Bar Savvy

Friends, it has been awhile.  I have decided to take up the torch again as there are some large changes coming down the road and this seems like a great forum to keep people informed, and my vision/version of what is happening in print and in order.  To kick things off, here is an absurd little article I drafted  for a publication that we ended up not publishing, hope it’s a fun little read.

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It’s the confidence, the social ease and the witty banter—though it doesn’t hurt that bartenders are the smooth-moving gatekeepers of our liquid courage. Set up on a romantically lit stage, a bartender is poised to capture your now-fuzzy attention with a winning smile and a cold drink. Yet despite the lighthearted setting and free-flowing libations, it’s never easy to know how to make a move on your favorite drink-slinger.

Around you, everyone at the bar is vying for his attention. If only that gorgeous pourer of spirits knew that you wanted more than just your tab!—but amidst the chaos of waving dollar bills and clinking glassware, you’re faced with the common conundrum: is he being nice because it’s his job, or could there be a little something more behind that extra-tall pour of whiskey? Sit tight, hold your ground and protect your claim to the barstool nestled into that corner—you may just find the seven numbers you were looking for at the bottom of your bill.

It’s a round of questions that we all know too well, that rip though our thoughts as we gaze over at a barkeep whose shot-pouring technique is more interesting than any conversation coming from our slurring roommates. Is this something that’s going to happen tonight? Is there something long-term here? How much do I like this bar, what time is it and how much have I had to drink?

I want this to happen tonight:

One evening, as a colleague of mine made his way from behind the bar for the only restroom break he’d have time for, he turned to shut the door behind him and met with a puckered pair of lips as the girl who’d captured his glances all night finally decided words were a waste of time. Come closing time, as the last guests were ushered out and the lights flickered on to full blast, she ambled over to the bar and urged him to teach her how to pour a proper pint. He recalls a beautiful sunrise over the East River that morning.

For the bold and infatuated—especially those with short-term goals—capitalizing on the very fleeting free moments a bartender has may be your best chance to see the gates being pulled down at the end of the night. But be prepared: the bartender is usually the last person out of the building, and although the bar closes at 3 a.m., bottles still need to wiped, chairs stacked, messes mopped and cash counted. You may be stuck for some time under the bright lights, twiddling your thumbs over a cheap beer, before you get the chance to violate some health codes.

This isn’t a fleeting night, you’ve got potential:

Carving out just an extra second of banter with a bartender on a busy night is near impossible. As they try to recall a list of orders, obscure recipes and tabs, their focus is on moving efficiently and helping the next thirsty patron. That said, over a wall of people emanating “hmm”s and “umm”s, the prepared, confident order gets attention. It is forever a pleasure (and exceedingly rare) to hear an order from someone who knows what they want, delivered to you calmly with a lingering smile and a please. It’s almost as if that someone believes that the one serving them is a real person—and that’s enough to lift the spirits of any bartender. Given the number of well-meaning customers we meet with who are focused on losing themselves to their own style of fun, composure is often the only thing that will shake up our steady façade. When you return to the bar early on a weekday to pick up where we left off, there’s no doubt I will remember who you were, find you a seat in front of me, welcome you with a drink on me and, if we’re both lucky, join you in a long conversation.

As a new bartender muddling away at a job I most likely embellished my résumé to get, I often found myself behind on time and flustered, attempting to field everyone’s ill-advised mojitos in some semblance of the correct order as tickets piled up around me in drifts. On one such night—arriving from heaven, I’m convinced—she came forward, with a quick glance up and down the bar; built a barstool from nothing, all the while boxing out a sizeable portion of the crowd—an impressive feat for five-foot-zero—and, with a reassuring smile, calmly dealt out a “Don’t worry about me for a few—come find me when you can.” After ten minutes of blue-eyed-girl-fueled determination, I had cleared my board and was able to carve out some time to talk to this selfless and wonderful creature.

Even lubricated with your poison of choice and exonerated for all your poor decisions, you may find the list of hurdles long and frightening that holds you back from putting it all out there. But though it’s true that any bartender worthy of your attention is going to show you if they’re interested, it’s important to remember also that you’re a guest at their place of work, and one they won’t want to alienate, even should their hopes prove misguided. So after a free round and a bout of witty quips, the weight falls on your shoulders to take that near-impossible last step to leave them your number, and make sure they know you’d love to see them on the other side of the bar.

 

Learning Curve

Better late than never, although with the sizable gaps in time between each post it is almost at the never side of things.  To best illustrate the past months I should start by filling you in about our bar.  The bar.  Booker & Dax.  BDX, as we call it.  It’s a small room in the back of a bustling world class restaurant that has consumed all of my time and every drop of energy for the last 8 months.  Two bars, a prep kitchen, 4 tables, 32 stools, 2 bartenders, a server, hostess, barback, manager, cook, 147 liquor bottles, freezers, fridges, clear lime juice, liquid nitrogen, a centrifuge… and a vacuum rotary evaporator.  It feels like a pub but looks like a laboratory, serves exciting cocktails and addicting food, it functions at the highest level while flirting with being too casual… it’s extremely hard for me to wrap my head around and has been my battle for what feels like a lifetime.  In short, a bar which focuses on high end craft cocktails utilizing new techniques which we at the bar are implementing.  I will leave you here with some links to what others have written about the bar thus far so I that I don’t have to form words to what I can barely grasp:

http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/booker-and-dax/

http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/02/video-dave-arnold-booker-dax-cocktails-centrifuge-liquid-nitrogen-techniques.html

http://gizmodo.com/booker-&-dax/

There are more from all over the map if you google Booker & Dax.  Woo.

I have been running on such high emotion and so little sleep for the last few months it has left me with much ammo for this blog, for your sake I am reigning in what makes it to this page for fear of crafting a 200 page memoir about the struggle of opening a bar with untested tools and virtually no space.  Since January we have been drafting menus, staffing, building, experimenting, buying, ordering… etc, all while the old version of the bar remained open.  We have just ticked off the 5 month mark of being open, and I only now feel like we are finding any sort of stride.  It’s interesting running a bar that focuses on the fore front of technology because of the ever lurking pressure to keep innovating, and even just now as a fledgling bar I am already feeling the heat of ‘what’s next from Booker & Dax?’ In this city so driven by food and culture your life on the scene seems to be much like a shark, keep moving or drown.  I don’t say that negatively, it’s like going to the gym, if you are not building up you are losing ground, and that always means working to improve and find to a new direction.  Already I fall nostalgic for cocktails we are replacing on the menu, until I fall in love with the one that replaced it.  Upwards and onwards, always upwards and onwards.

So much more has come out of Booker & Dax than I could have anticipated.  It is not the organizing and admin, cocktail creation or staff emergencies, all those things I could have predicted in the day to day of restaurants and the bar world.  Press, media, events, social presence, and the never blind eye of being in NYC…  is what wears you out quicker than anything.  We have been fortunate enough to be involved in wonderful events like Taste of the Nation to benefit a great cause, and MOFAD (Museum of Food and Drink), CityMeals on Wheels Benefit, and then there are the guest bartending nights at bars around the city, barbacking at Speed Rack an all-female bartending competition benefiting cancer research, teaching a class for Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and then you turn around and the bar is full of photographers shooting the ‘bright green cocktail or the one with the flames.’  Apart from everything these things are amazingly fun, but when they begin to back up against each other, and with scheduling, and ordering, and… you start to forget about things like laundry, eating, cleaning, exercise, reading… We are moving (again) and as I started to pack up I realized we never actually unpacked.  I’m 26!  It is certainly the right time to dive head first into the fray, and to quote an institution I am fond of, ‘Learn by Doing,’ there is no better education than hands on work.  The work opens more and more doors everyday revealing so many cool people, new places, fantastic meals and drinks, and new opportunities!  It becomes slightly addicting and definitely intoxicating after a while, and I find it hard to say no to anything coming our way.

It must be said again, and I know I have touched upon this in the previous post, but the bartenders, servers, barbacks, cooks, NEW MANAGERS (Robert Henry Nelson) are heroes.  Dave Arnold and I bust into the bar at the drop of a hat and generally destroy all semblance of sanity.  “What if’s” fly around and “how ‘bouts” spout out repeatedly, leaving a trail resembling that of a tornado… Yet the intrepid and obviously hardy crew never fails and always powers through.  The fact that we have assembled such a talented staff is the miracle that keeps everything running every day.  I could not put to words accurately the curiosity, intelligence, energy, spirit, and dedication that the gang has.  They are the heart and soul of the bar.

There are a few people out there making sure that I see the light of day, and to those few champions of things outside of the bar I solute you.  We have escaped the confines of the bar to walk shelter dogs around South Brooklyn (since I can’t have my own), learned how to raise chickens in Brooklyn, gardened veggies, play in a soccer match, and rampaged and frolic around the city.

Once again I haven’t written about much, updating anything, or corresponded with family/friends in any coherent fashion, but it did serve as a nice outlet for voicing what words happen to build up on my mind.

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To come:

Surströmming! Eating rotten fish out of a can from Sweden! See below.

(http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-04/popscis-friday-lunch-can-putrid-surstr%C3%B6mming)

Moving! Again! And how it’s the worst thing that can happen to a soul in NYC.

The fun side of things:  http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/30-under-30-nycs-hottest-up-and-comers.html

East Village Hostel

Since moving to New York our humble abode has played the role of hostel to many of our friends.  Whether it is the bedroom that is now split down the middle for long term visitors, or the pullout couch, or when we really start to overflow the air mattress, we always have visitors to show around the city.  While it does usually mean that the living room looks like a war zone will blown up suitcases and deconstructed couches, it also means we have a house full of lovely guests.

Having guests means a couple of things: We get to make a visit to all of our favorite bars, restaurants, shops, neighborhoods, haunts… etc; we get to cook some lovelier meals then we would for just ourselves; we stay up way past our bedtime; and by the end we all need another whole week to recover.

Robby and Margaret came to town all last week! Finally we were able to host Robert Henry Nelson in the Big Apple.  Every morning Robby was up and out the door exploring the city with Dan, from the tip of downtown to the upper reaches of the park, and anywhere in between the two rivers.  It is great to be able to show someone everything you have been talking about to them, there is finally a level of understanding reached where everything makes more sense, “Ah, so that’s what you were talking about.”  Of course in NY there are a lot of touristy things to do, but ultimately it is the simple life of the

Modelish...

East Village that we like to show off the most.  All of our favorite places exist right on our doorstep, and as usual the nights I most enjoyed with our guests happened right on our block.  Simple things like strolling over to the rivers to take in some fresh air and enjoy the lit up skyline, or meandering down to Terroir to say hi to Tanner, these are the things that I am proud to show off to visitors.   Of course we also had to hit up our places of employment, but luckily that involves either wonderful vegan food at Pure Food and Wine, or incredible libations at Death & Co and PDT.  It is great to have such wonderful places to take our friends to when they get, especially knowing that everyone we work with bends over backwards for not only us, but our friends.  Dan, Robby, and I were lucky enough to have a night of debauchery planned out for us by Jim Meehan at some of Manhattans premier and exclusive bars.

All in all we had a wonderful time with Robby and Margaret visiting us out here.  Hopefully we can twist Robby’s arm enough so that next time his stay will be quite a bit longer.

Here are some of the highlights:

The bridges around Manhattan are incredible structures.  Every time I cross one, or even glimpse one off in the distance, it impresses me.  So Robby, Marg, Ad, and I decided to hike out to the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge in order to catch a view of the city.  It amazes me more people don’t fall off of the bridges/drive off considering the way people drive in NY.

Taking in some sights at the East River

Uber Post…

I have been so distracted by everything that has been going on out here that by the time I get home every night I am too exhausted to even think about writing a blog post!  So here is a complete blast of information about what has been occurring around the world of the Wandering Willey!

Work is going great!  I am truly assuming a positive role as the manager of the joint.  We are evolving and creating new avenues towards success (including new locations!).  I am in love with the employees

Shannon visiting me at work. A common occurence.

of the place on both the crif side and the bar side.  Everyone seems to be completely involved and passionate about what they do, and not to mention extremely nice.  They have been very welcoming and made my life extremely easy as I dive in head first.  So far so good at Crif Dogs.

Shannon’s job seems to be going amazingly!  As it turns out she is phenomenal at being a cocktail server.  I know we never doubted her, but she really has taken everything on head first and proven to her new employers that there is no one better to be had.  She is ripping up the ranks, and I am continually astonished by her new found cocktail knowledge.  She is ruling the Manhattan cocktail scene.  Tanner, Dan, and I have already created a wonderful routine of planting ourselves at her bar… woe is me, life is hard when you have the two most distinguished and exclusive cocktail bars at your disposal at any time!

We have a DAN!  Shannon and I recently went out and got ourselves a Dan to live with.  After all of his recent travels Dan DeMartini has finally landed himself in open arms at 198 Ave A.

A taste of the new wine selection.

Bringing with him some rare delicacies from Italy and France, and an armful of stunning wines we have had no excuse to not celebrate his arrival.  The vintages we have been sipping at home lately have been not only great wines, but once in a lifetime wines.  Dan we love you.  We are so extremely happy that we have you to share new adventures with.

I had a particularly rough day at work the other day when I was working the counter at Crif.  It just so happened to be the New York Dance Parade, which turns out to be a procession of any and every kind of dancing that winds its way through the city and ends right in front of our restaurant!  In other words I had approximately 8 Trillion dancers filter in and out of the place for hot dogs all day long!  It was so extremely bust that we ultimately would run out of essentially everything at one point or another during the day.  On the other hand we did get to watch break dancers, stilt dancers, belly dancers, hip hop dancers, and many many more waltz their way through the city streets all day long.  One thing I am beginning to appreciate about the city is that there is ALWAYS something going on around where I am.  There is never any shortage of wonderment happening at any given time.

Shannon, Dan, and I have been focusing on eating well and in a somewhat un-traditional fashion lately.  We have solely been eating in small tapas style portions.  We come home every night and pop open a bottle of wine, and then lay out a spread of beautiful tastes which we pick at all night.  Dan actually was able to taste us on some amazing treats most recently: black truffles, white truffle creme, and a spreadable salami which was to die for.  I have included some photos of our typical spreads.  They are truly very simple, and they seem to be more satisfying than most meals I have eaten. 

Shan and Dan... Preparing for feasting.

There are a lot of new developments happening out here, and as soon as I am up to date with everything (hopefully tomorrow) I will make sure to let all of you fabulous people know exactly what is happening on this small little island we have decided to call home.  I hope everyone is doing very well out there.  I so very much miss New Mexico right now.  I miss the open air and all of the lovely people there.  I am sorry I can’t be with you for this extremely important weekend coming up!  Love you all!