Not long ago I received a question via the Twitter regarding what to order at an airport bar. Then, just yesterday I was asked about what drinks someone should order out at a bar that wasn’t as complicated as my usual missives. And the final nail in this coffin was a friend commenting that he was really tired of telling bartenders that Jack Daniels was not bourbon.
All of this got me to thinking – dangerous I know – about how tough it really is to still get a decent drink. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of bartenders who aren’t into the booze-nerdyism. A shot and a beer and the occasional gin and tonic or something-and-soda is just fine thank you very much. And I have no problem with that whatsoever.
In my opinion, what it comes down to is this: as the drinker, what are you looking for and can you adapt? Bottom line is that you shouldn’t force the bar to conform to your expectations, especially if those expectations are contrary to the type of bar you’re currently sitting in.
For example, if I’m out at a speakeasy-style craft cocktail bar and order a Southside, I have a level of expectation on how that drink will be made and the quality of the final product. If I’m at Chili’s, I’m not going to expect the bartender to know what a Southside is, much less how to make it. And if they do make me something called a “Southside” that is not at all what I was expecting, then that is my fault.
Once I was sitting at a well known craft cocktail bar here in DC and listened to two baseball-cap wearing, fraternity row gadabouts bitch and complain about the menu being too wordy, the drinks taking too long to make, and the lack of drunk sorority chicks dancing on the tables. (And yes, this was the exact topics of their discussion.) They finished their first round of drinks, threw some wadded up bills on the bar and walked out. I don’t think they ever got their bill and I’m sure they left a paltry tip, if any at all.
Since their expectations were out of sync with the bar, they had a bad time and took it out on the establishment. The bar did nothing but operate along it’s normal course.
So, what to do at the airport or hotel bar? Adapt.
First, look at a menu. What is the most prominent spirit used? Do the cocktails look somewhat tasty on the menu? Second, look behind the bar? Are there 30 flavors of vodka, 1 bottle of Beefeater, a few random whiskeys, and a bottle of sweet vermouth with half an inch of dust on it’s shoulders? Or do they have bitters prominently displayed, multiple kinds of gin, whiskey, and liqueurs, and gleaming barware ready to be used? Finally, see what others are drinking and, just as important, how the bartender is interacting with the customers. This will tell you if he or she cares what the customers are drinking or whether he or she couldn’t care less.
What to drink? Depends on what you find. If it’s a vodka heavy hotel/airport bar and I’m going with hard alcohol, I’ll order a two ingredient drink: bourbon and ginger, gin and tonic, rum and coke, etc. Or I’ll stick with beer if they have something interesting. Since I’m not a big beer drinker, it would have to be something that catches my eye and outside the Sam Adams, Corona, Bud Light rubric.
If the bar looks like it could crank out a proper cocktail, talk to the bartender. Does he or she know how to make a negroni? Will they ask you if you want fruit salad in your Old Fashioned? Do they have bitter and if so, do they actually use them? You’ll learn a lot just by talking to the bartender and then you’ll be directed on which libation road to travel.
If you get really lucky and the bar has a bottle of Campari and a reasonably fresh bottle of sweet vermouth, you may be able to ask for a negroni.
1 oz each Gin, Campari & Sweet Vermouth
-Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
-Alternatively just build it an ice filled rocks glass and you’re set. None of that thar fancy stirrin’ stuff.
(Yes, I realize that is not Campari. But it’s delicious and good luck finding a bottle of Gran Classico at an airport or hotel bar!)