Gabriel Szaszko is a mixological obsessive in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He publishes Cocktail Nerd.
Joana and I will one day open a restaurant/bar; it’s a foregone conclusion. As soon as all the people who have drinks at my home bar and exclaim, “You should really do something with this! Like, open your own bar!”, start ponying-up the cash as investors, the freeloading punks, then it will be a reality. Seriously though, when asked by the Tulsa World to list 5 places to get a drink I was hard pressed and came up with 4 + “My House”. So it’s with this in mind that Joana registered for two of the “Professional Series” sessions at this years’ TotC and attended the ‘Great Bars of the World’ session yesterday held by Simon Difford. (Please note, I take pictures, I like pictures, pictures are a friend of mine, and this blog, sir, won’t allow me to post pictures–my apologies…I blame Rick)
How to Create the Right Cocktail Menu for Your Bar or Restaurant:
The panelists were Julie Reiner, Tony Abou-Ganim, Eben Clemm, and Willy Shine and each brought a slightly different backstory and approach to developing cocktail menus at both restaurants and bars. And, thank the green fairy, they actually agreed on the main points when designing a menu:
- Consciously use a variety of spirits and avoid the ‘all vodka’ menu,
- Use a culinary approach to the menu taking into account the taste of the audience as well as what comes out the kitchen door,
- Get the staff involved in cocktail development to increase advocacy and excitement,
- Keep your limitations in mind, whether they be space, layout, or talent,
- Don’t write your menu in a vacuum; look to your kitchen, your staff, and to your local ingredients for inspiration and guidance, and
- Tie the bar menu and cocktails to a larger value
On this last point Tony Abou-Ganim was especially colorful when discussing how he will seek out a bar, not only for a particular drink, but for a particular bartender’s version and style of a drink. And, in working with the Bellagio in Vegas, creating that association with a customer means more money in the casino and more food brought out of the kitchen.
Designing Smarter Bars:
In full disclosure, I was at the blogger’s reception (again, stupiddumb photos unavailable) during this session and my lovely wife Joana attended it solo.But, she brought back many good points about line-of-sight: make sure it can’t be seen from street and make your patron (in the US, especially) turn to the right of the entryway; nobody wants to see, or enter, an empty bar; the bar’s width (don’t knock your bartender’s back out by making the bar too wide); and make sure your bar isn’t too long to avoid the bartender getting stuck at one end and potentially ignoring customers at the other. This last point is arguable, but the principle is sound; ensure that the bartender’s ability to move and service the full bar is ensured.
Great Bars of the World and What Makes them Great:
This session was led by Simon Difford who was surprisingly snappy and vibrant after a long night out (and I can confirm just how late it was). Simon, of course, is one of the world’s premier travelers of bars and in a phrase, he knew his shit.Apparently, the best bar in the world is one Cookie’s in Melbourne, Australia and, except for the chairs, ranks high in all the areas Difford considers critical; Intangibles, Wine, Spirits, Beer, Atmosphere, Service, Food (if applicable), and the Cocktail Menu.
In the thought experiment of ‘the ultimate bar’, Simon made the wonderful analogy of, “It’d be like a whorehouse; ‘yes, I’ll take that bartender there for the evening!’” Which, like Tony’s point, means that the bartender matters, not just his technical skills.
Another colorful bit of the session was, in discussing display, signage, and clarity in communicating with patrons said, “There’s a trend in London, not sure if it’s going on here [to make bathroom signs] with weird logos and schwas that are hard enough to interpret when sober, much less when I’m slightly drunk. Sign your doors plainly.”
And, again on restrooms, “It seems wrong that I’m paying a guy to watch me have a piss. This ‘guardian of the towels’ bathroom attendant thing in bars is madness.” I tend to agree, plus I have a shy bladder.
There was a lot more, including the need to avoid having guests with “a sore ass at chucking out time” and it was very engaging and informative. What happened to Simon’s “Special Guest” is a mystery but Simon was careful to distance himself from the events of the night before. Wisely so, I imagine.
This has been a great start to Tales for Joana and I and, for my part, only topped by the ‘Juniperlooza’ event at which I think every cocktail blogger was foaming at the mouth to cover and experience. It was well worth it.I’ll be detailing these sessions more at cocktailnerd.com (with photos) but all-in-all this has been fantastic. And, if you’re here, have a Corpse Reviver No. 2 or Twentieth-Century Cocktail at the Swizzle Stick Bar. It’s a lovely place, but please just remember to pay your tab. I feel pretty awful about that.