What Can I Get For You?

I knew he was out of his element when he asked me how much shots cost. I told him that on average most drinks at Keys on Main cost $5. He sighed, looked at the floor and asked sheepishly, “Even for a little bit of Everclear and Mountain Dew?” I smiled and told him that he was out of luck: we don’t care either of those drinks.

Begrudgingly, he ordered a bottle of Bud Light and sulked away. We were busy on Saturday night but it was still slow enough to point out to my co-workers arguably one of the craziest orders I have ever had behind the bar. Politely, it might have been the trashiest drink order I have ever taken. I wish there was a statistical report on the correlation between Mt. Dew drinkers and narcissism.

As a rule, I don’t pour anything over 101 proof into a glass unless I’m floating Bacardi 151 on any variation of tropical island drinks. That’s not to say I haven’t seen Everclear before in a bar: we used it to clean the glassware at a steakhouse I worked at. The idea of a nice club like Keys on Main pouring Everclear and tonics is a scary proposition. Years ago, when I was bartending at a place in Reno called The Beer Barrel, a customer asked the owner why he doesn’t carry Mickey’s on tap. While available in kegs in Nevada, my boss looked at him squarely and said, “Because I don’t want to be sweeping up teeth at the end of the night.” Can you imagine how utterly annihilated everyone would be if we served shots of Everclear? We wouldn’t be sweeping up teeth at the end of the night, we’d be picking up bodies.

I’ve noticed that we’ve slowly moved away from using bar life and drinking as a means of social lubrication and are heading towards a culture that simply wants to get drunk. The fun of going to the bar to meet people, converse, try new drinks and socialize is being replaced with an aggressive group of drinkers who are trying to get messed up quickly and cheaply. Unwilling to take chances at the bar, they tend to want what they drink at home in the same quantities and for the same price. Unfortunately, it is always cheaper to drink at home than it is at the bar.

If you take the average bartender’s guide, you’ll notice that most of the drinks in it will be Utah DABC compliant. The majority of the drinks have in the ballpark of 2 ounces of alcohol. I believe this is done because the combination of different liquors mixed in smaller proportions creates unique and delicious cocktails. Too much of a primary liquor can overpower the drink leading me to honestly believe that you get a much better drink at a Utah bar than at home. Too much of a good thing can lead to a bad drink. Even at home, I use a shot glass to measure out drinks. Furthermore, bars usually have better glassware, mixers, garnish and ice than at one’s house.

I like getting nice and tight like the next person but I’ve noticed people are very hostile to me at the club when it comes to getting a drink. Since Utah did away with private memberships, I think the most common dumb question I get is whether or not we sell alcohol in the bar. Invariably, they are asking this question in front of the beer taps while I am positioned in front of the backbar. I am well aware that I am a big guy but there is no way I can completely block the entire bar. Unless you’re carrying a white cane and a cup of pencils, do us both a favor and look up from your cell phone.

With two matching backbars, there are rows and rows of bottles illuminated from underneath. Whiskeys, vodkas, gins, rums, brandies, liqueurs, beer and wine are all displayed proudly and ready to be poured into your glass. It’s incredible how many times people are surprised when they approach the bar and I ask them what they’d like. It’s good practice to have a couple of old standbys on hand when you come to the bar. Make a note of some popular drinks you’ve had in the past when getting ready to order your drink: Cape Codders, Cuba Libres, dirty gin martinis or Long Island Ice Teas are a good start.

I think the bigger problem is that people really like the idea of ordering cocktails but they really don’t like them. If given a choice between drinking a Horse’s Neck (1oz. Brandy, a dash of Angostura Bitters, lemon juice and ginger ale) or having a stein of Bud Light and a JagerBomb, the average guest will chose the latter. People like simple drinks. Either because of economy or guests are less adventurous, most folks rather just have a vodka and tonic and that’s fine. My job as a bartender is getting guests what they want. Pouring draft beers and shots of whiskey is just as easy as making Blue Hawaiians or Scooby Snacks.

With so many selections behind the bar, it is natural for people have preferences. Some like Bombay over Tanqueray.  Some prefer Ketel One to Grey Goose. Some chose Jim Beam over Jack Daniels. It’s all a matter of taste. My favorite Irish Whiskey is John Powers Gold Label. It’s the clear bottle with the three white swallows on the label. At under $20 a bottle, you would think it would be the well Irish Whiskey at any bar but with the exception of a few bar, nobody carries it. So what do I do when I want a beer and a shot? I order a Jameson.

It is impractical to have every bottle available at the liquor store readily at hand in the bar. Bar managers need to select what products they want to sell and build their backbar accordingly. So, if you order something and we don’t have it, I’m sure we can find something to your liking. Unless you’re ordering a shot of Mountain Dew and Everclear: you’re on your own.

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