New Bartenders and Mixologists: Don’t Forget to Take a Step Back

Tom sent me a link to an article by Gary Regan that really got me thinking about cocktail bartenders these days. The newest generation of bartenders and mixologists are so urgently focused on new creations that oftentimes they’re forgetting the classics that made cocktails what they are today.

Manhattan CocktailJust this past Friday, I was out to dinner with my friend Margaret at Empire Grill, to celebrate Local Restaurant Week in Buffalo NY. I started with a beer but as the meal was coming to a close, I knew what I really wanted; a Maker’s Manhattan, perfect, on the rocks.

Even though I knew that a Manhattan would be the ideal close to my meal, I hesitated. These days, I am hard pressed to find a bartender who knows how to make a Manhattan. Typically, bartenders bruise the bourbon with too much vermouth and more often than not, they don’t even know what bitters is. I’m not kidding. I’ve even gone so far as to ask bartenders over the last few years, “What type of bitters did you use in this?” knowing full well they hadn’t used any at all. Upon receiving the blank stare in response to my question, I strike yet another “swanky cocktail bar” off of my list and order up a double Maker’s neat, instead.

To my elated surprise however, the bartender at Empire Grill not only knew to use bitters in my Manhattan, but he even used just enough of the sweet and dry vermouths (thus making it perfect) so that my bourbon wasn’t bruised. Plus, there was not a drop of cherry juice or grenadine added (that’s right my friends, cherry juice does NOT belong in a Manhattan). I’ve happily added Empire Grill to my list, at least on Wednesday and Friday nights, as a place to get a good Manhattan here in Buffalo NY.

It seems to me that overall, bartenders are so concentrated on coming up with the next candy-coated concoction that they’ve never given themselves enough time to learn some of the classics. They’re so pressured to come up with the next ginger-reduction asian-fusion “martini” that they’ve lost sight of the idea of tasting ingredients and learning how cocktails came to fruition in the first place.

A drink isn’t amazing because of how many random, unique ingredients you can mix together, but instead, a drink is amazing because of how a few simple, classic ingredients can balance one another, creating a cocktail you’ll come back to time and time again.

There’s a reason the classics are classic. Bartenders and mixologists, don’t forget to take a step back sometimes and refresh yourselves on simplicity and balance.

And don’t forget the bitters, either.



  • John October 14, 2010 @ 7:36pm

    Hannah, I cannot agree enough. Your words pointed out why I no longer enjoy cocktails when dining or after. Thanks!

  • Hannah October 15, 2010 @ 9:19am

    John – right? but there are a few bartenders out there, in our neck of the woods… we just have to find them 🙂

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