Posted 08 September 2009 - 12:42 AM
The list - this is the best thing I've ever been part of behind a bar. I definitely think that one of the fun things about this list is that it is gaining attention among mixologists about their favorite cocktails and what should and shouldn't be on a list. BUT, that's not what this list was for. We can certainly have this discussion, and I will thoroughly enjoy the conversation, but this list has less to do with all of us and more to do with people who are new to classically prepared cocktails.
I don't bartend in NYC, San Fran, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Boston, or anywhere else with more than two options for well-made cocktails. I bartend in Houston, Texas, and there are two places in this city that make serious drinks, our bar Anvil, and Beavers where we introduced classics to Houston and others continue that tradition today. Unlike other cities, there was no cocktail revival in restaurants before developing a bar scene, and this environment means that to most Houstonians, classically-made cocktails are somewhat of an uncommon experience. Houston more than any other city I have worked in or visited has a bar scene that focuses on speed, not quality, and southern traditions that are difficult to break. Don't get me wrong; I love Houston and there may not be another city on the planet this large with such a friendly, comfortable personality. But, recently, I tried to name as many bars as I could in an evening that had been open more than 30 years - I came up with three...in the country's fourth largest city. Sure, there probably are more, but my point is that Houston drinking traditions have less to do with places, bartenders, and recipes than anywhere else I know.
But I could really care less, there is no other city I would rather live in and no other people I would rather have sitting across from my bar. However, this means that making classic cocktails may encounter more resistance than in other cities. This undoubtedly has its ups and downs as a business owner, yet the best way to overcome these challenges is to share our passion for cocktails with others. I have been writing the blog Drink Dogma for over three years now and trying to build a market for classics in Houston for about the same amount of time. The list is the next step in an effort to be educational about cocktails and make them well.
Sure, we could all choose some we would like to see and others we would like to keep, but for us, this list was about giving people who might be new to cocktails a walk-through that would give them an appreciation and historical perspective on a decent drink. The list has drinks that seem similar to show people how the smallest change in cocktails can impact the drink (i.e. the whiskey skin and the toddy). We intentionally chose to include some very similar drinks especially for this purpose. In some situations, we chose to leave drinks off of the list because we have house cocktails that are similar to or derived from these classics, for example our Border Strom kept the Dark N' Stormy off the list. In other places, we chose to leave drinks off because we collectively hate the way they taste that much - like the Bronx - you've got a Satan's Whiskers on there which is a much better variation. Other times, we just happen to like some cocktails that may not be popular with everyone, like the Dulchin.
The point though is that this is how our bar has chosen to go about educating people about cocktails. It shares our perspective on drinks with guests to our bars and was never intended to be a online list about the best 100 cocktails ever. If this was the goal of the list, it would definitely be different. I hope this doesn't discourage these types of discussions; I think they are a lot of fun and would like for them to continue and be a part of them. I do however think that people should be aware of what the purpose of this list is and keep that in context at all times. The list is getting so much attention that I can't tell you the last time that I was asked to make a cosmo; people come in and explore the list for several minutes before carefully choosing or asking for a recommendation. Anvil was not designed to be a speakeasy; it was supposed to be an accessible bar for Houstonians searching for a well-made cocktail. The list is playing a huge part in this effort, and as a huge fan of this approach to bartending, I can't say I've ever been happier making drinks.