Who's a dickhead? Barman Sean Kenyon's response to Jenn Wohletz's cocktail grievances
On Friday, Jenn Wohletz served up "Five cocktails only a dickhead would order." Shaken, not stirred, Cafe Society contributor Sean Kenyon offers this response:
Dear Jenn Wohletz:
You don't know us
You are not one of us
You do not speak for us
I woke up Friday morning and, as is my routine, I checked e-mails, looked at my calendar, ate breakfast and checked on the Cafe Society blog. The first headline read, "Five cocktails only a dickhead would order." Before I clicked the link and went any further, I pondered for a minute. What could they be? A Mat Dillon (a lovely mix of all that is spilled into a barmat throughout the night)? A cement mixer (curdles in your mouth and is intended to make the imbiber ill)? No self-respecting bartender would serve anyone either of those. My curiosity was piqued. So I clicked. I did a double take, a triple take. That can't say "Old-Fashioned." No way. I checked the header to be sure I wasn't reading my own 2010 post on the Old Fashioned.
Nope. There it was, right in front of me: The Old-Fashioned, arguably the most iconic classic cocktail, listed as number five on a list of cocktails only a dickhead would order. Wow. I've never met Jenn, but in her mind, I'm a dickhead one thousand times over. I've had at least that many Old-Fashioned cocktails over the past 28 years. She may have been right the first 200 times or so, but not because of what I drink. And she called many of my friends and fellow bartenders dickheads (actually, some of them are). She accused our guests at Williams & Graham, where we sell hundreds of Old-Fashioneds a week, dickheads.
Like watching NASCAR for the crashes, I read on. Not only was this list offensive to the drinking public, it was an insult to bartenders everywhere. I had to respond. Starting with her list:
5. The Old-Fashioned
Jenn writes "(The Old-Fashioned is) a pain in the ass to prepare" because "there is a sugar cube and muddling involved." Any bartender who cares or is worth a shit would be prepared and happy to make an Old-Fashioned or any other drink the guest wanted, without judgment. As well, they should be able to bang one out in no time. If they can't, they shouldn't be behind a bar.
-"Mixologists at faddish hipster joints will give a three-sweep eye roll when someone asks for one "made the right way." Again, if a bartender is rolling their eyes at guests, they don't belong behind the bar. Our craft is based on hospitality; if you don't love serving people, find a job where you don't have to...
-"Old-timey drinks like a Ramos gin fizz (needs a raw egg white and flower water), a Brandy Alexander (gets fresh cream and fresh-ground nutmeg) or an Old-Fashioned are begrudged -- and usually made incorrectly." Wrong. Just plain wrong. Any bartender should be happy to make any drink at any time.
- "bartenders aren't nineteenth-century vampires with eternal memories." No, we are not. But if a bartender cares about what they do, they learn the basics, which includes the knowledge of about 25 drinks that every bartender should know. The Old-Fashioned is high on that list.
-"When old people order them, and when anyone under the age of 65 orders one, they're only doing it to look cool and impress people." An Old-Fashioned, made properly, is actually delicious. Many order them for that reason.
4. The strawberry daiquiri
Bars that have blenders have signed up for making drinks like piña coladas and fruity daiquiris. Again, it's part of the job, and the drink should be made without judgment. Bars without blenders can make a simple unfrozen version by making a classic daiquiri (rum, lime, sugar) with muddled strawberry.
3. The top-shelf dirty martini
"Most bars don't even bother carrying dry vermouth, and the ones that do usually keep it somewhere out of easy reach and will just say 'bucket-fuck-it!' And make the drink without it." Actually, with the resurgence in the popularity of proper cocktails, most bars do keep vermouths on hand. Many of us have them close to us and in the speed rail. This is suggesting that a bartender would make a drink intentionally wrong because he doesn't feel like grabbing vermouth. Who are these lowlife slingers that you based this article on?
"Dry vermouth was used back in the Prohibition era to take the edge off when homemade vodka was distilled in bathtubs and could strip the paint off fire engines." There is so much wrong with this statement. Dry vermouth was used way before Prohibition, and the original recipe for a martini was half gin and half vermouth (with a touch of orange bitters). Social preference over the past hundred years has reduced the amount of vermouth that most people desire in a martini. But a properly made martini is divine. There is only one right way to make a martini or any drink, for that matter: the way the guest wants it.
Umm, and Jenn: Vodka was never distilled in bathtubs. It's impossible to distill in a bathtub. Bathtub gin was made during Prohibition and was the result of mixing poorly distilled alcohol or industrial alcohol with juniper oils. It actually killed some people.
2. Lime-flavored beer of any kind
Not a cocktail. I don't like lime beers or carry them, although I am happy to put lime in a beer if my guest desires it. This is just an example of what a judgmental, crusty barstool hack you are. How does someone ordering a beer affect your experience or the bartender's night?
1. Virgin frozen drinks of any kind
"One of the most dickheaded things you can do is order a slow drink in a fast-paced bar." There are no slow drinks, there are just slow bartenders. A great bartender is dynamic and can handle a crowd, make a blender drink and work it into his/her routine. While that drink is blending, three of four more drinks can be made.
"....ask for a cocktail that requires a blender and you aren't even ordering alcohol in it, you are wasting the bartender's time" Again, not a cocktail. But if the blender is there... use it. Any bartender who feels as if a guest is wasting their time should find different work. We are on the guest's time, not the other way around. Virgin drinks are important, because we are responsible for the safety and happiness of our guests. These drinks allow the non-drinker/pregnant woman/designated driver to be part of the action without consuming alcohol.
Before Prohibition, bartending was a respectable career. Bartenders cared about their craft. Bartenders were held in high esteem, along with doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Since the Noble Experiment of Temperance, it has taken years to regain that respectability. The stereotypical cocky "I don't care about you" bartender from the '80s and '90s (like the ones you describe) has gone the way of the dodo bird. In one article that enraged a lot of people in our community of hospitality professionals, you've attempted to take us backwards. But we won't allow it.
The point I really want to make is that bartending is all about hospitality, and all else (cocktails knowledge, etc.) is secondary. Hospitality is the foundation of all that we, as bartenders, do. There is nobility in service. The great thing about hospitality is that it can happen in any bar. You don't need the right equipment, or the right ice or the finest selection of spirits to achieve it. It can happen at the most ritzy hotel bar, the diviest of the dives and everything in between. All you need is the right people. People who take pride and people who care.
Jenn, I'd love for you to come down to Williams & Graham or the Squeaky Bean and meet our bartenders. We can go on a bar crawl, and I can introduce you to some of Denver's most hospitable bartenders, bartenders who will happily serve whatever the guest desires and do it with a smile. They'll make you whatever you want without judgment. The offer is open and good anytime.
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