Why Can't I Get a McDonald's Hamburger at Chez Panisse?
December 29, 2009
In response to my recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle on high-end bars becoming more accommodating to patrons' requests, many people wrote into the comments about how snooty bartenders are who won't give you the drinks that you want.
The Chronicle's commenters are a notoriously (and often hilariously) opinionated bunch, so I don't take offense to anything they say. By and large, they were all terribly upset with Erick Castro of Rickhouse's quote:
"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."
Commenters were offended that a bartender is so arrogant as to think he knows better than the customer, and offended that a bartender wouldn't make the customer what he wants.
I know that in the case of Rickhouse they don't carry cranberry juice, so they actually can't make a Cosmo. I believe all of the other drinks cited by commenters cannot be made at Rickhouse either- drinks with Midori, 7UP, Malibu, etc. They do not carry these products on principle, and thus cannot make drinks with them.
So Rickhouse can't/won't make a Cosmo, and that makes people mad. But does it also infuriate them that Chez Panisse (probably) can't make a McDonald's hamburger?
Would you be surprised at Chez Panisse if you asked your waiter for a McDonald's hamburger and they steered your toward something similar and better, like a grass-fed, free-range beef burger on a fresh-baked bread roll with organic ketchup? Would you consider them arrogant? Call for the waiter to lose their job?
Only if you can't see the difference between McDonald's and Chez Panisse; between fast food and fine dining. And that is the image problem that cocktail bars have. Many people still think every bar is a McDonalds, when most bars that make the news are evolving toward something better.
The better cocktail bars are not actually suffering from this lack of understanding- there's a huge demand for them, in fact, and in my experience the places selling $10 cocktails are affected less in this recession than places selling $6 ones. So despite complaints, better cocktail bars are safe, for now.
The funny thing is that speakeasy bars were originally a theme concept, but evolved into a practical concept: hiding the bars from people who don't yet know that not every bar serves Bud and has sports on TV.
Some people worry that the perceived arrogance of the bartenders in these places will make this better-drinking era a trend rather than an ongoing movement. I think that's a valid concern, as fine cocktails are very trendy right now. I'd hate to see this movement lose momentum as there is so, so much further to go with it.
As was the point in my original article, bartenders are learning how to talk to patrons in a nicer way to steer them away from lesser-quality or marketing-driven drink choices and into better ones. But is there more that can be done- in the media or by bartenders/bar owners- to make a clearer break between the fast food version of bars and the ones more like fine dining?
LOVING this post Camper!! Great analogy.
Posted by: Jamie | December 29, 2009 at 10:35 AM
Great post. Made a whole lot-o-sense to me.
However, you did forget the diced onions and pickles on that hamburger. Just sayin'. ;)
Cheers from GarnishBar.
Posted by: Ben Requena | December 29, 2009 at 10:47 AM
You can stretch it further - you cannot go into Chez Panisse and order chow mein. They do not make it, they do not carry the components for it, and if that's what you wanted you should have gone somewhere else.
Restaurants are not interchangeable, and neither are bars.
Posted by: AK | December 29, 2009 at 11:00 AM
yeah, i love this post too. i am glad you are addressing this issue so that the public can gain a little more awareness of what is happening to the "bar scene" in this city and the country at large. it is growing up, and there are naturally going to be growing pains.
i had a couple guys order a Captain Morgan's & Diet Coke and a Bacardi & Diet Coke at Smuggler's Cove the other day. i couldn't help but smile, but i did my best to very courteously explain that we don't have those items, but can make a perfectly delicious substitute drink for them.
turns out they decided to leave, and that is a perfect example of someone who "can't see the difference between McDonald's and Chez Panisse."
we can't win 'em all, but being courteous and trying to bring these McDonald's folks into the fold is the correct and diplomatic thing to do. if they chose to leave, they may be disappointed, but at least we can hope they weren't offended.
Posted by: Alex | December 29, 2009 at 11:07 AM
Oh by the way, I was negligent in not mentioning that the McDonald's vs. 4-Star restaurant analogy came from a conversation with Craig Hermann, aka Colonel Tiki:
Props to the Colonel!
Posted by: Camper English | December 29, 2009 at 12:12 PM
I think part of the difference is that a lot of drinkers have settled onto just one drink that they drink exclusively, while just about zero eaters follow this pattern.
Posted by: Sylvan | December 29, 2009 at 02:35 PM
Camper, great article on SF Gate. However, your analogy here is apple & oranges. Why?
1) If I wanted a McDonald's hamburger, I would go there. Not BK, Jack in Box or Chez Panisse. Most consumers understand they can only get McDonald's at McDonald's. However, if I wanted a hamburger, I could choose any of these places, even Chez Panisse. Of course, I wouldn’t order a “McDonald’s hamburger at Chez Panisse, because I am not at a McDonalds. I might order a hamburger though and if they had the ingredients they would most likely accommodate me. Many high-end restaurants will make dishes “off the menu” if they have the ingredients on hand. Also, I would expect that the waiter wouldn’t sharply tell the patron, “I’m not making that”. Ironically, one place you can’t really order “of the menu” is McDonald’s.
2) You asked why are bars not treated like a restaurant? The whole experience is different. As are the expectations of ordering. You go to a restaurant, are seated, given a menu and a waiter comes to take your order and answer your questions. At a bar, you walk in, step up to the bar and hope to get the bartenders attention. If there is a menu, one usually needs to ask. Last time I was at Rickhouse, there was not a menu to be found. Ok, so you got the bartenders attention and now it’s time to order. I need to mention here, it is the norm at a bar to order what you want and not see a menu. This is not the norm in a restaurant, fast food or fancy. It also the norm for a bar to have all basic ingredients to make many thousands of combinations of cocktails, this is not the case for a restaurant.
So if a bar sat every patron at a table, with a menu and waitress. Then they could expect to be treated more like a restaurant. They would also need to explain that they make only drinks from their drink menu.
3) Eric’s quote is very condescending. If I were told, “I’m not making that” as a patron, I’d go find another bar. That is way different than saying “we don’t have cranberry juice, can I suggest something instead”. This is not arrogant at all? It was Mr. Castro’s attitude that the commenter’s were raging about. Never in the quote did he say, “We don’t carry cranberry juice, I have xyz instead”, He said, “I'm not making a cosmo, but I'm making you something better than a cosmo.” Maybe there is a better cocktails out there, however, as one commenter wrote, “why not just make the patron the best Cosmo they have ever had? “ Can we get an answer to that question from Mr. Castro?
The difference is making the customer feel welcome or unwelcome. Mr’s Casto’s comment would make anyone uncomfortable.
4) What exactly is the “principle” behind not carrying cranberry juice, when they have raspberry, guava and others? I it because fresh Cranberry juice is hard to get? I’m not sure. It makes sense to not stock inferior products, but because Midori or cranberry isn’t cool hipster crowd. Well that is just plain pretentious.
5) Why does the Cosmopolitan get such a bad rap? The Barsmarts team put the Cosmo on the list of 25 cocktails every bartender should know, and last time I checked, those BAR guys are fairly influential. Oh wait, I know, not hip enough. Please.
I am all for making excellent cocktails. Many bars do it here, with our pretention. I All bars should use fresh quality ingredients. They great bars also know how to make the customer special. Rickhouse does a poor job at this. I have heard more negatives about their service than positives. I am also very happy when a bartender suggests a cocktail when I ask. I am also OK, if they don’t have the right ingredients. I will even entertain a suggestion of another drink instead of what I ordered, as long as I can say, “nope I stick with what I ordered”. I am not ok with being told my order is unacceptable to the bartender, which is what Mr. Castro’s comment says. I’ll walk out every time.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | December 29, 2009 at 03:45 PM
A bar has the right to carry as many or as few spirits and products that they chose represent their style and goal in terms of over all experience. A lot of good bars don't carry Cranberry because they want Cosmopolitan drinkers to try something else along the same vein of light and slightly sweet. Plus it is very very hard to keep making fresh Cranberry juice every 2 days, so if a bar wants to say it is all fresh juice this is an costly choice.
Our bar carries Cranberry because we feel a Cosmopolitan or a Vodka and Cran are just fine if that is what the customer wants, but that is our call to make.
Our bar also doesn't carry Midori, Bacardi products or Captain Morgan because, based on our experience with spirits we feel these are not quality products.
Posted by: John Coltharp | December 29, 2009 at 04:32 PM
DOTW- thanks for your comment and consideration. As your argument suggests, until recently most bars did not operate like restaurants. Now they do, so oranges are becoming apples. As also noted, there are many, many kinks left to be worked out.
McDonald's analogy: it's valid if a person asked for a processed year-old frozen beef patty from a sick cow. Of course, the customer doesn't know that's what they're asking for when they specify McDonalds/Bacardi, which makes it a valid analogy to me. If they asked for a "rum and cola" at a bar/Chez Panisse I think that would be a better analogy to asking for an unbranded hamburger.
Cranberry/Midori/etc. It is a bar's choice to stock and make whatever they want. Many dive bars won't make a martini or don't carry the mint for a mojito. Are they pretentious or just catering to a certain style? Why are the only complaints upward? Must all bars cater to the lowest common denominator?
I'll let Castro argue against cranberry juice here in the comments if he so desires. I'll just add that Rickhouse is one of many venues that don't carry it.
Castro's attitude: Yes the phrase "i'm not making you a cosmo" would be a terrible customer service approach. Worse would be "you're a horrible person" which is also in the quote, and probably also never actually uttered to a customer by Castro.
You dislike Rickhouse in particular, and the customer service therein- that's fine, and they should know that. I can't argue with your experiences there. And you're right- you do have to go looking for a menu in the place.
The question at the end of this blog post was what can bars do to change the perception that they can get the same drinks in every bar. Maybe better customer service and general niceness is the most important thing.
Have you been to Clock Bar? Whenever I'm there, 90% of everyone orders Patron and Bud, so every bartender conversation starts with a denial. They're pretty smooth about it, but then again it's a lot less crowded than at Rickhouse.
Posted by: Camper English | December 29, 2009 at 04:59 PM
For that matter, why won't Richie Hawtin play my Kanye West request. I just don't get it. ;-p
Posted by: David McMahon | December 29, 2009 at 06:40 PM
Bars, like restaurants, have concepts. They are certain things and they are not certain things based on what the owner(s) wanted to do. If the concept is not accepted, the business fails. If it is...you get where I'm going.
The reality is that this is business. As much as I am a bartender and a mixologist, I am first and foremost a businessman. And my business is to make happy customers (also known as "hospitality"). If I succeed at that and run my business well, I'll make money. If I make angry customers who leave and don't spend money or return...
It's not that complicated, yet somehow people make it so.
Posted by: H. | December 29, 2009 at 08:24 PM
Those of us who know Erick Castro, understand that his comments were somewhat facetious, and that he is a very hospitable bartender.
People who read the Cosmo quote without any nuance might think it arrogant, but Camper's article was about bartenders shifting people's drinking habits. It was about how to go about it successfully or not, and an evolution of that interaction. Erick was just speaking to that topic.
If you like what you do for a living, you are motivated to preserve and perpetuate the best aspects of your occupation. For many bartenders that means turning people on to better drinks, and catering to people that appreciate them.
Every time I go to Clock Bar I witness the exact thing Camper mentioned.
The Chronicle comments feature is an irresistible beacon for some negativist gnats who seemingly have nothing better to do than to regularly read a periodical they don't like. Bartenders know that these people also go to bars. So some bars and some bartenders deploy various techniques to weed out haters. For every Moe that doesn't get it and walks out the door there are three people that raise a glass in appreciation. To be clear, everyone is invited to the party. It is up to the individual to partake or not.
Good drinks are not a trend. Frozen yogurt was a trend. Like good coffee, better food, better wine, and better beer. Good drinks will continue.
Posted by: Greg Lindgren | December 29, 2009 at 09:04 PM
...Why does are the only complaints upward? Must all bars cater to the lowest common denominator?
I will frequent a bar that gives both good drink and good service, even if the price is a bit higher.
And in the bar that serves good drink well, the only customers I ever hear complain about their bar tabs are the ones who ordered long necks all night.
Posted by: Chip | December 29, 2009 at 09:33 PM
It's about protecting your brand. I completely respect a bar's right to serve what they want to serve. If a place is known for it's creative artistry in cocktails, maybe you should try one of their suggestions instead of sticking with the ubiquitous Cosmo which you can get at just about anywhere.
Posted by: Emily | December 29, 2009 at 10:11 PM
If a customer orders a cosmo, make them the best f'in cosmo you can. If you don't have the ingredients, say that and offer something else. Although the customer may not always be right, they are bringing themselves, their friends and their MONEY into your establishment. If you want them to have a good experience and return, you will treat them as the good people are and give them the night, or drink, of their year. People LOVE to talk (and unfortunately Yelp) about their experiences. Make it a good one.
I agree that the cosmo may not be the best of cocktails but I find it to be a great bridge between the "Goose & Soda" and an Aviation or other tasty cocktails that most of these "unenlightened" customers might enjoy. I also think most customers, especially the ones today who can't afford to go out and save up for a big night on the town, are afraid of making the wrong decision on a $10 cocktail and instead go with with they see as the safe choice. Please don't hate these people. Make these people your new fans with great service and quality drinks. You will be doing your bar and the cocktail word a favor.
BTW, I think it's funny that most of the people who debate the cosmo can regularly be found drinking PBR and Miller High Life. And I totally disagree with the McDonald's equation. If I wanted a cheap mass-produced burger I would know where to get it and I would go there. Likewise, if I wanted a good cocktail, I would also know where to go... and it wouldn't be McDonalds. I don't expect to get a decent manhattan at Holy Cow. Finally, I love Clock Bar but at the end of the day, they are a hotel bar and most hotel bars don't have a choice in the customers they get. But they DO have a choice in the service they can give their customers!
Posted by: Sierra | December 29, 2009 at 11:25 PM
Bravo! Couldn't agree more. The only reason an otherwise sane and intelligent person would order a Midori-7UP in a nice bar - a bar that looks nicer than any they may have been in before, where you get seated and handed a menu and a glass of water before you could say "vodka-Rockstar" - is that they learn about alcohol in the trenches of party bars, with no role model wiser than Hank the Tank to lead them. That's why they seek refuge in the impossibly snooty and emperor's-new-clothes-I-won't-say-this-is-average-at-best-if-you-don't world of wine. It's as if everyone learned to eat at McDonalds, to turn a phrase.
That said, I do feel it a responsibility of a bar to make and serve a guest the drink they request IF the bar carries the correct ingredients to do so. If the bar carries stupid ingredients, them they must steel themselves to make stupid drinks. A guest should also graciously accept the fact a bar may not carry everything, and courteously accept any substitute suggested, and/or be sufficiently well-versed in the world of drinks to choose something else. I do not consider it in any way a responsibility of a bar to carry a vast assortment of types and brands of spirits, any more than I expect a good restaurant to carry every major type and cut of meat.
Posted by: Philip Duff | December 30, 2009 at 01:12 AM
Camper, the conceit of your argument is that people go a bar like they would a restaurant, for the menu. Would you make a reservation two months in advance in have a few drinks at Rickhouse? Amateurs primarily attend a bar because they want to get lit, talk to friends, hang-out in a scene, and look at beautiful people. Regulars frequent a bar because of a sense of community, good customer service, prices, and location. We don’t choose bars based on the menu, because most of us have a few drinks that we like to drink, then stick to that script. Smugglers Cove, Rickhouse, etc, are doing well because they’re trendy, not due to the menu. Good for them – we need honeypots for the trend-followers.
If I’m dragging the work crew in for happy hour, I don’t want the amateurs to struggle finding their insipid drink of choice. Or wait 20 minutes just to get the chemist behind the bar to notice me. Plenty of great bars will smile, remember my name, make my drink the way I like it, suggest a great cocktail for the novice, and serve it up quickly. Bars might be like restaurants to a few, but they’re just bars to the majority. Cheers
Posted by: Andy Foote | December 30, 2009 at 09:04 AM
As with classical training in cooking, a cocktail is a composition. One thing Chez Panisse and Mcdonalds have in common is this understanding. An entree should be composed of a protein, a starch, vegetable, sauce, and a garnish. Exactly what's in a Mcdonalds burger. As a cocktail bar makes most of it's drinks the same way. Base spirit, modifying spirit, acid, bitters, and sweetener if needed. When you were a child you had pasta with butter. Now it's house made potato gnocchi with truffles. We can offer solutions to the people who haven't grown up yet. At first it may seem daunting however they have had it before, they just don't know it. So the question is how do we educate and retain that business without making our guests feel like idiots? We are offering quality products at a reasonable price. Do we just serve them with our interpretations of their expectation or try and conversate to make a means to the end? Well it is service so we'll take it case by case. Cheers!
Posted by: Anson | December 30, 2009 at 10:47 AM
I have another example a bit more subtle than the Chez Panisse/McDonalds analogy. I work for an upscale Mexican restaurant and tequila bar on the outskirts of Union Square. We frequently have customers get annoyed with us when they ask for burritos or enchiladas which we don't carry. We also get grief because we offer complimentary house made warm corn tortillas, but charge extra for chips. Burritos and enchiladas are an American invention. Our tortillas are a superior product and are traditionally served in Mexico where as the chips are selectively used for some dishes, but are not used in place of tortillas.
What we have in common with the bars you mention is managing customers expectations. As humans, we define our worlds to make sense of them. When we see a caution sign, we assume there is danger. When some people see a bar, they assume they have cranberry juice. When some people want mexican food, they assume that means burritos.
Some people get upset when their world view is challenged. It's a natural response. It keeps them safe. In their mind the person challenging their expectations is asking them to think differently than the rest of the society. To them it's dangerous to behave outside the norm.
Other people see change in expectations as a good thing. Personally, I seek out new ways of experiencing the world. It's one of the reasons I live in the Bay Area and one of the reasons I quit my career to become a bartender. I want someone to show me a better way of doing things. I want house made grenadines. It keeps me safe in very much the same way that it endangers someone else.
I think the bottom line is that when you are doing something new or different, there is going to be the inevitable backlash. Our response in the beginning is to defend our new ways, sometimes to the point of rudeness. Overtime, enough people accept that the new way is better and we relax our guard and become ambassadors of the new instead of defenders of it.
Now, can I have my Long Island Iced Tea, please?
Posted by: Jared HIrsch | December 30, 2009 at 11:49 AM
Andy Foote- "Most people go to bars to get lit" agreed, and most people go to McDonald's to get full. At Chez Panisse/Rickhouse you still get full/lit, but with better quality ingredients and hopefully a better experience. These top cocktail bars are not supposed to be for everyone looking for a fast cheap drink, and people who go there looking for that will be disappointed.
What I'm arguing here is that there are different bars for different drinks and a different atmosphere. You probably also wouldn't take your coworkers into the skankiest dive in town either.
Posted by: Camper English | December 30, 2009 at 11:49 AM
Great comment! This is my whole point. Thanks for saying better than I could.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | December 30, 2009 at 12:03 PM
This is a good point, why do the complaints only upwards. My guess, expectations for the dive bar are low for cocktails. . At a nice place, expectations are higher. in exchange for higher prices they expect great drinks, the ability to call just about anything AND great service.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | December 30, 2009 at 12:06 PM
Problem is MOST people don't know Eric or his sense of humor.
His comment would put anyone on the defensive. All he need to say is "we don't carry cranberry", but I can make you something similar.
I think it is fine for a bartender to turn patrons on to other cocktails. That's fine, but if they say "Thanks, but I'd rather have just have a Bud" That's it! If you have Bud in your bar, the next word from the bartender is "coming right up". Not an argument, which I have seen take place at Rickhouse.
I've been to Clockbar, and they handle in a way that still make the customer feel welcome. That's my whole point.
PS -- I'm not sure how not carrying cranberry juice "weeds out the haters"?
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | December 30, 2009 at 12:15 PM
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | December 30, 2009 at 12:15 PM
I am not speaking for my friend. As Camper said, Erick can comment if he wants. I was merely pointing out that the Cosmo crack is an over the top comment which I understand as being facetious. It is just hard to pull that sentiment off the printed screen.
As for weeding out haters, I am referring to the reactionary types commenting over at SF Gate. There are people who have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and they are no fun to have in a bar. The technique is a flexibility challenge. As for us, we carry cranberry at our place but not blue curacao. So we draw the line at AMFs not Cosmos.
Posted by: Greg Lindgren | December 30, 2009 at 01:57 PM
True, some bars are becoming more like restaurants. But the only thing a bar like Rickhouse has in common with a restaurant is a menu (if you can find one). To the vast majority of consumers, bars and restaurants serve vastly different needs.
Andy says it nicely in the comments below
"Amateurs primarily attend a bar because they want to get lit, talk to friends, hang-out in a scene, and look at beautiful people. Regulars frequent a bar because of a sense of community, good customer service, prices, and location. We don’t choose bars based on the menu, because most of us have a few drinks that we like to drink, then stick to that script"
I have been to one place that really does act like a restaurant, Brandy Library in NYC. They give you a menu, a table and a waitress.
Also agree that bars can stock what ever they want and not stocking poor quality items makes perfect sense.
I am just wondering why there is such hatred towards cranberry juice and the Cosmo? No one seems to be able to explain this. So will someone please explain?
AS for Castro's quote. I am not sure what your purpose for including it. If he would actually never say that, then you did him a disservice in your portrayal. The was the quote reads to me is 3 years ago I was just mean. These days I am still mean, but not so abrupt. So I guess a different quote would have made your point better.
I mention Rickhouse in the comments because you mention it the article. I have had some good experiences and some bad. I think the drinks are decent, but I can get just as good drinks in a dozen other places in SF, however, the service is just poor. I hear this just about every time I mention the place. Happened yesterday when talking with a friend. I want to like Rickhouse for what they do for cocktails; they just need to up their service game.
I have been to Clockbar, very good service there.
Again, my problem is not with a denial, it is the way it is message is delivered. The script should go as follows
Customer: I'll have a Bud
Bartender: Ok, but we have something better, interested
Customer: Thanks, but I'd rather have just have a Bud
Bartender: coming right up (we assume they have Bud)
You asked what could bars do to change perception?
1) Remember the door is the most important thing in the bar. Great service starts when the customer walk in.
2) Understand they are in the hospitality business. Customers are number 1 and they will grow tired of gimmiks like speakeasy decor and house rules if the service drinks do not stand up. Have you been to the Parlor? You'll know what I mean.
3) If they DO have a set menu and won't make the most common drinks. Make that clear when they walk in the door.
4) Hire a hostess and make sure everyone is given a menu and a seat.
Doing these things can help manage perception and expectations. Basically, these bars are trying to run, when they should be walking. They can get the customer there, eventually.
Of course any bar or establishment has the right to carry what ever products it chooses and can give good service or poor service. It is the owner’s choice. What the owner cannot control is market perception and preference.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | December 30, 2009 at 01:58 PM
If you want to fill a niche, and can do so successfully, go for it.
I do not stock my bar with certain ingredients because I do not want to use these ingredients. There is a finite number of space in my bar. For every person drinking Captain and Cokes, I can accomodate one less person drinking sazeracs. I like to make sazeracs, I make a damn good sazerac. My Captain and coke is only slightly better than the one you can get at any of forty bars on the strip in this god-forsaken college town. I am not being pretentious by creating my niche, as it is not pretentious for Chez Panisse to not make a Mcdonalds hamburger.
This is where it gets a little political for me. Like Alice Waters, I would rather use fresh, local, handcrafted ingredients rather than genetically modified high-fructose corn syrup soda from a multi-national corporation. I have chosen quality over commodity. I will not pander to the lowest common denominator because I am scared into thinking its going to hurt my bottom line.
The Cosmo? This is a funny thing. It is a market-driven beverage, yes. Made popular by a television series. I recoil at it not because it is not a drink that I particularly enjoy, but beacuse it is a trapping of the era in our history which I am trying to move past, as a maker and server of drinks.
The V-shaped cocktail glass is in its own way another one of those trappings. I prefer to make drinks that you might put into one of these "martini" glasses into goblets and coupes instead. It allows me to avoid the akward exchange with a customer when I make a pisco sour, and they ask me what sort of martini it is...
Posted by: [email protected] | December 30, 2009 at 04:42 PM
Jonas also has an excellent point in asking what is the problem with the cosmo? Or is it what the cosmo represents?
Posted by: Sierra | December 30, 2009 at 09:55 PM
As a retailer, I deal with this everyday. I don't carry Seagram's, or Gordon's Vodka for that matter. Someone walks in and wants Bacardi, "I'm sorry" I say. I have put effort into creating a serious selection of top shelf, craft-distilled booze, and those bottles aren't on my radar. "Bev Mo is just down the street," I say. Am I losing their business? Sure! But I'm not after their business. I get PLENTY of business from the people looking for quality spirits because that's what I carry. If you have a business model, then you stick to it. Just because someone comes with money in their hand doesn't mean you abandon it.
Posted by: David D | December 31, 2009 at 08:14 AM
Oh, Camper. You really out did yourself this time, with all the complaining comments and all.
I recently came all the way from Los Angeles JUST to sit at The Rickhouse. I even asked the bartender (a BEAUTIFUL Irish girl) to make me something and to be as creative as she likes. She was definitely busy, and her demand for me to at least name a spirit choice had a bit of a "look just tell me what you want to drink already!" vibe to it. I could see she was busy; but the only reason I asked for her creativity was because a nightly regular told me that it was slow compared to normal, and that she probably wouldn't mind. Well, I think she did, and in her defense I should have known better.
The reason I'm telling of this is because I want to make the point that you cant always get what you want out of a bar, or a bartender, and that is why we can be a bit abrasive when we are asked for something we cannot (or will not) provide. The fact is that it shouldn't be of any news to anyone who has ever been to a bar to hear something from a bartender that they don't like. Bartenders have god complexes, especially good bartenders. I'm not saying it should be ok for a bartender to be rude to a patron, I'm simply saying that if anything a bartender says is not liked by a patron than they should go another bar of their liking. PERIOD. If you go to The Rickhouse and they won't make you a cosmo, go to some sticky dive or college bar. If you go to a sticky dive and hear the bartender say something offensive to your ears, go to a bar where the bartender has better class.
There's really nothing to complain about. Eric Castro is talented, and he knows it. So either trust him and stay, or don't and leave. The same people who are complaining about him being "arrogant" to patrons, are the same patrons who would never complain about the arrogant disconcerting look some "hot girl" bartenders give you when you walk into their bar and DARE ask her about a certain bottle on the shelf; assuming she knows something about her craft because, well....she's a bartender. And, let me tell you all out there--it's way more common to get rude service from a crappy bartender for asking a question about spirits or wine, than it is to get rude service from a bartender who won't make you a cosmo because they wont put cranberry juice in their bar.
If you don't like Eric, don't go to the Rickhouse. I don't like un-knowledged bartenders, so I don't go to bars that staff girls wearing bikinis. But, I don't put down those said girls when I couldn't get what I wanted at their bar--for whatever reason. I just accept that it's not the bar for me.
Posted by: Rik W. McCluer IV | December 31, 2009 at 02:48 PM
Well... like I said in a comment I posted in an earlier post of yours (which was also excellent), suggestions are fine. But I think there is a fine line between suggesting and forcing your tastes on someone else under the guise of suggestion. There also a fine line between being elitist and simply sticking to a niche. Sometimes I think that line is blurred a little.
By the way, wow, I never realized this was such a touchy subject for people! Thanks Camper, for bringing up the topic. The discussion is a great read and I'm soaking up so much insight :)
Posted by: Allen Irizarry | January 01, 2010 at 03:33 AM
At one point or another all of us bartenders were drinking some pretty crappy products. I will totally admit that through college I was a bacardi & diet coke or a vodka, soda with a splash of cran, I drank Patron on the rocks (however Patron was just on the scene when I was in college..hahaha).
I am NOT ashamed.
Without those drinks when I moved to Colorado and worked in a Steve Olsen program at a schmancy hotel with some total dork I would never in a million years have appreciated the finer things in life. It boggles my mind how I went to the farthest extreme in LA however and mocked those who didn't know instead of helping them. Like everything in life it is about balance and at the end of the day my job is to make people happy. So how you handle a situation is key to effectively changing someone's drinking life. We may not have Captain's at work but every single person I have given our Smuggler's Spiced Rum has become my new best friend.
It isn't about winning every battle...its about winning the war. I think in the minds of the general public a bar is a bar. Where restaurants have levels and styles. It will take time to get that into some people's thick skulls but as a bartender it is my job to help that distinction stand out.
Posted by: Mrs. E | January 02, 2010 at 10:38 AM
Totally understand how Castro comments could be taken out of context. Unfortunately, I do not know him. What I do know that myself and other have experienced this type of attitude in his bars. So it would lead me to believe that he wasn't exactly being facetious. I've never experienced in any of your bars.
Of course, SF is full of people with a huge sense of entitlement. They are no fun to deal with in any circumstance.
I don't think expecting a that bar should be able to make one of the most popular and common cocktails there is demonstrates a sense of entitlement. It is just expected. It the norm.
Bars with rules and act exclusive attract these type of people as the novelty & perceived hipness feeds their entitlement.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | January 02, 2010 at 01:07 PM
Uh actually, I would be, and have been just a pissed annoyed by a "hot chick" bartender with an attitude.
Where did you get the idea that this is acceptable anywhere?
Bartending is a public facing service profession.
Any bartender who gives lousy service is un-knowledged in my book. I don't care how good the drinks are. I can make them just as good right in my kitchen. I go to bars for the sense of community and to have fun. If the place isn't friendly, I'm out the door.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | January 02, 2010 at 01:23 PM
"how you handle a situation is key to effectively changing someone's drinking life"
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | January 02, 2010 at 01:26 PM
Well, right. That's the point I'm making; it's ridiculous to get rude service from any bartender, at any bar. But, I don't think it's rude for a bartender to let a patron know that he/she cant make a cosmo, because lack of poor quality ingredients being stocked. I don't think a bartender should use those words to describe a cosmo when one is ordered, but none the less I cant understand why someone would be offended when it's all explained. Ultimately, I think a lot of people who are complaining about Eric and The Rickhouse, are the same types who will DEFEND the same bartender who told me the other night "not to bring my big college words into the bar" when I asked what brands of reposado and extra anejo were available.
Posted by: Rik W. McCluer IV | January 03, 2010 at 02:35 AM
Posted by: Rik W. McCluer IV | January 03, 2010 at 02:37 AM
You're assuming that people choose bars for the same reasons they choose restaurants, then you base the rest of your argument on that false assumption. I agree that atmosphere is a significant factor when choosing a bar. Menu is not. Mixology/speakeasy places are crowded because they’re trendy.
Is indifferent attitude and slow service the evolution of the cocktail experience? All we really want is 1) a good cocktail, 2) friendly service, and 3) reasonably quickly prepared. At most trendy-mixologist bars I get 1 out of 3. There are far too many authentic bars where I can get 3/3, and my less-enlightened friends won’t feel self-conscious or embarrassed when asking for their vodka soda, greyhound, or cosmo.
Posted by: Andy Foote | January 04, 2010 at 04:28 PM
I think the whole point of these bars is that they're made for people going for the menu. People going for a vodka soda are there under false pretenses.
Posted by: Camper English | January 04, 2010 at 04:48 PM
What are the false pretenses?
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | January 04, 2010 at 09:52 PM
1. Why does the mention of a Cosmo = poor quality ingredients? The one's made by Dale de Groff are always amazingly fresh.
2. I reiterate, no one is saying bars should stock low quality ingredients - ever!
3. Why would any one defend rudeness? I think you are completely off base on your last point.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | January 04, 2010 at 09:59 PM
Regarding Rickhouse and cosmos...
Aside from not stocking cranberry juice, Rickhouse is a Prohibition era speakeasy style bar. Their focus is Prohibition era cocktails. The cosmo (in its current form) is a contemporary cocktail that was not around during Prohibition times. Hence another reason you are not able to order a cosmo at Rickhouse.
However, I would suspect the "better than a cosmopolitan" cocktail referred to could very well be the 1926 original cosmopolitan made from gin, orange liqueuer, lemon juice and raspberry infused simple syrup, which is very different and better than its contemporary counterpart.
Posted by: Michael Kostin | January 07, 2010 at 01:03 AM
I go to bars for the quality of the drinks. My friends go to bars for the quality of the drinks. But we're dorks.
Posted by: C. Fernsebner | January 07, 2010 at 02:47 AM
Cocktails sucked during prohibition. So why the need to romanticize it?
what is better about the 1933 version of this cocktails? different base spirit, but same basic ingredients, yet just as pink and sweet. It is better in YOUR opinion. Personally, I prefer the taste of cranberry over raspberry. That is really the difference between the two, beside gin vs vodka. Actually, the 1933 version, seems even sweeter.
Rickhouse serves other "contemporary drinks". If it were truly a "prohibition" style bar, there'd be no vodka either. Americans really didn't drink the stuff. Oh yeah, there wouldn't be any top shelf anything. When Rickhouse starts making drinks out of moonshine and bathtub gin, using fruit juice to mask the taste, then it can be a speakeasy.
Posted by: twitter.com/dotw | January 07, 2010 at 11:57 AM
DOTW. I am sure that it's too late to weigh in on this one but here goes. The Cosmo argument is not against the Cosmo but against cranberry juice. Cranberry juice isn't juice. Its mostly sugar and water. It's doesn't taste good on its own (unless you buy %100 cranberry juice and sweeten it and then its not what people wanted to begin with). So why should I carry cranberry juice when its only used in three drinks (Cosmo, cape cod, madras) which I don't like. Do I have to carry redbull because people like to drink it? How about coke just so I can make a cola highball? Want a cosmo? Your getting a vodka daisy. All the ingredients are the same but organic raspberry syrup is your coloring agent. Ocean spray cranberry cocktail is garbage (no offense to your yeast experiment, Camper).
Posted by: Erik Adkins | January 08, 2010 at 10:49 AM
I have to disagree here, your analogy is off. If Chez Panisse tried to offer you a hamburger made with "grass-fed, free-range beef burger on a fresh-baked bread roll with organic ketchup", they're not denying you a hamburger, they only want you to have a better quality version of the same product. It's like a bar offering me a Cosmo with Beluga Gold Line, Cointreau, and fresh squeezed organic lime and cranberry juices. If Chez Panisse was being he same kind of snooty as the Rickhouse, they would say "We don't serve hamburgers here, in fact, we don't even have ground beef on the premises."
And why all the hate for the Cosmopolitan? It's a vodka sour with cranberry and lime juice, just because some terrible people on TV like it doesn't mean it's automatically a bad drink.
Posted by: Andrew | February 28, 2014 at 11:27 PM