I was a craft bartender in Los Angeles and New York for a lot of years. These were the
swanky sort of watering holes that used words like “libation” and “elixir”. Back bars
were botanical gardens of bottles unrecognizable to the layperson. The “speakeasy”
cocktail bar has firmly anchored itself in the rituals of modern life. With few exceptions
they’re dimly lit and decorated like a period-movie film set. You can come to one of
these bars where a barman in a costume (that is actually his regular clothing) will
yammer on unsolicited about this bottle or that cocktail just to show off what he knows.
Staying abreast of the ever-changing craft spirits world is a job unto itself and under
ordinary circumstances any sensible person would volunteer how few of the bottles they
recognize at this sort of bar. However the irony of these basement-real-estate-Ponzi-
schemes is that they tend to muster the grade-school social situations that make a person
afraid to admit any inadequacy whatsoever. You don’t go for twenty-three-dollar
cocktails (served in a thimble) with your drinking buddy or your kid sister; you go on a
date, or with co-workers, or to entertain a client. It’s almost always someone with whom
you maintain a certain desire to impress. In such a state your voice is higher and your
actions are too eager. Betraying that all you see behind the bartender is a shelf stack of
hieroglyphs would be fatally uncultured. So when the busy bartender finally gets to you
in the crowd, you unknowingly commit a bartender’s least favorite faux pas: you look up
from the menu, you manufacture an expression that you hope says you understand this
thing that’s clearly written in Sanskrit, and you say, “What’s your favorite drink?” If this
is in Flatiron Manhattan at a particularly popular whiskey haven circa 2013, this
musketeer-looking character will say, “That’s like hiring someone to paint your house
and asking them for their favorite color.” You’re startled and not sure how to respond.
Your date is watching. When the bartender turns back after attending to several items that
his body language mimes are vastly more important than you, you try to fix it, “No, I
mean what’s your favorite drink, like, to make?” You’re cool, that’s your point. You’re a
great customer. In fact this was a charitable endeavor from the start, to make things easier
for the bartender. You don’t want him to do anything for you that he doesn’t want to do.
“Oh, a painter’s favorite color to paint. Much better” says this supercilious sack of waxed
mustache. But your indignation probably doesn’t set in until much later.
Yep, that was me. In the plumed hat, too busy or bothered to help a fella out. After so
many years, I’m not going to defend myself. I’ll just answer the question.
I drink up and down the spectrum. The occasion of, where, when, and with whom
prescribes the what. There’s no finite number or variety of occasions. Fine dining, one
must pair with wine. With my last girlfriend we usually drank brandy or sherry—now
even their smell can call to mind my nights with her much like songs can summons
memories. When I’m back at my home bar in Brooklyn, I drink whatever cocktail Devin,
the proprietor and my former roommate, is working on for the menu. With old hockey
teammates I drink beer. I have to be entertaining fanciful notions of earldom to call for an
expensive scotch, and I sometimes do. On Cinco I drink anything hecho en Mexico.
Home is bourbon. But also deep in mi corazon es mezcal (and tequila). A group of my
best friends take a ski trip every year on which we observe a masochistic tradition of
Fireball shots and Bud Light (historically, one or another of us cretins is in a state of
crisis at the time of the trip and instigates us through a whole handle of cinnamon
fungicide before the end of night one). And despite all that, what I probably sip as often
as anything are velvety and briny gins.
After a phase of fanaticism and self-righteousness, a “mixologist” generally
grows up and remembers a bartender with all the knowledge in the world is still a
bartender. And what that is really, is a people-tender—which calls for intuiting when a
guest is seeking ego-friendly assistance. Eventually, when faced with a bartender’s least
favorite question, I said something like this: “It depends on the occasion. What’s the
occasion today?” For a bespoken cocktail, my next question was usually, “How hungry
Since we here at Nosotros Tequila traffic in shots and cocktails, below are five
different cocktails by an occasion that calls for them.
Chuggable. When you’re in the mood for slamming margaritas with your people on a
summer day but it’s March and you’re in quarantine.
1.5oz green apple shrub
.75oz orange liqueur