Many architects have been up in arms recently over the news that MoMA is going to demolish the former building that housed the American Folk Art Museum. However, some in the arts world say don’t cry over a spilled cocktail — unless it’s a finely stirred Negroni, I say. Anyways, what does this signal? Hypocrisy on MoMA’s part? A lack of understanding for suiting the true function of a museum? Self-absorption by architects? Idol worship? Developer/owner as king? Maybe all of the above, but I think it signals the opportunity for discourse regarding the subject. No better place to join diverse crowds than at the always-worthy hub of conversation — the drinking place. Maybe the one where Mr. Taniguchi drowned his misplaced sorrows that started all this hubbub:
“When Taniguchi was chosen to design the new, vastly expanded Museum of Modern Art seven years ago, a lot of people in the art world scratched their heads. Out of 10 architects invited to compete for this prize commission (all were under 60—MoMA had ruled out the generation of Frank Gehry), Taniguchi was virtually unknown in America, and his scheme for MoMA’s midtown Manhattan site seemed so smooth and corporate—so unfashionably tame—it looked like a long shot next to the provocative concepts of such hotshots as Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron. Even Taniguchi didn’t think he’d win. Convinced he’d fatally fumbled his key presentation to MoMA’s trustees, he headed straight to a neighborhood bar to mourn.” — “New York’s great modern museum is reborn, thanks to $425 million and an unlikely architect named Taniguchi” by Cathleen McGuigan, Newsweek
Drinks are served on tables, hand-to-hand, on kitchen counters, carts, among many other surfaces. But in modern times, if you’re going to sling, craft, shake, mix, or pour a drink, it’s probably going to be across a bar. However, that doesn’t limit your options.
There is no limit to the layout, material, and size of bars; no standard appearance for any of them, actually. Save for corporate franchises, you have probably never been to the same bar twice, and that’s not just when you walk into the drinking place. You may have carved your initials into the wood while sharing a couple tall boys with your friend, admired your Manhattan almost hovering above the marble, and spun your two fingers of single malt around the backlit glass without noticing the unique nature of taking up space at a drinking place. Every experience is one unto itself, never to be replicated again, and that big hunk of material is one reason why — it has seen all and never forgets.
A fine Tennessee whisky company decided to take up the mantle and bring in some weekend warriors for a good ol’ bar-building competition. Got a free eight hours? Come on down and see if you can design and build the best bar to taste that sugar maple charcoal-filtered goodness. Sawdust for garnish…Why not? Makes my mouth water just thinking about it….
[Photos by ME]
“Shut down your operation, closed for business/
Leave a foul taste in your mouth, like Guinness…” — Mobb Deep, “Hell on Earth”
You don’t have to be a fan of Bar Rescue to know that countless drinking places close every day…gone forever, lost to the memories of the former patrons. While there is a range of emotions that set in upon the closing — disappointment, heartache, happiness to some, anger to others — it eventually dissipates as we find another bar stool with our name on it at another establishment. Is that all it takes — on to the next one? What does the literal “Last Call” mean to the built and social fabric of our communities?
What does it mean to the patron? To the common visitor or urban transplant, it’s a lost opportunity to make a new acquaintance, learn something unexpected about their new surroundings, or see that new culture “in action”. This may not resonate with residents, as they may not give the same value to certain places that have “been there forever”. However, it’s a problem for them as well — the next time they want to show a visiting friend what their city is truly like, it may look the same as every other city in FranchiseTown, USA. What made that particular city unique passed on right under their noses, as they didn’t lift a finger to try and prevent it.
Let’s discuss the perspective of the changing city. When all this urban energy and social activity is gone, doesn’t it make our cities feel a bit dormant, just a little empty? Maybe lacking for that excitement and experience that you go home and tell someone about, or are able to pass along in recollection to a friend in a fond retelling? Every urban environment may not be like Vine Street in late 19th-century Cincinnati, which had 136 drinking places along its downtown stretch in 1890. That speaks to a certain culture of industry that sustains that level of activity — an industry long gone, with only physical remnants still visible.
Finally, the industry. One truism espoused by Bernard DeVoto was, “The surest proof of the moral foundation of the universe is that you can always find good whiskey if you will go looking for it.” If one places closes, we can surely find another place willing to suit our tastes of fine cocktailing. However, what does that do to the local industry? In these tough times, it’s not easy to just set up shop somewhere. In simple terms, it’s hard out here for a publican. Small business loans, identifying and reaching a target user group, sustaining sales to woo continued supply — it takes more than just pouring a pony of spicy brown into a glass.
So, friends, in the words of Sean Connery, what are we prepared to do? The answer — realize that we can’t do it all ourselves. We must join together to keep our cities alive. About to enjoy that bottle of sweet brown you picked up the other week? Call over your buddy you haven’t spoken to in a month of Sundays to help you, so he knows what to look for upon his next visit to a drinking place. Stopping off for a quick cocktail with your main damie before a snazzy event? Have her girlfriends join you, and soak in their comments on how impeccably detailed a combination your suit and cufflinks make. Had an unexpectedly-informing exchange with the bartender at that corner spot, where you went for a “one and done”? Tell a couple people about it and send some business their way. The city will always be there, but it’s up to us to live in it.
The Congenial Hour strives to push the discourse in and around drinking culture. While drinks can be had at many different environments, this liquid transaction usually occurs across a bar, with one individual joining another individual to exchange libations for sufficient coin of the realm — seems pretty simple. Oh, but that’s why they play the game.
There are many aspects and layers of nuance to this transaction, but the point person — the bartender — holds all the cards. Everyone and everything is at his bidding; regular patrons, first-time visitors, cocktails, beer, wine, and all else. Nothing moves without his say-so.
What are some things that affect the “movement”? Ah ha, now we’re talking! That is the crux of discussion for this article: all the idiosyncrasies of the bartender and how you should seek to navigate them, in order to remain on his good side and ensure that your liquid transaction remains fluid. Hopefully, the different topics on this blog have prepared you: issues of what to drink, how to drink, and the environment in which you drink. These aren’t always issues that get down to the specifics of how often an establishment should slice garnishes, how digital pourers are operated, and what the sales volume was for the beverage alcohol industry last year.
A holistic cognizance of what you choose to get poured in your glass, etiquette for the ones serving you and others you come in contact with, and an awareness of the quality of operations of the establishments you choose to frequent lies at the heart of my discussions. I doubt if any of the 13 issues in the article will have you surprised or stumped; you probably knew them already!
“Taverns played a little-known but vital role as an important center of community life and activity…
Two forms of the early American tavern were closely modeled on English institutions and were found exclusively in urban settings: the city tavern and the coffee house…
Tavern activities in the city establishments were centered around economic life, everyday business transactions, mercantile exchange, and events such as auctions of goods, property, and slaves; city officials frequently held their meetings in taverns…
Small taverns were clustered along the docks of…port cities; catered to transient seamen or day laborers…” - - Text from Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers by Kym S. Rice
Ice and cocktails go hand in hand. The sling, the sans bitters precursor to the cocktail, was a combination of spirit, water, sweet, and sour. Water may enter a mixed drink in its fluid form, as with a couple drops added to scotch to release the essence of its flavor. But more often, water’s frozen friend is utilized — ice.
Ice brings rhythm to the cocktail world, helping to “wake up the spirit” inside shakers. Many savvy cocktail bars have instituted their own ice program, cutting blocks by hand, mallet, and pick. Machinery also comes into play, with KOLD-DRAFT machines and specialty ice-sphere machines creating harder, purer ice that won’t screw up the delicate balance in today’s craft cocktails. A slower melting ice cube
also helps with the dilution of your cocktail — allowing just enough water to help with the alcohol absorption into your system, while not drowning your scotch.
Some products would stop here, but ice strives for more, truly earning the “S” on its chest. It also shares a basic role — to keep food from going bad. In colonial times, way before the days of machines that produce 65mm ice spheres for the low cost of 650 pounds sterling, ice was relied upon to keep that 8 billion pounds of crab you bagged on your fishing trip cool enough to make crab cakes for a while. But since Frigidaire wasn’t in business yet, where did people store the ice?
Naturally, they’d want to keep it close to the chest. Back then, if you couldn’t hold it at your home, your local tavern was just as good. Ice wells were prevalent, like the one above that was kept at an Alexandria, VA tavern frequented by a whiskey distiller. It’s been mostly covered up by a couple centuries of transportation infrastructure and urbanization, but there are enough reveals to tacitly show the history of its usage. Quite the congenial way to display technological ties to our past, no?
“Never be cynical about bars, in fact, though it is right to be wary. A glory of American culture is that there is no place so far and no village so small that you cannot find a bar when you want to. (True, in some of the ruder states it must present itself fictitiously as a club or nostalgically as a speakeasy.) Many are resourceful than the label admits, many others water their whiskey, many are bad or even lousy…But do not scorn any of them, not even the neon-lighted or the television-equipped, for any may sustain you in a needful hour. And each of us knows a fair number of good bars and perhaps even a great one. The good bar extends across America, the quiet place, the place that answers to your mood, the upholder of the tavern’s great tradition, the welcoming shelter and refuge and sanctuary — and any man of virtue and studious habits may count on finding it. If you hear of any I’ve missed, let me know. Let us all know.
But a bar, though often a necessity and often an ornament of culture, is for a need, a whim, or perhaps an urgency. For the fleeting hour. For the moment — the high moment, or the low. For, perhaps, the meeting…bars are a convenience, an assist, a stay and an upholding…” — Bernard DeVoto, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto
[Photos by ME]
This post was submitted as a response to the topic question, “How Do You Whiskey Friday?,” by Baratunde Thurston, author of the book, “How To Be Black.”
How do I Whisk(e)y Friday? That’s the type of question everyone should ask themselves — to recognize how “your identity affects how you start the weekend.” I’ll offer my perspective…
The number one way is to always, ALWAYS, be sure to respect the bottle, or it’ll disrespect you. Knowing how you like to drink will lead you to where, and then towards what to drink. I think that you can find out how you whisk(e)y friday at a drinking place that catches your fancy, one that you’ve always wondered what’s happening within its walls. Bernard DeVoto says that time should be spent with “two or three friends,” but Derek Brown finds interest in the lone imbiber; let’s follow that path for now.
You should spend some time asking your friendly neighborhood barkeep a couple of questions. Since you’re by yourself, the bartender is your only “friend,” but well-suited to give you a bit of info on the area, anecdotes about what you’re drinking, even bits of etiquette that will take you far in this world of handshaking and hobnobbing. While you’re sitting at the bar, take a gander at the pretty bottles in front of you — ain’t they purrty? Remember them — they’ll come in handy when you need to make a reference sometime later.
Now, that person that’s been sitting next to you, you notice them? Ask them something. Comment on something. Anything. Doesn’t matter if they like you or if they’re interested in you or if you share something in common. What matters is that you’re elbow-to-elbow at that moment in time. You’ve got a brain — use it. Tell a joke. Or a story. Ask them a question that only they can answer. Remember that shiny blue bottle you noticed earlier? The one with the Queen on it? Ask them if they’ve ever had any. Tell them you’ve got some in your glass and it’s kept you smiling, though other brands usually put a smile on your face. Offer a cheers in response. Take another sip of your cocktail and smile because you can’t wait for the next Whisk(e)y Friday. Then go home, go to sleep, wake up and attack Thursday.
Because when you feel like taking a minute to #getcongenial, you don’t wait for the weekend. The day doesn’t matter. You don’t even wait for Whisk(e)y Friday to come back around; it might be the perfect time for Gin o’Clock. To share in a moment of humanity is a characteristic that’s essentially human. We aren’t meant to suppress desires or common courtesy or humor. For what reason? Because it’s not a designated time and place? Rubbish! Take the time when you have it because you don’t know if the time will come again.
You met up with your friends. You handed them a cocktail as they entered the door of your home. You watched with your girlfriend, each cheering for different teams.
You sidled up to the bar, glad the group of you got there early enough to get three seats next to each other. You got the rest of the food ready, after batching the last of your cocktails, while the teams were introduced. You placed your girl’s cocktail on her TV tray, along with the sidecar for refilling, as you slouched into the couch as the National Anthem came to a close.
You agreed to get the first round of drinks if the Giants went three and out. You listened to the play-by-play in the dining room as you added a few more orange peels to the punch. You sipped your cocktail while declining your girlfriend’s offer for you two to take salsa lessons, after witnessing Victor Cruz’s touchdown dance.
You noticed that the bar had started to get quite full, as Tom Brady marched the offense down the field for the longest drive in Super Bowl history. You finally joined the rest of the party in time to see the Patriots take a 10-9 lead. You asked your girlfriend if she wanted you to shake another cocktail; she replied, “Shut up. Madonna’s on.”
You wondered, as did the stranger next to you, if the Patriots would continue their momentum en route to a blowout after taking a 17-9 lead. You bellowed, “GGGGGGGGG-MENNNNNN”, while holding your tiki cocktail aloft, as you celebrated a toast with the Giants contingent in your living room. You asked your girlfriend to bring you a bit more guacamole & chips to soak up the rest of your pisco cocktail.
You were one of the many that almost blew the roof off the bar when Welker made that drop. You let out a hearty, “HEEEEEEEEEERE WE GOOOOOOOO!,” pointing your Bud Light in the direction of the Patriots’ contingent, as Eli got the ball back for what might be the final drive. You explained to your girlfriend why the Tyree catch was so much better than the Manningham grab, as you nervously stirred the ice around the last swallow in your glass.
You dejectedly sat your head on the bar as the bartender poured shots to all the Giants fans. You sipped a glass of punch while debating with a few party stragglers if Coughlin is better than Parcells. You headed upstairs to watch NFL Network while your girlfriend watched The Voice.
You can’t wait until next season. Neither can you. Make that three.
Do you have respect for your drinking place? Do you know of its history? People have come and gone, both neighborhood dwellers and curious tourists — does that matter to you? Have you ever taken the time to engage one of these persons in conversation, to see what brought them to the place you’ve visited on so many occasions?
Are you informed about the design of its environment? Are there certain details that you think are useful, creative, or notable? Does it pique your interest at all, or do you just order another and keep the spirits flowing, while ignoring the architectonic spirit that infuses the bar, the walls, the lighting, and the millwork?
Slow down one time. Take a sip. Look around. See that over there. Notice that up there? You haven’t paid attention to that before. Ask the bartender about it. Then ask that fellow next to you about it. Maybe they haven’t either. They might want to talk about it, too. Who knows — there might be a lot more to the space than you previously thought. Maybe around 300 years of it.
[Photos by ME]
Soda is irreplaceable in bartending and mixology. From cocktails such as the Scotch & Soda, the Gin & Tonic, and the Cuba Libre, to using club soda over ice to chill a cocktail glass, to the omnipresent soda gun, it’d be quite tough to man a bar without soda.
But there is another side to soda — the soda fountain and soda shops. The fountain would serve all types of fanciful carbonated beverages, that we’ve all had and enjoy nostalgic feelings about: root beer, orange soda, Green River, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper…the list goes on and on. “Soda jerks” were masters of the pour in their day, and served a clientele aged from 8 to 80.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg, the fizz on top of the proverbial soda. When you add ice cream to the mix, another world was created. The ice cream sundae, with hot fudge, butterscotch, caramel, whipped cream, bananas, chopped peanuts, toasted walnuts, and the cherry on top — enough to make grown men cry. Or at least wipe the side of their mouth.
Soda shops like the one pictured above, Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor & Museum in Columbus, IN, were all over the country. And their amenities and finishes were top-notch, as seen in the marble fountain, the ornately carved wood backbar, pristine counter, room partition, and pendant lights. But why would grown men come here? The layout of the space, even the brass rails on the bars, the bric-a-brac telling you to “Drink Moonshine” and “Orange Julep”. Why didn’t people just head down to their local watering hole? Ohhhhhh, that’s right….because of….
The casino — home of blinking lights, towering piles of chips, and non-stop energy. But in “light” of all its economic activity, the casino has produced the most Samaritan of offerings — the free drink. Whether you prefer a Sam Adams, a 7&7, or a vodka rocks, as long as you continue to bet on black, ask to be hit with 16 in your hand, or try and get your baby some new shoes, the bar never runs dry.
The casino has most famously been the site of the drinking escapades of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, and their “Rat Pack” shenanigans. But while it was usually fun when the Pack was in the house, there was also some good drinking going on. From all types of martini-style cocktails and good scotch, the Rat Pack knew a good drink when they, as recalled by Dale DeGroff, had it ordered for 200 people on the spot. Of course, no one is going to ask the Rat Pack to settle their tab, but for the normal flock, what are we to expect from a free drink?
Just because a drink is free, does that mean that our expectations should be lowered? Should we take whatever swill is offered at an open bar? If throwing a party, shouldn’t you take the time to purchase respectable offerings, or is that eight-gallon bottle of Absolut enough to satiate your friends and loved ones? Shouldn’t care always be taken to prepare cocktails with the greatest craft, regardless if the house is picking up the tab?
Two twin Miller High Life beer steins….some Cubs paraphernalia….a stuffed rabbit with antlers….and an unmarked bottle of brown liquor — a motley crew of assorted objects on the backbar of Mt. Adams Bar and Grill in Cincinnati. Though the origin of the antlerized-rabbit is subject to debate, the bottle of brown is quite notable for its “unearthing.” 20-some odd years ago, during some interior renovation, some walls were being demolished; this bottle was found inside one of them. A bottle of whiskey from the Prohibition era, stashed inside the wall, probably not for aging purposes….it now sits on the top of the backbar, as a tacit reminder of the history of the drinking place and the historic culture it once operated within.
This is a diagram I did of the changing linguistics of drinking places throughout history. The purpose of the diagram was two-fold: one, to show that a drinking place has not been termed a “bar” forever; there is considerable nuance to its nature and how human and environmental factors have affected it. Two, I wanted to show that people can and should think about what they are looking for when they seek out a drinking place, and when one is created. You may like going to a “tavern” that is really more of a “public house” by nature. The “speakeasy” that everyone is ecstatic about on Yelp is really a “dram shop”, when the “speakeasy” you’d really prefer is that place in the middle of the block you have been ignoring for years now, but has been there for as long as you can remember….never really see anyone going in or coming out.
Let’s try to be more informed about our selections of drinking places….it can only lead to more congenial experiences.
[Design/Research by ME — see link for definitions]