Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cocktail Wasteland

New York is the cocktail center of the universe, hands down. But at the same time the city is filled with incompetent bartenders who know how to make, perhaps, 12 drinks tops. And those they don't make very well.

I've complained about this before (though not on this blog, yet), but lately the fact has been sent screaming home to me once again. I was in a Sazerac mood this week, and hoped against hope that I could find one on the town without having to make it myself. Tuesday night I was at O'Neal's near Lincoln Center. I asked the bartender if he knew how to make a Sazerac. I was startled to receive an immediate, affirmative answer. Alas, it was too good to be true. The man returned in a minute to confirm that a Sazerac was composed of bourbon and simple syrup. Sigh. I ordered a Manhattan, making sure to emphasize I wanted it made with rye. Don't say that, and you'll get bourbon.

The next night I was at Joe Allen's in the theatre district. Joe Allen's bartenders are smart and make a solid cocktail. So my hopes were again up when I asked if the bartender knew how to make a Sazerac. Yes, he did. Bingo! But—oh, no—they didn't have Peychaud's Bitters behind the bar. Well, at least he knew the drink required Peychaud's. Seeing he was smart, I asked if he knew how to make a Hurricane. (I'm in a New Orleans mood lately.) No, he admitted. Again, I orders a Manhattan, made with rye.

I understand that most people behind a bar see themselves as actors, musicians and such. But if they're to take the job, shouldn't they glance at a bartender's guide from time to time, to bone up on a few unknown drinks. Just in case. You can count on them to make the dopey cocktails with the embarrassing names and embarrassing ingredients, and the trendy drinks of the moment (Cosmopolitan, Mojito, whatever), plus a few classic cocktails that remain in steady demand (Martini, Manhattan, Magarita, etc.), but almost nothing else.

Oh, well. Off to the Pegu Club again.

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