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Thursday
Dec312009

Big Huffabaloo Over Drink Menu Rules

Camper English writes some pretty fine articles about the world of craft cocktails and is a very informative source for all things alcohol.  In fact, I turn to him every once and a while when I need some insider info concerning new products or special events.  This past week he wrote an article for the SF Chronicle (which you can read here) concerning the new trend for upscale bars to try and educate their clients, rather than condescend to them.  However, the quote from Rickhouse mixologist Erick Castro really worked some SF Gate commenters (who at times can be incredibly over-the-top, let alone dense) into a frenzy.  The argument then spilled over to Camper's personal blog, where commenters continued to debate the role of the bartender as a purveyor of consumer will.  Castro used a hypothetical conversation with a make-believe, newby cocktilian as a metaphor for the evolution of the entire scene:

"Three years ago it was OK to be rude. It used to be 'I'm not making a cosmo and you're a horrible person.' Now we say, 'I'm not making a cosmo, but I'm making you something better than a cosmo.' And if they like (the drink) they trust you for the whole night."

That's basically what the attitude was, and whether people like it or not, it's the truth about bars like the Rickhouse today.  The Cosmopolitan (a less-than-exciting blend of vodka, cranberry juice, and lime) has become to the high-end liquor world what domestic merlot was (and is only now overcoming) to the wine world after Sideways: an unexciting, unadventurous, and terribly safe choice of libation.  Good bartenders like to be challenged and like to show off a bit, much like a wine store clerk appreciates a customer who shows an interest in obscure, French regional whites.  In the wonderful world of alcohol, life is simply too short to waste so much time drinking the same boring thing time and time again - according to some. 

The truth is: there's nothing wrong with ordering a Cosmo.  But my question is: why all the anger, hatred, and obvious fear towards high-end cocktail bars that don't feel like cowering to the lowest common denominator?  I was literally shocked by some of the comments I read.  People are honestly this threatened by the four bars in San Francisco that don't make Cosmos as a general principle? There seems to be a prevelent mindset that the customer with money is entitled to whatever drink he sees fit, so long as he's paying.  This is not the case anywhere else, so why should it be the case at a speakeasy? 

If I have a customer walk in and ask for Seagram's whiskey, I say, "I'm sorry, sir, but I cannot sell it to you.  I don't carry it." I then offer to recommend something else that he may also like, and he has the option to say yes or no.  Does the customer then have the right to trash me for failing to carry his favorite brand of spirit?  K&L caters to a specific group of afficionados that come to us because we have what specifically what they want.  We have a business model and we stick to it because we have what certain people are looking for.  We would like to be all things to all people, but it isn't possible, so we pick our spots and do the best we can. 

I know for a fact that the Rickhouse doesn't have cranberry juice in the building, so even if they wanted to oblige the customer and try to make the Cosmo, they don't have the proper materials to do so.  The Cosmo metaphor is used to paint a picture of the customer who hasn't yet tasted the wonders available from the top class mixologist.  If they don't want to drink something interesting and new, then maybe the Rickhouse isn't for them.  There are plenty of other bars in the city who exist only to serve the simple pleasures of the everyday consumer.  But for those that are looking outside the box for something new and different, there are the serious watering holes such as Heaven's Dog, Alembic, Bourbon & Branch, and the Rickhouse.  I like to think that we fall into that same category of retailer.  The store that can offer you something beyond the usual.

-David Driscoll

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