Why Bartenders Should Probably Just Make the Mojito
I want everyone to try something weird and exciting, but I don’t want them to feel bad about wanting comfort food either.
Photo via Flickr user lincolnblues
Last week, London-based bartender Felix Cohen told MUNCHIES that you should never order a mojito in his bar. Across the Atlantic, New York-based bartender Al Sotack felt compelled to defend both the mojito and the desire to drink one. This is his response.
I am super-psyched to make you a mojito. No, really. You want one? I will bang that motherfucker out like nobody ever has before. Seriously. I'm not fucking around.
First of all, you're asking for it, so chances are you actually want a mojito. You want to toss me $12 (at least) to pick up three bottles and throw some mint in a shaker, so I'm going to assume you're not being a dick about it.
Hell, even if you are. Here you go!
You haven't been shitty to one of the other people waiting patiently in line to help me pay my bills. You haven't started a fight, said something racist, sexist, or homophobic. You just want a mojito.
Now that's an elegant drink right there, glistening in that icy collins. Don't tell me you're not impressed with the soda I poured from a sparkling silver fountain or the time I took to pick out a really sexy mint sprig. I even dramatically did the whole spank-it-on-the-back-of-my-wrist thing, and there was a burst of dew like a young girl just fell in love for the first time, so you can see I give a shit.
That's $12, man.
I might not be able to make you a Seabreeze if my bar doesn't stock cranberry, but if does, I'll make you the dopest one I can.
Maybe you only know three drinks and had an anxiety attack when the frantic dervish of a bartender suddenly was staring at you with the heat of a thousand suns. Maybe it was your dead mother's favorite drink and it would have been her birthday. Maybe brown and bitter isn't your bag and you get a little heartburn with a lot of citrus, so you like your daiquiri riffs served tall. Whatever, dude—I already made it!
And yeah, man, you didn't spend 15 minutes perusing my menu, and yeah, I did spend a bunch of time on it, and yes, it's clever, maybe to the point of being glib … But that's cool. I have buddies who make me feel good about how good I am at what I do and get my pop culture references. I know I'm special. I've already tricked a hot girl into marrying me. I'm all set over here.
Except for the $12. Which, seriously, I need right now.
A little while back, I was lucky enough to get a short essay I'd been working on published on this very website. It touched on some of the things that were bumming me out about my industry and the bartending community. Not to retread too much, it was about catchphrases being more important than concepts, and why bartenders are better off as human beings than service automatons. To me, it was mostly a piece about how something as important to my job as "hospitality"shouldn't be a shortcut to thinking.
Last week, I read another short piece by Felix Cohen, a no doubt talented bartender who is really psyched on having a blast chiller and being part of the London bar scene in general. I spent about five minutes believing Felix was the greatest satirist ever to troll the cocktail community. Like, Andy Kaufman good. He explains boomerangs, talks shit on a Mom drink (while claiming not to have a problem with it), mentions his college degree, talks about how he doesn't like bros (they call them "lads"in the UK!), and sous vides bone marrow for a cognac infusion. Don't ask him to make a mojito.
This is why we can't have nice things, Felix!
I don't know him personally, but I recognized the tone of Felix's piece. I've certainly met some talented dudes who let their passion for a craft grow until it seemed their gusto was cluttering up service like too many tools at their station, until it bordered on arrogance. This is why some old bartenders roll their eyes and feel good about reducing all scenarios to a one-size-fits all hospitality, and why some very nice folks don't even want to set foot in a cocktail bar.
I get it, man! I worked at a bar back in 2009 that decided to stop carrying vodka so people were more likely to open the menu instead of defaulting on a highball. We certainly got aggressive about wanting people to branch out, and may even have secretly sneered at the guy who just discovered the Old Fashioned watching Mad Men. That's nothing new. Back in 2004, we secretly sneered at the guy who ordered whatever lychee sour my managers were hawking. But we did it secretly.
Be a little bit of a dick—but be funny as hell about it. Don't be a boring dick.
There's a rash of "the bartender hates you"-type articles about industry pet peeves and how to be a better customer. For me, it was always a no-brainer. Being a good customer was a lot like being a good bartender: don't be a dick.
Or, maybe, be a little bit of a dick—but be funny as hell about it. Don't be a boring dick.
I get why the average person might read Felix's piece, framed as it was with a warning not to order a famous drink, and be a little put off by cocktails in general. Which is a shame, because I think his motivation was to encourage that very person to try something new, a motivation I endorse. I want everyone to try something weird and exciting, but I don't want them to feel bad about wanting comfort food either.
The problem with the "burger analogy" is it's a false one. We're not cooks. We smile at people and try to curate an experience. We listen to drunk people cry sometimes. We tell jokes to cheer them up, and are responsible for making a whole catalog of drinks the average person can't. That's why we got the job. I might not be able to make you a Seabreeze if my bar doesn't stock cranberry, but if does, I'll make you the dopest one I can.
Maybe you think the mojito is a boring go-to for inchoate lowbrows. A kindergarten teacher might have a couple brats they really hate, but announcing it would be …distasteful. Which is what we're talking about, right? Taste?
I find boomerangs goofy (and illegal), because most times I already have the booze behind my bar, but I wouldn't be a dick about it because that would be more distasteful. I also find "icing"a lame bit of cleverness for post-ironic bros. But you know what? When I met my wife, she handed me a stupid Smirnoff Ice. I looked into her pretty eyes and I got down on my goddamn knees and drank the shit out of it.
What I'm saying to all my fellow bartenders is this: Maybe we should get out of our comfort zone as well. How else are we going to bring in new customers and open their eyes to the possibilities if we're not willing to do the same?
Maybe we should just all make the fucking mojito.