By Stephanie Zacharek
By Charles Taylor
By Chris Klimek
By Chris Klimek
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
You’ve also seen more of a community of bartenders grow. While we were filming, we filmed the first Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which is a highly successful, highly attended event that follows the success of Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. But the Manhattan Cocktail Classic didn’t even exist when we started filming. Then we started to see the rise of these other cocktail weeks around the country; they were sprouting up the way film festivals did in the early ‘90s. What’s significant about that is that bartenders have become their own communities. You don’t necessarily think of bartenders getting together like people do for books or cars or an insurance seminar or a digital convention. I wouldn’t describe these as conventions, but they’re gatherings for people in the trade. When a lot of us think of bartending, we think of a solitary profession. Part of that is because bartenders get out so late that they sleep for part of the day, and the part of the day they’re not working, they’re out doing the sorts of things people do. But because of these gatherings, bartenders know each other across the country. We’ve gone to shoot in other cities. One of the bartenders in New York City may say, “You’re going to Denver? Look up Sean [Kenyon] in Denver.”
We’ve also see the rise of spirits. A decade or so ago, how many tequilas were available? How many gins? Now there are dozens. The rise in spirits is a big deal. I love tequila--I drink Milagro, and that wasn’t even on shelves not very long ago.
How has the community responded to the movie?I would say that the community has embraced the movie in an overwhelming way that’s humbling beyond my expectations. I think they understand that we tried to tell their story carefully and accurately and fairly.
The movie is aspirational in terms of the lead characters chasing their dreams beyond the bar, and it’s aspirational in terms of thesis, which is: How did this movement come to be? And the movie is entrepreneurial from an industry standpoint in the sense that a lot of people in the industry want people to believe in their efforts and that what they’re doing is so much more than what is in the glass. You can’t have these great cocktails made with fresh ingredients that taste better without the immense respect these people have for their craft.
So where does bartending go from here?I believe that, eventually, you’ll be able to get a good or decent cocktail in most places. I don’t believe that the corner dive bar is going to become a speakeasy like PDT, but as happened with wine and food, any place that’s serving cocktails will be serving some craft cocktails. Years ago, if you were to go to a really great restaurant in Westport, they’d have 10 wines, 20 wines, and you’d say, “That’s a big-time wine list.” And it was--for 1977. Now you might go to a restaurant, they’ll have 100 wines, but the corner bar will have five or six wines, and that’s at a place where you could never have imagined having wine. Cocktails will follow that. Once you’ve tasted something good, you’ll never go back.
At the corner bars, where the bartender really is the unofficial mayor of that community, the bartender might have more luck getting people to try something new than the more sophisticated bartender in NYC. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to come in after work and not want Bud and a shot of whiskey or tequila, but maybe one of those beer-and-shot guys will come in on a date and order a cocktail that his bartender buddy has been telling him about for a year.
I think when people think of flair bartending, they think of Tom Cruise throwing the bottle in the air. This is still flair, but it’s a different kind of flair. Order a drink and watch someone stir. How hypnotic is that stirring? That drink is made just for you or the people with you. This is an intimate experience in the era with less and less intimacy. That’s the allure of cocktails, and that allure translates to all levels of drinking establishments. At the corner bar, it’s still intimate. This bartender knows you. That’s part of the rush. You’re being invited to come along with something special.
Did your drinking habits change as you made this movie?Yes. When I go out to eat, I almost never order a special. Like, never. I’m going to get what I know I like or, if I’m going to someplace new or I’m traveling, I want their signature dish. Like, you’re not going to go to Antoine’s in New Orleans and not have the oysters Rockefeller; they invented it, and that’s what you’re getting. What has changed in my drinking habits is that when I go to a cocktail bar, whether I’ve been there before or not, I’m more likely to ask, “Is there a special today?” Did someone go to the farmers’ market and come up with something just for today? I love that experience of looking at the menu and having the bartender say, “Well, what do you like? What kind of spirit do you want? Do you like sweet or tart or bitter things? OK, how about we try this.” I love the idea that they’re figuring out your tastes and making something just for you. In the past, I just wanted what I wanted. Now I want to see what’s out there.
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