“Tired of hearing the words “speakeasy” and “mixologist”? Prohibition ended eighty years ago and you’re a goddamn bartender, so get over yourself! Right? Downtown Manhattan is more rife than ever with these signless, impossible-to-find drinking dens that require Homeland Security clearance levels to enter, and they charge $15 for cocktails containing ingredients you’ve never heard of. And as a result, cocktails at any generic bar with TVs and the word “Tavern” in it cost $12 (Manhattan’s infamous Cocktail Inflation) and contain “home-made” syrups and infused liquors. Why all the fancy names and added ingredients? A well-timed g&t on a hot day is one thing, but this whole cocktail craze has gone too far…
Well, if you really felt that way, chances are you wouldn’t be reading this website. We’ve had our consciousnesses raised by cocktails and what a good cocktail program at a good bar brings to the table, and there’s a reason we seek out mixology focused bars, especially for this website.
Here at ODA we’re all about value, and it’s an idea that isn’t always self-evident. How can we rave about Apotheke, a bar whose cocktails start at $15, in one breath and mention “value” in the next while maintaining any kind of clout? It’s because we know what goes into making those drinks, which are closer to cuisine than they are to quaffables. First off, they’re being made by full-time, lifelong bartenders who washed dishes and barbacked for years in order to get to where they are. Second, those drinks contain a minimum of two ounces of booze, likely more, between base spirit/s, mixers and additives, and likely six to eight ingredients, the syrups, purees and juices laboriously prepared by hand the night before or hours before service by diligent barbacks. Third, there’s a great deal of creativity that goes into each drink, most taking shape after dozens of attempts and tweaks, and the ingenuity that goes into a cocktail program two or three dozen drinks deep like the one at Apotheke is mind-boggling. And fourth (and most importantly), they taste delicious and, perhaps best of all, they get the job done, i.e. three or four of APK’s libations and you’ll be having a rough morning after indeed. Considering that $45 worth of cocktails will set you free of your troubles for a night, that may, in reality, be cheap for a high tolerance drinker when compared to beers and shots (ever paid $8 for a draft beer or $12 for a Patron shot? Of course you have) or how much overpriced wine you can drink while only winding up with a headache. How much did you pay for a glass of that Foghorn Bog Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand? $13? Guess how much the restaurant paid for the bottle? You don’t want to know.
And it’s not just about value, either. The logistics and expertise that go into mixology are much greater than those of wine or beer bars. Our regular readers will know that wine bars are pretty much on the bottom of our pecking order. Highly marked up grape juice with a few slices of cheese and some hard-to-pronounce ham for $50 a head? We’ll stop by Astor Place or Trader Joe’s real quick and throw a small house party for the same price. And though draft beer is delicious and nearly impossible to do at home, the only real logistics go into storing the kegs, keeping them cool and maintaining the taps. $10 after tip for a Guinness? All the bartender did was pull a fucking knob toward his/her face, walk away, come back and do it one more time and serve the damn thing. See where I’m going?
Like it or not, cocktails have been an integral part of the American drinking experience for over one and a half centuries, and punch goes back long before the good ol’ red, white and blue. Ever since mankind discovered the glorious art of distillation, he’s been adding shit to that bathtub moonshine to make it more palatable. If you don’t like it, pay the same price for a neat or rocks pour of your liquor of choice. You’re likely going to end up with less booze, and that’s a shame. Believe you me, here at ODA we drink our fair share of neat spirits, especially brown ones, and we’re huge fans of dive bars. But when it comes to the art of critique, we consider the ambition and execution of a concept when scoring bars, and it’s tough to give that elusive 9.5 or 10 to a bar with no kitchen where the music’s too loud, the drunk female bartenders wish they were somewhere else doing what they actually want to be doing and the most creative thing on the “menu” is the ironically named beer + shot combo.
We embrace the art of the cocktail, and we elevate the proper cocktail bar to a special position. We do so unabashedly. But the bar is very high, and we’ll continue to separate the wheat from the chaff, no matter who’s running the cocktail program or what inflated egos might be hurt in the process (did you read our review of Silver Lining?).
And by doing so we’ll continue to keep you One Drink Ahead.”