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Sunday, 6 November 2011

How to tell if a bar is crappy (before you even order a drink): Part 2

So let's continue with this short series on judging a bar by everything but the taste of its drinks... so you can prevent having your taste buds, dignity, and wallet suffer.
Some of these are general rules and don't apply everywhere, which I will note. Most of them, however, are really good guidelines to follow all the time.
Use both to get a good idea of how good a bar will be before you even sit down to order.
And yes, this is obviously my personal opinion, but I drink a LOT, and I try out a lot of bars and a lot of drinks and a lot of bartenders, and that's a great way to get a sense of not only what you want, but of general quality. Let's get continue...

2) Shaking
If the bartenders are shaking everything, they don't know how to make cocktails. I've been to so many restaurants and bars where bartenders will mix every single drink in a shaker, and ruin most of the drinks they're serving. Of course, in a lot of these places you're not missing out on a good cocktail, but the real damage comes when they offer (or you're taking a risk and ordering) a classic. I've made the mistake more than once of looking at a terrible cocktail list, and trying to order a Manhattan or something easy, only to have it served to me with shards of ice, way too much bitters, and one of those gross, fake maraschino cherries. Cocktails should only be shaken when they contain juice, egg, or cream. Robert Hess from the Cocktail Spirit on the Small Screen Network has a good mantra for this: If the ingredients are clear, stir the cocktail. If the ingredients are cloudy or opaque, shake the cocktail. The only exception to this rule, which is still often debated, is the Martini (a real one), but that's another discussion.

I've often also seen bartenders shaking 2 cocktails in 2 shakers in either hand. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing... but I view it as such. A great bartender will be able to multitask, and will be making drinks quickly, but will give each one the attention it deserves. Watching a bartender shake my drink with someone else's makes me feel like he's not really paying attention or taking the respectful time to make it for me. Whether he's perfectly measured, tasted, and mixed everything properly, I still feel like he's cutting corners, which is the last thing I want to feel sitting at a bar, leaving my trust, palate, and enjoyment in his hands. So much of enjoying cocktails is the experience, and so much of that lies in the hands of the bartender.

So, when you are trying to decide on a bar or a bartender, watch him make the drinks. If you see him shake something without adding juice, cream, or egg, that's always bad news.

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