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If you celebrate New Year’s Eve in one of the city’s trendy bars, you may find yourself wondering: what has happened to the once simple, relatively inexpensive pleasure of drinking?
Every new restaurant or lounge I read about or venture into these days features cocktails with a list of ingredients so long and complicated that the person who assembles them can no longer bear to simply be called a bartender; he is a “mixologist.” “Artisanal,” “locally sourced” and “hand-picked” have replaced “cold” and “straight up” on drink menus, but mixologists need to remember that somewhere in the list of ingredients should be a dash of fun, or else it is all just hard to swallow.
I’ve always been interested in new restaurants, having worked as a waitress and a bartender in my family’s restaurant in New Jersey before studying hospitality management at Cornell. For anyone like me who tries to keep on top of dining and drinking trends, the complication of “cocktailing” has been unavoidable, on a par with the craze for cosmopolitans that followed on the high heels of “Sex and the City.” But this pretentious cocktail movement is about more than just the “libations”; it has gone as far as to change the culture of the places where we drink.
A recent visit to the quintessential contemporary cocktail den presented drinks with special touches like mint grown in the back garden, grapefruit freshly juiced by hand, and ice cubes made from pure water frozen at a special temperature to ensure slow melting — it took longer to read all of the ingredients than to actually ingest them. Posted on the wall was a list of rules for appropriate conduct in this establishment, just to make sure that everyone knew that this bar was different, and acted accordingly. The place was mature, the drinks delicious, and the chuckles muffled.
Drinking should be synonymous with big laughs and a heightened sense of romance, maybe even a few regrettable slips of the tongue. I am not endorsing drinking in excess or drinking solely to get drunk, but is it necessary for people making drinks to take themselves so seriously?
Even certain kinds of liquor have been relegated to third-class status. Several months ago, when I first started noticing the complicated-cocktail trend, I read that a nightclub owner had declared that vodka was “over.” Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that he will stop selling $400 bottles of the stuff to the clients in his club (although ordering a plain vodka soda might be frowned upon by the mixologist behind the bar).
I feel that this whole trend is a genius marketing ploy, a way to justify gouging patrons on drinks. People may feel better paying $20 for a drink if it includes rare spices kept in sacks of pure spun silk, but that doesn’t mean the drinks taste better.
I appreciate a masterfully constructed meal as much as anyone else, but sometimes I also just need to grab a greasy slice on the corner. Right now, what I think everyone needs to do is stop treating drinking as an esoteric exercise instead of the simple, spirit-raising quest that it should be.
Ali Zweben, a former publicist for fashion and lifestyle companies, lives in Union Square and works as a freelance public relations consultant.
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