I’ve been traveling a lot lately, mostly out to the West Coast. Sometimes I find myself in an unfamiliar place and need some much-appreciated hospitality. One of the places that catches my eye consistently is San Francisco. Hospitality is woven into the social thread of this city by the bay.
One of the ways that a cocktail bar can do to “raise the bar” is always set a glass of water down in front of your guest. I know I’ve discussed this before, but it draws an efficiency correlation. How can I run, or work in an efficient bar if I’m supposed to put a glass of water down in front of my guest? The answer is two-fold. If you have a bar-back, it should be their primary responsibility to “water the guest” before restocking the beer cooler. There is more than enough time to get the back-work done before or after your guests arrive. I’m not saying that this action should be forced, only that it looks like it’s fun! Efficiency is doing this without having to ask.
Another efficiency that your bar-back should be performing is the cutting of the ice. If you are not cutting your own ice for your high-end drinking program, you’re missing all the fun! Take a gander at YouTube sometime and gaze wistfully at the Japanese when they hand-cut their ice for cocktails. No one is saying to make your ice like theirs, you never will. (OK, you might, but most don’t want to) The process for your bar-back is simple. The ice need not be perfectly clear. Rough chips look better when they are cloudy, they force the drinker into the three-dimensionality of the glass. But how is this efficient? By making your own ice, the passion for the craft is exemplified. It shows that you are interested in something more than just serving drinks. Anyone can serve drinks. To be ultra-efficient in your establishment you have to take some risks. One of these is the ice program.
Another one that I am insistent upon is the fresh juice program. Fresh juices just taste better. It’s essential for a cocktail bar or even the service bar at the country club to produce fresh juices for their mixed drinks. If I can teach anything at all to the up and coming mixologist/bartender that bottled juices will never bring your drinks up to a World Class level. You will be doomed to making airline drinks, forever! You know how flat and boring it is to drink a cocktail while flying. Your palate doesn’t bring anything to the table because of the altitude. Now, enter the realm of efficiency. Your bar-back is making hand-cut ice and they are making all your juices, freshly squeezed. It’s your signature, scratch-made cocktails with scratch-made juices.
Do you think that your chef is the only one with a culinary degree? Many bartenders and mixologists, me included, are former chefs and cooks. I happen to also be a former bar-back and dishwasher/pot scrubber. Not too many food or liquor writers have that authenticity behind them. Because you work in the hospitality industry, you must portray an image of professionalism and kindness. My friend Gaz Regan calls it mindful bartending and I couldn’t find a better name to consider packing into your tool-kit of knowledge. It’s essential to run an efficient bar, you have lists of things to get done. Starting with mindfulness, this is the first thing that you instruct yourself every single day.
To be on the ball is what I was taught as a boy. Make it look like you are busy, water the guests- small talk (not too deep!), be a friend to your customer/guest. (Again, not too deep, but be a friend) Talk about your ice program, your artisan spirits program, your recent trip to see how they make Mezcal. Possibly your joining the USBG? (That’s our bartending guild, if you didn’t know already)
You can make bar work fun, or it can be a real drag. No one expects you to have a great day, every day. However, creating interesting tasks such as cutting really cool rounds, cubes and chunks of ice in front of your guest is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done. They will always remember it. Everyone who sees this process wants their specialty spirit to be poured, ever so eloquently over the top of a pristine ice cube. Maybe you’d like to have a juicer right up on the bar? I saw those several times in San Francisco and up in the Wine/Cannabis Country. There is something to be said for releasing the fresh citrus oils into the air when juicing on the spot. The initial cost of a commercial juicer is quickly realized when your guests taste the results.
Efficiency. We talked about ice, we talked about juicing. Now a cocktail made with your new ice and your new-found juices, which they are using in every single place, no matter how humble in California. They just get it on the word that is mostly forgotten in high volume, low passion restaurants and bars. You can do better! It doesn’t cost a whole lot more.
Fruit Rummy Punch
This is not the pre-packaged punch that comes in a tin…
- 2 oz. white rum
- 1 oz. gold rum- it still exists, find some, it’s worth it, lovely nutty flavor!
- 1 oz. Navy strength gin -really- just do it! Over 90 proof!
- 1 oz. Dry Sherry
- 1 oz. Orgeat Syrup
- 1 oz. Grenadine Syrup
- 3 oz. Fruitations Tangerine Cocktail Syrup- from the Boston area. Amazing stuff! Order some!
- 3 oz. Each-fresh Orange, Grapefruit
- 3 oz. Each- fresh lime, lemon
- Angostura Bitters
- 3-4 oz. Ginger Beer at end.
I make my own bottles of ginger beer from a marvelous product named Pickett’s. They produce an extra-spicy ginger beer syrup that I believe is the best in the world. One bottle makes ten or so bottles of really nice richly textured and spicy ginger beer. All you do is add seltzer (Efficiency at work!). I also add a pinch of pink salt over the top to make my guest thirstier. A little bartending trick to “keep them thirsty”.
- Add all juices, rum and gin to a well-chilled punch bowl
- Spoon Orgeat into the bowl, stir
- Spoon grenadine, stir
- Top with the Pickett’s Ginger Beer and that ounce of Sherry, essential: Angostura Bitters-30 or so shakes for good gastric health!