These four words are the secret to better drinking.
They’re also the secret to having more fun. To being a knowledgeable and discriminating drinker. To ordering like someone who appreciates the difference between a shaker and a stick. To knowing your way around the back bar. To becoming a favored patron and the friend of bartenders.
So take this seriously — kinda like the golden rule, and Shakespearean lines like “Neither a borrower or a lender be,” and anything from the Yoda scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back” (the best of the three, IMO).
For the past 12 months, I’ve gone early. And I’ve gone often.
And, I’m here to tell you, I’m a better drinker for it. I’ve crisscrossed America going early and often, and here’s my experience. 90% of bartenders in real cocktail bars enjoy talking to patrons — and 100% of the great bartenders certainly do.
But only if it’s early.
They want to tell you about their latest twist on a classic or some crazy, “mad bartender” infusion they’ve created. They want to share their knowledge and inspire you with their passions. And they’re on a mission to figure out what you like and what you might like, but don’t know it yet.
But only if you go often.
Sure, you can read books and articles in publications (like this one). But to get the magic, the culture, the view of life in America through the lens of America’s bars, you need a bartender. Britt Henze will re-introduce you to jello-shots, grownup-style. Duane Fernandez will bring a performer’s touch to your bar experience. Enzo Lim will find the perfect cocktail to pair with a fertilized duck egg. Frank Cisneros will spirit you back in time to punchbowls and secret passwords. Evan Faber will draw the local-sourcing parallels between single-vinyard wines and hand-crafted spirits. Justin Noel will introduce you to single-village labels of mescal. Kevin Burke will share the bartender’s handshake with you, and introduce you to one of his half dozen Fernets. Liam Wager will show you a fresh twist on an old classic. Matt Hartigan will take you to new outposts of Brooklyn — in a glass. Maxwell Britten will introduce you to the mystic qualities of absinthe. Sean Kenyon will tell you stories behind the bottles on his back bar. Steve Schneider will introduce you to his hammer.
These are the reasons you go to bars. And if all you’ve experienced are the crowds, the scenes, the hook-ups, and piling your friend(s) headfirst and incapacitated into a cab at 4 a.m. — well, you’re really missing something.
You’ve missed getting to know bartenders.