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Will Jiggers Kill the Bar Star?


TAPrice
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[Please forgive the lame allusion to the Buggles.]

In a Chow interview, Dale DeGroff makes this "spirited" comment [and now I'm making bad puns, stop me]:

But what about on the consumer side: Will it be worth it for customers to continue to pay upward of $12 for a cocktail?

People are not going to go to the geeky bars unless they can get a goddamn drink. [Mixologists] are going to have to do what the sports bars do—make drinks in one to one and a half minutes—or people are not going to go there. If they want it to be mainstream, they’re going to have to get over it and learn how to free-pour.

So what do you think? Are jiggers really that much slower? Are they holding back the popularity of good drinks? Or will good drinks always have a smaller audience and be reserved for bars where the patrons aren't so rushed?

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Hmm I think it depends on the drink. When I am in service and I get a 6 drink ticket depending on the drinks I can probably crank all 6 of them out in 4-6 minutes. Of course if some of those 6 drinks are queens park swizzle or a pisco sour/ramos fix that would skew things greatly.

But it really is all about planning. When I get the dupe the first thing I do is setup the tins or mixing glasses. Then I mentally go through the recipes looking for common ingredients and pouring them all at the same time. Citrus first, simple, then base spirits.

I consider myself a quick bartender, but I am by no means the fastest. People like Phil and Brian at D&C can probably do the same drinks in 3-4 minutes. Especially when Phil stirs 4 drinks at once.

The actual act of jiggering I think adds minimal time to the actual drink making -- especially if you go with the 1/2 - 3/4 and 1 - 2 jigger combo.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

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I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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It's not jiggers that makes cocktails slow - take a look at the volume they do at the Lonsdale in London, Death and Co in New York or Eastern Standard in Boston: all jigger-measured cocktails and able to come through quickly.

The reason that cocktail bars tend to be slow has nothing to do with jiggers, it has to do with the fact that it simply takes longer to make 40 different cocktails for 40 different customers: assembling ingredients, cracking ice and stirring or shaking. Proper measuring is actually only a fraction of a second longer than eyeballing a free-pour. In comparison, pouring 40 glasses of wine, 40 pints of beer or opening 40 bottles at a sports bar is going to be faster.

The problem is that you just can't compare apples to oranges here. Go to the Brandy Library in NYC and see how long it takes to pour a $12 scotch. Now compare that to the time it takes to get a $12 cocktail at Death and Company.

Sports bars tend to have a higher ratio of low-effort drinks and deep-fried (or pre-frozen) foods. This means fast to serve and higher margin. Sports bars are typically larger venues which can justify a higher staff count. Put this all together, and this means fast service. It almost means an inexperienced and transient staff. Compare this to the cocktail bar where you tend to get knowledgeable service and long-term staff.

Sports bars are the fast food of the bar industry. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's all designed around overstimulation (televisions! female servers in tight shirts!) and fast service for a typically ADD-addled clientele. It's the appeal of TGI Fridays: flair, wacky crap to look at on the walls and service designed to get you in and out quickly while maximizing the amount of food and drink that can be shoved down their awaiting gullets.

Compared to this, cocktail bars are the fine dining establishments: where you pay for the experience, knowledge and execution.

Not sure what crack Dale was smoking. Free-pouring isn't the answer and neither is dumbing down the cocktail concept to make it have "mass appeal". That's what created the Cosmo, Lemon Drop and Slush-ball Margaritas and Daiquiris of the 80s and 90s. I'd rather give sports bar patrons a better selection of beer than sugary crap cocktails.

Creating an experience that people enjoy, with complex flavor profiles like those you would find at a great restaurant, at a price people can afford - that's the future.

Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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A good example of a cocktail bar that passes the speed test is Flatiron Lounge in New York City. They do huge volume, they make those drinks super-fast, yet quality is impressively high. As a result, Flatiron is incredibly popular and I wouldn't be surprised if it's the most profitable of the serious cocktail bars. And it is exactly for those reasons that I much prefer PDT and the other slow cocktail bars.

I think Dale comes from a culture of barmen where the gold standard is that you walk into a bar, you sit down, someone takes your drink order promptly, and within a very short time frame you have a well-made drink in your hand. A place like PDT is operating much more like a serious restaurant for cocktails: you come in, you sit down, a server brings you a menu, you place an order, the kitchen prepares your order with care, and eventually a cocktail is placed on the table in front of you. It can easily be 10-15 minutes from the time you walk in the door until the time you have a cocktail in front of you. That situation would drive Dale crazy, I'm sure, and it would probably drive a lot of customers crazy too. In fact last night at Pegu one of my friends was clearly annoyed by the fact that it takes more than 2 minutes to get a drink there. But these places are designed exactly to appeal to some customers and not others. Right?

(The jigger issue seems like a red herring.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I heard Dale DeGroff say much the same thing regarding the extra step of "dry shaking" egg white drinks. He commented that the extra step sacrifices expediency and has quipped something to the effect that it is superfluous artistry (my interpretation). Dale Degroff dealt with serious high volume during his time at the Rainbow Room and Hotel Bel Air. I can't imagine annoying Sinatra's entourage or Harry Nillson with jiggery and emulsifying. Dale's emphasis is service (and fresh ingredients), not necessarily Harold McGee and precision technique.

My experience and observation are that the use of jiggers does not adversely affect service in the hands of experienced bartenders with an efficient mis en place (always the key, isn't?). I'd add that it is the job of the establishment to set the expectation of that $12 drink at high volume. It needs to either emphasize service-at-peak-hours or the bespoke, artisanal thing. Crowd control (seating only) or providing other support during peak hours (batched cocktails, barback staffing, wine & beer options etc.) can also factor into straddling both goals. Taking shortcuts in consistency should not be the option.

This jiggery vs. skilled free pouring thing has been popping up in conversations lately. As a bartender and cocktail customer, I have to say that I am a firm believer in the former. A careful, conscientious bartender who is left the option to free pour, will deliver quality when it comes to highball drinks and even Manhattans but I think it's a slippery slope when the next drink order is a Brooklyn or Improved Whiskey Cocktail or Aviation. I think, from the bartender's perspective, that it's easy to find yourself making a series of judgments and guesses during a busy service...and that's when consistency really matters.

"Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a

claim on, even its ice compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like

food."" - Kingsley Amis

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Name the time and place. I will smoke any free pouring moron with my jiggers and my drinks will taste consistently better. The only reason jiggers slow down a bartender is because they haven't gotten comfortable using them. If one does not take the time to get comfortable using them then they have no place to say in this conversation. The only advantage of free pouring is a disadvantage to the end result. One could pour two bottles at the same time or even four it making such a delicacy as a Long Island Ice tea.But considering that most people can't pour consistently with only one bottle what are the chances one can do so with two.

Its not jiggers that slow down bartenders. Its bartenders. Bartenders and the Establishments are to blame for long ticket times. I would be willing to bet a jiggering bar has better ticket times. I'd be curious to know what bars were on Dale's mind when he said that.

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While I completely agree with phlip, the scientist in me wonders if to finally put this question to bed we should be testing the reverse as well. Could a more serious bartender learn to free pour accurately and consistently?

It's statistically extremely improbable that in a real world scenario - a busy bar, lots of orders, lots of bottles of liquids of different viscosity, interruptions from patrons (and barbacks and other staff members) that a free pour will ever be as accurate as a measured pour... and for a properly trained bartender, I doubt it would be faster because they would be constantly re-adjusting the cocktails after the pre-service tasting to accommodate for the per-pour variances. Even if someone is good at free-pouring, how do you account for the difference in viscosity between spirits, cordials, cream, simple syrup, etc...?

Sure, someone might be able to, in a staged challenge be pretty precise if all they need to do is pour 40 shots of water. But have them make 10 different drinks at real-bar speed, pouring each component into a separate glass and measure it all out. Where I'm comfortable that a bartender with a measure is going to pretty darned accurate, I'm not so sure about the free pourer.

Now, this isn't to say that there aren't great free-pourers out there. Heck, Thomas Waugh at Death and Co. has pretty damned good accuracy (or at least he did when on the West Coast). But I will argue that a serious bartender who free-pours has to spend more time adjusting drinks - especially on complex recipes - than one who uses a bar measure. Even if you save a couple of seconds on a free pour, you're losing all the benefit if you have to re-make a single drink because of a mis-pour.

Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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Having studied a fair amount of cognitive and perceptual psychology on the way to getting my psych degree, I think it's likely that a serious bartender could be trained to be extremely accurate with free pouring under optimal conditions. That said, I suspect that this would not be possible or realistic in amounts of 1/4 ounce or less using standard pour tops. Sub half-ounce accuracy with freepouring might be possible using pour tops that restrict the flow more than the standard ones, but this would not be practical and would eliminate many of the presumed efficiency advantages of free pouring.

Those are under optimal conditions, where the bartender is rested, alert, able to focus, not under a great deal of time pressure, etc. Needless to say, these conditions are not particularly found in a busy cocktail bar. There are times when near-optimal conditions are found in a cocktail bar, but these conditions also allow the bartender the time to use jiggers. Since the only reason to prefer freepouring over jiggers is the time efficiency advantage, it's not clear that there is any advantage to freepouring in contexts where the bartender would have sufficient time to use jiggers.

But the impact of "non-optimal conditions" extends beyond the pressure of maintaining discipline in frenetic and busy cocktail lounge during the rush. What technique is the bartender using to measure his free pours? If he is employing the usual "count" method, then optimal conditions would insist that all bottles be of a similar size and geometry, all are full to a similar extent and all have similar pour tops. If any of these things is different, the flow rates coming out of the bottles will be different. This means, for example, that a "4 count" which results in an ounce out of a 3/4 full Tanqueray bottle will not equal an ounce out of a 1/4 full Cointreau bottle. Avery makes good points with respect viscosity, etc. I suppose it's possible that a freepouring bartender could have skills of such high development that he could compensate for these variables, but I highly doubt it.

Now... I've seen some inaccuracy from jiggering bartenders during a rush. That 3/4 ounce jigger might be a little underfilled or have a little oversplash when the bartenders are seriously weeded. But I have a hard time believeing there is a freepouring bartender alive that could maintain anywhere near that level of accuracy under that kind of pressure.

What methods are freepouring bartenders using for accuracy other than the "count method"? I have serious doubts that anyone who is simply eyeballing the mixing glass will have accuracy suitable for anything more complicated than a highball.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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It would be interesting to do a contest to prove freepouring skills. I'd suggest something like:

5 two ounce pours from a full Smirnoff bottle

5 3/4 ounce pours from a half-full Cointreau bottle

5 3/4 ounce pours from a 1/4 full juice bottle with a different pour top

5 1/4 ounce pours of rich demerara syrup

5 two ounce pours from a 1/4 Smirnoff bottle

5 3/4 ounce pours from a full Cointreau bottle

5 3/4 ounce pours from a 1/2 full juice bottle with a different pour top

All on the clock against a time previously establised by Phil Ward jiggering the same amounts. Needless to say, anything less than matching the test time would be considered a failure, since time is the presumed advantage of freepouring.

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I think Dale comes from a culture of barmen where the gold standard is that you walk into a bar, you sit down, someone takes your drink order promptly, and within a very short time frame you have a well-made drink in your hand. A place like PDT is operating much more like a serious restaurant for cocktails: you come in, you sit down, a server brings you a menu, you place an order, the kitchen prepares your order with care, and eventually a cocktail is placed on the table in front of you. It can easily be 10-15 minutes from the time you walk in the door until the time you have a cocktail in front of you. That situation would drive Dale crazy, I'm sure, and it would probably drive a lot of customers crazy too. In fact last night at Pegu one of my friends was clearly annoyed by the fact that it takes more than 2 minutes to get a drink there. But these places are designed exactly to appeal to some customers and not others. Right?

That's EXACTLY right.

Which is why real Serious Cocktail Lounges will always be minority niche places.

And why we also see a crowd of fake "Serious" Cocktail Lounges catering to people who want to think they're having excellent cocktails but (a) don't want to put up with the necessary inconvenience of really good cocktails and (b) don't like the complex and even somewhat off-putting (as an initial matter) flavors that characterize many really good cocktails.

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Hmm. It's hard to express all the various ways I disagree with the foregoing.

First and most obvious, I take serious exception with the premise that larger cocktail bars such as Flatiron, Pegu Club or Clover Club aren't "real Serious Cocktail Lounges." And they're certainly not "minority niche places" either. They're places where most anyone can get in and get a properly made cocktail at a level of inventiveness equal to just about anyplace you might care to go.

Second, I think Dale's quote from the NY Times article today (in which I and other eG habitués are quoted) is right to the point:

"It's to the point that it can be a little irritating," said Dale DeGroff, the former Rainbow Room bartender who is widely credited with starting the cocktail renaissance. Mr. DeGroff likened the situation to when he was hanging out at boisterous jazz clubs in the '60s and '70s. "Now, when I go to jazz clubs, I get shushed. When you turn the music into a religion, you blow the gig. That’s what's happening in some of these bar scenes — it’s getting a little too sacred."

Don and I are later quoted in a similar vein:

On a recent evening at the East Village cocktailery Death & Co., Mr. Lee, exasperated by a discussion about the "Platonic ideal" of a bar, chided his tablemates: "You guys think about this stuff way too much."

But Mr. Kinsey, the "cocktailian," struck a sanguine note. "I’ve been out dancing on tables at 5 a.m. and blowing balls of flame in the air," he said. "You know, it's booze."

Now, I'm sure that there are plenty of quotes around here from me about appreciating cocktail spots for the gustatory quality of the drinks rather than the "scene" and so forth. But at the end of the day, it's still booze. This was meant to be fun, folks! I have to believe that every revered bartender from Jerry Thomas and The Only William up to Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders would be dismayed at the idea that real Serious Cocktail Lounges must be 30-seater, hushed little out-of-the way spots with a scrupulously limited door where the cognoscenti gather reverently to Recieve Light from the Altar of Cocktailery and Devoutly Consume the Master's Gifts.

I am also with Phil is suggesting that it is establishments and organization that are largely responsible for long ticket times at cocktail bars. There is simply no reason, especially at some of these tiny bars with multiple 'tenders, why anyone should have to wait 15 minutes to have a drink in front of them. I'd call that unacceptable. Now... in a big cocktail bar during the after-work rush on Friday? I'd still expect to be able to get a drink on average as quickly as I might be able to get a shot and a beer at most any other similarly crowded bar.

IMO, Dale's gold standard is the gold standard. That's not to say that other people won't choose to have a different experience, to linger and discuss their choices, etc. But I don't see anything wong with setting the bar at, "you walk into a bar, you sit down, someone takes your drink order promptly, and within a very short time frame you have a well-made drink in your hand." I just disagree with the premise that freepouring is necessary to meet this bar.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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First and most obvious, I take serious exception with the premise that larger cocktail bars such as Flatiron, Pegu Club or Clover Club aren't "real Serious Cocktail Lounges."  And they're certainly not "minority niche places" either.  They're places where most anyone can get in and get a properly made cocktail at a level of inventiveness equal to just about anyplace you might care to go.

I couldn't agree with you more. Is the Lonsdale less of a serious cocktail bar because it is large? I've been to cocktail bars all around the world and just like with restaurants, size isn't a determining factor when it comes to the commitment of the people in the kitchen or behind the bar.

"It's to the point that it can be a little irritating," said Dale DeGroff, the former Rainbow Room bartender who is widely credited with starting the cocktail renaissance. Mr. DeGroff likened the situation to when he was hanging out at boisterous jazz clubs in the '60s and '70s. "Now, when I go to jazz clubs, I get shushed. When you turn the music into a religion, you blow the gig. That’s what's happening in some of these bar scenes — it’s getting a little too sacred."

Though I don't always agree with Mr. DeGroff, this is one of those things that we share. Choosing to go out to a restaurant or a bar is a choice to be social. That means being able to enjoy yourself. Of course, that doesn't mean that this gives you carte blanche to be an idiot, obnoxious or inappropriate.

Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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(Mods: Perhaps this fork of the discussion could be split out?)

Among the things that have interested me about cocktails are the parallels with my work performing opera. For example, a large part of what we do with opera is go back to try to find out the true original score of the piece and try to form an understanding of the way opera was performed when it was composed -- and then, understanding that singing techniques and the aesthetics of opera have irrevocably changed, try to arrive at a way of performing the music that is at once respectful of the original and also compatible with modern techniques and audiences. This is a little like what we do in uncovering old cocktail recipes and figuring out how to make them work for modern palates.

Anyway, here is another parallel that recently struck me: Italian opera prior to the mid-19th century was designed by the composers to include certain improvisations and embelishments by the performers. What was written was not what was performed. As this tradition evolved away, the popular Italian operas came to be encrusted with late 19th century embelishments that more or less became "standardized." When musicians began re-examining and revitalizing this repertoire, one of the first things they did was strip away all the late 19C standard embelishments. Sometimes, an opera like Barber of Seville might be performed "come scritto" (strictly as-written with no embellishments). This was not as the music was meant to be performed any more than the late 19C altered versions were. But they were a necessary step in working back to a performing tradition that better respected the operas' contemporary performance practice. Perhaps there is a parallel evolution going on in cocktails where people are attracted to the idea of a quiet, respectful, "four star cocktail lounge." But I don't believe that an "Alain Ducasse at Essex House of cocktails" would reflect what cocktails are all about.

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I agree with Mr. Kinsey's thoughts on the progression towards a purer form of art, but more than other types of art, cocktails are so much more preference-driven, I think, than other things. I think that at least in the context of a board of enthusiasts like this, there is some agreement on what the platonic ideal of a cocktail bar would be, but the picture painted by books like Imbibe! could lead one to think that the "sporty" crowd that popularized the fancy drinks that we revere today had more in common with the crowds that shoot Jaeger and chase it with Red Bull than those of us who own more than 3 types of bitters (or more than one, for that matter). I'm not sure if there's a lesson in that beyond the already stated idea that this is supposed to be fun, but of course fun is what you make it. I think the thing that makes people like Jerry Thomas, Harry Craddock, or Dale DeGroff legends is that they were as comfortable making Fancy Cock-Tails, Martinis, or Anejo Highballs as they were making Pousse-Cafes, Alexanders, or Pina Coladas. DaVinci didn't just draw, and Jefferson wasn't just a politician. These and more were Renaissance Men, able to encompass a wide variety of talents, and excel at all of them. So it is with the giants of the bar.

And one of those talents was to allow people to enjoy themselves, wether that means contemplating the relationship between rye and bitters, or to slurp down enough jello shots to go dance with the cute girl across the room. To each his own.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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First and most obvious, I take serious exception with the premise that larger cocktail bars such as Flatiron, Pegu Club or Clover Club aren't "real Serious Cocktail Lounges."  And they're certainly not "minority niche places" either.  They're places where most anyone can get in and get a properly made cocktail at a level of inventiveness equal to just about anyplace you might care to go.

I think they totally are minority niche places.

I think the weekend night crowds go because of hype. I don't think they have a clue what makes those places good. And in many cases, I think they're actively hostile to what makes those places good.

We'll still be there in a few years, when this trend blows over. But those crowds won't.

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I think the weekend night crowds go because of hype. I don't think they have a clue what makes those places good. And in many cases, I think they're actively hostile to what makes those places good.

We'll still be there in a few years, when this trend blows over.  But those crowds won't.

Though this doesn't pertain to every cocktail establishment, without the weekend crowd of trend-followers - many cocktail bars wouldn't be able to stay in business... especially outside of the major cities.

For example, when I was living in San Francisco, there were only a very few bars that could afford to survive without the bridge-and-tunnel "weekend warriors", who were just out and about for the scene and getting drunk. Those who could either were beer-and-a-shot neighborhood bars with a solid post-work crowd, bars attached to successful restaurants or the few lucky places that bought their places when property was significantly undervalued. Mid-week crowds are rarely enough to sustain a good bar.

Here's the deal - if you don't want your favorite cocktail bar to have to use the weekend crush to pay their bills, go more often.

By the way, I know this wasn't the point Sneakeater were trying to make, but it's the point I wanted to rant about.

Avery Glasser

Bittermens, Inc. - Producers of Bittermens Bitters & Extracts

Bittermens Spirits, Inc. - Purveyors of Small Batch Bitter Liqueurs

Vendetta Spirits, LLC. - Nano-Importer of Hand-Produced Spirits

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I think the weekend night crowds go because of hype.  I don't think they have a clue what makes those places good.  And in many cases, I think they're actively hostile to what makes those places good.
That was my impression on my one visit to Flatiron, which unfortunately took place on a weekend night - it was super crowded, and a significant proportion of the people there didn't seem to give a crap about what the folks behind the bar were doing, which was a shame, because even at its most bonkers the drinks we got were excellent. I think the staff did an excellent job of managing the insanity, but it's got to be frustrating when you're putting in that level of effort and people are still ordering shots or rum and coke.
"Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cookbook! Little Red Cookbook!" --Eddie Izzard
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Hey, those people pay the bills. Keep in mind, by the way, that a good percentage of the people eating at places like Babbo and Per Se don't have a real appreciation of what the kitchen is doing either.

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I understand that, and don't begrudge them the business.

But Per Se is a minority niche place also.

And you don't hear Keller saying he's got to change his service model to appeal to people who come in there for whatever reason but might prefer a hamburger.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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The point is, I think, that the Per Se service model isn't the cocktail lounge service model. Which goes back to what I posted earlier saying that the "Per Se of bars" would completely miss the point.

I should also point out that, even in most Per Se-like restaurants, the standard is that someone checks in with you within seconds of you taking your seat, and you can have a drink in your hand and an amuse on the table within minutes.

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First off how dare Don Lee accuse people of thinking too much. I can hear him laughing to himself as he writes these things. (and too think he got in the times, good dig Don)

About time to make a drink. Whats the difference between a hamburger at Mcdonalds and a hamburger at Landmarc? Price, time, and quality. I can walk into Mcdonalds most likely walk up to the counter and get a hamburger on the spot for whatever those baby brain washing pigs charge for a burger these days. Where as at Landmarc one must wait for his or her burger which I find totally unexceptable. I mean like sometimes it could be like 15 minutes dude. I'm always like "why didn't I go to Mcdonalds man?" Then on top of everything else it costs about 12 bucks! I mean I know they actually use meat and all but 12 bucks, I could probably get 3 of Mickey D's burgers for twelve bucks.

There are Mcdonalds polluting the entire earth. There are even more bars where one can go into and get there instant vodka tonic. Please be aware of your surroundings. Don't go to Per Se and try to order a grilled cheese.

Instant coffee versus fresh ground brewed coffee?????

True love versus a one night stand???????

Some things take time. Patience really is a virtue. Quality isn't instant, Red bull is, drink it often its good for the heart rate.

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