A Slow Drink Manifesto



"A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life."
-from the Slow Food Manifesto

I've always found myself among the slowest of bartenders. Not by way of laziness, mind you, but because I believe perfection is paramount. I know I could move faster, pour faster, mix faster, but I also hate the idea because it too often means shortcuts. I refuse to shave off seconds if it means a bad drink.

Whenever I've been three deep and rush to grab the ingredients, free pour, and forget such simple improvements as icing the glass, I feel a tinge of regret. I know that I'm serving a drink that could be better, that wishes to be better. One must imagine every cocktail possesses its own life and wishes, desires. Then all crimes against the cocktail multiply—they are not solely against you and your customer, but against the cocktail itself, which some bartender of past repute labored to create and give life.

Charles Baker, Jr., the great bon vivant and writer, explains this feeling in his book Jigger, Beaker and Glass:

Results are sad for the poor chap who has to drink his brews; but sadder still is the realization deep down in our poor mixer's heart-of-hearts that he has betrayed his callings, his finer mixing art, through refusal to do the right and proper things—yet still does nothing about them.

Now, I'm not suggesting being purposefully slow. I mean you should take your time to do what's right. Be efficient, but be purposeful. As Kingsley Amis wrote, "Serving good drinks, like producing anything worthwhile, from a poem to a motor-car, is troublesome and expensive." The reasons for this trouble and expense have become obvious to me, but let me lay them out for the initiate.

1. When one enjoys a well-made cocktail, one is drinking in a manner suitable for adults, avoiding the vulgar collegiate customs of keg stands and beer bongs. Now you may giggle and even think I'm being pompous, but drinking like a college student belongs exactly where this custom originates: in college. It's as sad to see an old man wearing colorful, patterned beach shorts as it is to see a person over 30 drinking silly shots.

2. Cocktails are a culinary tradition and, as such, deserve respect. One would hardly let terriers take to the field, donning baseball uniforms, and feel content that they represent the great game of baseball. While this may be cute for a moment, there is no sport.

3. Drinking is problematic when done to excess. Taking time to produce a cocktail generally ensures that the customer must wait for it and drink it at an appropriate rate. If your drink is refreshed every 90 seconds, your chances of living diminish in relation to the bartender's speed. Sixty seconds, you're a goner.

4. Making drinks quickly may well lose you money. I realize the old adage is that time equals money, but ensuring you have a return audience and a dedicated following will offset any loss resulting from the slower issuing of drinks. Many bartenders know this already, but a quick drink earns a dollar or less, whereas an excellent cocktail wins a devoted fan.

Being a slow bartender requires something of a sea change in how bartenders and customers perceive drinking, and certainly is no use in a club or high-volume bar. However, for those of us who stand at a moderately busy bar or are working a slower night, what is the harm in perfecting our craft? Why is everyone in such a rush?