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A Few Thoughts On "Against Mixology"

Sarah Deming skewers the craft cocktail world, employing valid points as well as troubling ones.

January 24, 2011

Too big for their britches? Sarah Deming decries the modern mixology movement.

There’s an essay bouncing around the internet called Against Mixology. The writer, Sarah Deming, skewers the craft cocktail scene (I have a feeling she would curl her lip at the words “craft cocktail scene”) for what she perceives as generalized pretentiousness and delusions of grandeur.

Deming describes taking her father to a New York City cocktail lounge where he was treated disrespectfully. “The mixologist doesn’t like Amaretto,” he was told by a server, after attempting to order an amaretto sour. He then asked for a mojito, which earned him more scorn.

“[Dad] felt like a hick, and I felt like a jerk for exposing him to such unkindness,” writes Deming. “And Dad and I were always out of step in each other’s world….A bar should be the kind of place that lubricates such tensions, rather than aggravating them.”

I couldn’t agree more. Bottom line: A bar with rude service can never be a good bar. Even if it makes the world’s best drinks. There’s no cocktail-maker equivalent of the soup Nazi, because at a bar experience is an essential piece of the puzzle. A friend of mine was derided, recently, at a local cocktail bar for ordering a Heineken, even though Heineken was clearly listed as one of the beer choices on the menu. This shouldn’t be, and it’s an unfortunate side effect of the new seriousness with which people are treating the cocktail.

On the other hand, that seriousness has led to a renewed enthusiasm for artisanal products—creating a market for small, local businesses making bitters and vermouth and vodkas using antiquated techniques rediscovered in old books and records. For those of us who enjoy cocktail history, it has provided a community for delighting in the strange and fascinating stories surrounding booze. And for a generation of bartenders, it has engendered a pride in profession that helps them engage with customers on a deeper level, exposing their patrons to novel flavor combinations and obscure spirits. Done right, the craft cocktail experience transcends a simple trip to the bar—it’s educational, it’s interesting, it’s fun, and it’s anything but elitist.

Bar owners and tenders who lose sight of of good service are all over the place—at craft cocktail bars, at dive bars, everywhere—and most end up with a business towards which nobody directs tourists, one where few celebrate birthdays or bring their dads in for a drink. Bar owners and tenders that take service seriously, well, there’s a reason that the barstools at Zig Zag are in such high demand.

But back to the essay. Here’s how “Against Mixology” begins:
When I walk into a SoHo gallery, I expect to be snubbed. One look at my shoe-handbag combo and even the intern knows I can’t afford the art. At an alt-rock show in Williamsburg, I am game for shame at the door. I’m not that young anymore, and all my piercings are hidden. Basically, if art is on the line, I’m okay with elitism."

This troubles me, this idea that there is ever a situation where treating people poorly is okay. Does the staff of a Gucci purse store have the right to disrespect people wearing cheap shoes? Where is this line drawn, exactly? Personally, I think everyone should expect respect at the bar and the art gallery and the rock show and the…whatever. And if they don’t get it, my recommendation would be to go elsewhere.

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