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day are when all thing Irish are front and center, and that includes the little guys in green.
Last time around, I supplied you with a handy list of people you'll probably run into sooner or later when you're in a bar. Here's a few more. If you're ambitious, you can make a point of trying to spot as many as you can. It's like bird-watching, except with booze.
Anyone who has either worked in a bar or visited one will notice there are certain types of customers you tend to see again and again. The places may be different, but certain people are always there. Go often enough, and you're sure to meet them all. To aid in identifying them, I humbly provide the following list.
There's a lot of discussion about what should go in tiki drinks. However, there needs to be attention paid to what goes ON them as well. Garnishing tiki drinks is crucial, and arguably no other category of cocktail demands as much care and creativity with those final touches. As with any drink, the garnish should ideally provide both a visual and an aromatic element, and tiki drinks allow for an abundance of each.
In addition to writing about spirits and cocktails, I also spend several nights a week at a bar dispensing booze to people unable or unwilling to make their own drinks. A big part of the gig is talking to those people, and I am grateful for it. Interacting with customers is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job, and if you place a priority on giving your patrons a good time, it is a safe bet they will come back. Assuming you have done your job competently, you may even cultivate a gang of regulars who make your bar their place.
I've discussed Halloween here before, but I've neglected to cover one of the key aspects of the holiday: costumes. I think we can all agree that Halloween would be a pretty stale affair without costumes, so it's time I took a few moments to address this important topic.
If you've watched any cooking shows over the last few years, you've surely noticed some programs offer up recipes using everyday 'regular' ingredients we're all familiar with, while others clearly make a point of using things that are downright exotic. The contest-format shows like Iron Chef, Top Chef, Chopped, and The Next Food Network Star are notable examples, where virtually every dish presented contains at least one ingredient that may have you scrunching your face in wonderment.
I'm not someone who likes to oversimplify things, but I need to point out there are really only two types of alcohol consumers: cocktail geeks and casual drinkers. How can you tell the difference? Easy. If you spend your free time reading reprints of 19th-century bar guides, making your own bitters and buying antique Hawthorne strainers on eBay, then you are a cocktail geek. Otherwise, you're a casual drinker.
If you're reading this, it's quite possible you'll be attending Tales of the Cocktail this month. Unfamiliar with Tales of the Cocktail? Here's a brief description: It's a nearly weeklong event that takes place in New Orleans every year, and is considered to be the premier cocktail and spirits event in the world. Bartenders, cocktail historians, liquor brand reps, drink writers and every type of booze enthusiast imaginable invade New Orleans each July to see what's new, swap information, renew friendships, and of course, enjoy a few cocktails.
I love the smell of Tequila in the morning.
Yes, I'm paraphrasing an oft-repeated (and oft-abused) movie line. But it accurately reflects one of my strongly-held beliefs: Drinking during the daytime is always superior to drinking at night. Nocturnal tippling obviously has its charms too, but for my money nothing beats day-drinking.
Consider the pineapple. It's not likely the first bit of produce that comes to mind when thinking about cocktail ingredients. Mention pineapples and cocktails in the same breath, and nine out of ten people will immediately think of the Pina Colada. Not a bad drink, but it's a bit shopworn at this point, and there are a few other ways to show off the unique flavor and charm of pineapple in a cocktail.
It seems as long as people have had heads, they've been putting things on them...specifically hats. Hat styles come and go, with different ones being in vogue at various times, and it's amazing how many ways human beings have found to decorate their noggins either for function or fashion. While hat-wearing isn't quite as widespread a phenomenon as it used to be, you can still find many bold souls who proudly festoon their domes when the opportunity arises. And often these very same people aren't shy about indulging in an adult beverage.
There are lots of places you can enjoy a drink. Assuming you live in a country that doesn't ban alcohol consumption entirely, it's likely you can grab an adult beverage at a variety of locales. One of mankind's greatest achievements is having figured out ways to have alcohol seemingly anywhere, whether you're at a busy downtown watering hole, lugging a cooler across the wilderness, or anything in between.
Three, as the song says, is a magic number. But even if you aren't familiar with the catchy refrain from one of Schoolhouse Rock's better-known tunes, there's no denying that the number three has a special quality. It resonates with us in a distinctive way, and while many numbers have remarkable characteristics, three stands out and makes itself known in a variety of ways.
It's a fairly safe bet that if you're reading this, you've been in a liquor store sometime in the past few weeks. Whether you're stocking up for a party, giving a bottle as a gift, or just enriching your own stash for the holidays, this is the time of year when you'll likely be visiting your local sprits purveyor at least once (probably more).
The end-of-year holidays can strip you of both your patience and your liquor. The reasons for loss of patience during the holidays are legion, and we're probably all familiar with what they are - No need to list them here. Booze-wise, you'll likely find your shelf looking light for at least one of three reasons...
This is a challenging time of year. If you live in a part of the world where the seasons change, you'll notice that when October starts heading for the exit, there are a few things to consider. First, it's definitely time to dust off the jacket and long pants. Second, it's the cusp of the holiday season.
Ever see a motorcycle with a sidecar? Sidecars mean sidekicks. And sidekicks mean adventure. Sure, there's lots of great adventure to be had solo. It takes a bold heart full of wanderlust and romance to pack a bag and simply light off unencumbered by the presence of other human beings.
With only a few weeks of warm weather remaining, I feel it is imperative I offer a few words on a subject I have neglected to address for far too long: the venerable vessel known as the tiki mug... One of my firmly held beliefs is that it is impossible to be morose when you are drinking out of a tiki mug.
Timing, as the saying goes, is everything. Obviously this applies to a number of things, but since we generally talk about booze here, we'll limit it to that for now. In the realm of adult beverages, timing is important. Being aware of the subtle rhythms that govern drink-making is a boon to anyone, particularly if you bartend at home.
It's not just liquor companies that send me free stuff. I also receive the occasional book (so I have something to read while I'm drinking, presumably). The latest such offering to grace my mailbox is Old Man Drinks, a pocket-sized tome that's a collection of both classic drink recipes and nuggets of wisdom from actual old men.
This is the season for cooking in yards, driveways, parking lots or any surface flat and solid enough to support a metal container full of flames. Since this will be happening with increasing frequency in the coming weeks and months, I will use this space to offer up my guide to grilling in the hopes it will improve the experience for you and your guests (unless you're grilling solo, which is also a perfectly fine undertaking...the undisturbed communion between you and your grill can be very meditative and therapeutic).
This month I am introducing a new feature called Dr. Bamboo Predicts! Every so often I peer into my cocktail glass crystal ball and beseech the mystic powers of the cosmos to grant me a glimpse into the future. Channeling the nebulous energies of the great beyond, I attempt to divine What Will Come To Pass. Strangely, the information I receive is always alcohol-related, but who am I to question the motives of those who dwell in dimensions untraveled by man?
People drank differently in the old days. Sure, people in decades past got bombed, consumed poor-quality alcohol and drank for the wrong reasons...same as now. When I say that people drank differently, I'm talking primarily about what they drank...
Ever find something you thought had been lost forever? Great feeling, right? That's how I feel about Okolehao.
Everyone's talking about ice these days. Granted, a lot of people are discussing it right now because they're chipping it off their cars or scraping it off the sidewalks, but I'm talking about the ice we use in our drinks- Those glorious hunks of really cold water that keep our cocktails the right temperature and add that necessary li'l bit of water to balance everything out.
It's the drinking we tend to focus on here in this column, and I can guess with a fair degree of certainty that if you're reading this you've been knocking back respectable amounts of eggnog, cider, Champagne and probably a bunch of other holiday hooch for some time now. This is why it's time for some simplicity.
During these holiday times, you'll be getting plenty of thick, sweet, creamy drinks. Egg nog will be cascading into and out of drinking vessels everywhere, and you will be plied with all manner of syrupy, dairy-based concoctions employed as a delivery system for all the usual yuletide flavors: chocolate, mint, apple, etc.
Not every drink has to be a sledgehammer. There is a segment of the drinking community that believes the only drink worth having is one that's composed of 100% heavy-duty spirits and kicks like an elephant gun. While there are plenty of occasions where a drink like that is entirely appropriate, there are many times when you just need something a little less...direct.
When you hear the word Amazon, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I always think of piranhas. I guess it's because at an impressionable age I got hit with a whole load of spurious information regarding these guys. I remember learning about the Amazon river in elementary school geography, and like most kids, I promptly forgot everything about it except that it was home to MEAT-EATING FISH.
Esquire Drinks is a book I recommend anyone pick up if they can. Even though it was originally published as recently as 2002, it's been out of print for some time. Copies can be found from online used book sellers, and it's well worth seeking out. I came by my copy via a flea market, and it's not the first time I've found a nice bar guide amongst the offerings at thrift stores, used-book emporiums and garage sales.
When talking with my fellow cocktail enthusiasts, the phrase 'gateway drink' often comes up. Of course, this is a variation on the term 'gateway drug', which is used to describe a fairly mild substance that provides entry to the world of illicit substances and ushers the user into a continuum of more intense offerings.
Yes, it's a tiki drink. However, fans of tiki drinks will glance at the above recipe and likely find themselves saying, 'Okay...it's got lime juice, a nice flavored syrup, several other interesting ingredients and even citrus-based bitters. BUT WHERE IS THE RUM?
One of the things I frequently notice when rummaging through drink recipes is how varied the instructions for a given drink can be. Sometimes the variations are slight- One recipe calls for a half ounce of something, the other calls for three-quarters. Sometimes ingredients are omitted entirely...or other things are substituted. And occasionally you'll see two recipes by the same name that bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever.
Undeniable signs of warmer days to come are turning up everywhere. The obligatory Spring plants are determinedly knifing their way upward. Car windows are being rolled down. People are putting bandannas on dogs. But perhaps the truest signal that Winter has been fully laid to rest is that yours truly has been wearing shorts for well over a month now.
Often when I'm making drinks for friends and I ask what they'd like me to make them, they don't have a specific answer. 'What do you suggest?', or 'Anything you feel like making' are common responses. While I enjoy the chance to foist a variety of both classic and contemporary recipes on willing, open-minded subjects, I hate the idea of just blindly throwing random drinks at people and hoping I come up with something they'll enjoy.
I recently read somewhere that making cocktails was more akin to baking than cooking. This claim centered around the idea of precise measurement of ingredients being required for both. And it got me thinking.
The Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide often takes a beating from certain segments of the cocktail community. Not in the literal sense (although there are many sticky, stained and scuffed copies floating around out there), but in terms of where it sits in the hierarchy of bar guides.
I have a friend who refers to New Year's Eve as 'amateur night.' He makes a strict policy of not going anywhere outside his house on the evening of December 31st. It doesn't matter whether the festivities take place at a dive bar, posh ballroom, or a friend's living room- he doesn't go out. Period.
At first glance, it may not seem that Santa Claus and pirates have much in common. But closer inspection reveals that the two share quite a bit more than initially meets the eye. Am I suggesting that a beloved holiday figure is barely any different than a bloodthirsty brigand? Certainly not. But I have noticed there are some startling parallels.
I'm a Hawaiian shirt kinda guy. Not surprisingly, I'm also a sunny-weather kinda guy. I hail from a land where sunlight is usually in short supply, so I take the chance to embrace a Summertime vibe (real or imagined) whenever I can. I also try to stretch Summer out as long as possible, and I set a goal every year to wear shorts until Halloween. However, I usually have to put on long pants at least once before then, when the thermometer thwarts my efforts.
I like simple drinks. Even though I spend many nights laboring on recipes that often contain a multitude of ingredients (fans of tiki-style drinks will know what I'm talking about), I'm always intrigued by those recipes that elegantly match 2 or 3 components in flawless harmony. There's a Zen-like aspect of restraint to drinks like this, and much of their beauty lies in what isn't there, rather than what is.