Valentine's Day Cocktail-Related Activities in San Francisco
Bars Inside Other Bars

The Great Debate Continues

You may recall a few weeks ago I wrote a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle about bartenders being less snobby that proved a bit controversial.  Now a few others have taken up the conversation.

My initial story had the following quote from Erick Castro of Rickhouse that touched a few nerves:

"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."

So then I wrote a blog post called, "Why Can't I Get a McDonald's Hamburger at Chez Panisse?" and that gave birth to more discussion.

The Paul Clarke picked up the topic at Serious Eats in a post called "Serious Cocktails: Is the Customer Always Right?" In it he asks:

Just as it'd be ridiculous to enter a dive bar and ask for a Last Word, isn't there something at least slightly wrong with going to a bar with a spectacular selection of spirits—an ambitious and balanced cocktail menu and a carefully developed mixological aesthetic—and asking for the bibulous equivalent of a baloney sandwich?

This story picked up another 67 comments so far. 

Then Lauren Clark picked up the topic on in a post called "We've Seen This Before" and adds a very good point- that this whole debate is nothing new and has been seen in food, beer, and wine.

I experienced this kind of change first-hand during my brief stint in the craft brewing industry in the late ’90s. Even though craft beer had been proliferating for over a decade at that point, people would still walk into a brewpub and order a Miller Lite. The bartender would explain that there was no Miller Lite on tap, that the establishment sold only beer that was made on the premises, and he would suggest a golden ale — milder than the pub’s other beers but still way more flavorful than mass-produced light lager. The customer would either leave or try the golden ale. If he tried it and liked it enough, he might get adventuresome later on and order an IPA or a porter. It was a process, and it didn’t happen overnight.

This is fun. I hope this discussion continues on and offline.


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John the Barman

Lauren Clark's comments on the craft brewing industry are some of the smartest things I've heard with concern to this argument. History will always teach us if we listen. Good cocktails are here to stay just like good beer and wine. People will still drink Miller and walk if you don't have it or something as cheap. We as bartenders need to be o.k. with that if we want to keep moving forward.


Love it! Way to keep the dialogue going Camper!


i love it too. the more we explore this phenomenon, hopefully the closer we will get to some mutual understanding.

now, for the current issue regarding the legality of infusions (and the ABC's harassing of Rickhouse and B&B)... wtf is going on here?

can some enlightened cocktail-loving legislator write a law condoning the creative practice of infusing spirits (which includes the subset of house-made bitters) already? this is getting to be ridiculous.

Mr Manhattan

@Alex: can you tell us more about what's going on with infusions at Rickhouse and B&B? - Michael


If you have the ingredients for what the customer orders then you make it. If not, then suggest something along the lines. The barkeep is there for the customer. Some people want the familiar others want something different. If the service good they will be back.


Lauren's comment seems to about sum it up for me. Also, I'm sure there are some of you out there (like me) who might remember a time when you started drinking wine (in your mispent and un-wine-intelligent youth) and declared you only drank red because white was bad wine. And, heaven forbid rose touched your lips. But, live and learn and become less of a faux-snob about food and drinks! And i think this article (couple of months old now, but still) touches on the change in attitude as well:

Mike Sherwood

I find a lot of bartenders are anti-vodka and while they carry quite a few in the back bar, they don't feature any cocktails using straigt vodka and they perfer not to use them at all. Even cool flavors like Hanger One Kafir Lime, Charbay Blood Orange, Square One Cucumber or my Sub Rosa Saffron or Tarragon, draw snears from a number of bartenders - although they might use their own infusions. I've seen some innovative riffs on the Cosmo (lime, orange liqueur and fruit juice combo) that rock. To be sure though, this is an interesting conversation. Custom signature cocktails show off the innovation and creativity of that bar. I often take their lead and try what THEY think is interesting. That is how you broaden your palate. Please, don't get rid of the cocktail menu.

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