Work is the curse of the drinking class

Ah, the difficult cocktail post. I've been thinking about bars in general and cocktails specifically for a while now. I have theories. I have prejudices, but most importantly I believe that I am right.

So here's how it works. If I'm at just a normal neighborhood bar, I'll almost always have a beer. If I'm really in the mood for a harder drink I'll order what I like to call a "something and something." You know, a gin and tonic, a vodka and orange juice or a rum and Coke (if I'm a sorority girl). I just don't trust a regular bar to know more than that.

And I'm o.k. with that. There's nothing wrong with a something and something drink as long as they're reasonably priced and well made and that's almost always the case at a neighborhood bar (although, I will warn you that I've run across my share of flat tonic water at these places).

Now, of course, there's a whole other class of bar out there. They're sometimes called "lounges," and you can almost always spot them by their proliferation of comfortable seating that isn't covered in vinyl. I'm a fan of comfortable seating so I like to check these places out. Unfortunately, they almost always disappoint me. At lounges, they like to serve drinks that end in "tini" and anything that ends in "tini" but doesn't begin with "mar" has no basis in reality. They are Disney World drinks.

The problem? Drinks that end in "tini" almost always cost $12 to $15 in these places, and if they're going to charge that much, I expect a transcendent cocktail. A transcendent cocktail doesn't involve chocolate syrup. It doesn't taste like a bowl of Apple Jacks, and it usually isn't pink.

Maybe I've been spoiled by my experiences at some great New York places like the Flatiron Lounge (there's that word again) or the Pegu Club. These are bars that specialize in unique drinks that are heavily grounded in the classic cocktails that have been all but forgotten in the "tini" world.

So I was very excited when I heard about a new place opening downtown. Twist Lounge is owned by Jean-Robert de Cavel, who runs about a billion restaurants in Cincinnati all of which I love. Surely he could do a lounge like it is meant to be. Jeff and I went to check it out right before Christmas with our hopes high. We had been to Flatiron Lounge just a few weeks before so they would have a lot to live up to.

Things didn't look good from the get go. The bartender came over to greet us at our table (which I love) but when I asked for a drink menu, she said they didn't have one. Drink menus are important people! Check out the one at The Alembic in San Francisco. You love it already, don't you?

Instead our bartender began to talk about all the great "tinis" they have. There was a vanilla one, a raspberry one and a chai one. It was like being at Starbucks, except without a menu. Jeff and I ordered the chai one still with hopes of transcendence, but it was not to be. We were presented with giant goblets of martini glasses, their bottoms covered with a swirl of chocolate syrup. There were no fresh fruit juices and I'm pretty sure that if I'd ordered a Negroni, I'd have been met with a blank stare and a turned back as the bartender referenced a dusty cocktail book hidden in the corner. When the bill came later, sure enough we were paying $12 for our frappuccinos with alcohol.

Maybe Cincinnati just isn't ready for house made tonic water, a reinvented Sidecar or a drink that doesn't end in "tini." But I thought if anyone could do it, it was Jean-Robert. Sometimes people just need to be shown that their $12 can buy something tastier than a Yoo-hoo and vodka. I guess I'm sticking with the something and something drinks in The 'Nati.


AE said...

Wait, you like Negronis?

Eileen said...

I love Negronis. I like how good they smell and I like how after you drink one your mouth is actually drier than before. Sure, it's not for the faint of hear but that's the fun of it. Sometimes I can get a good one at Palomino.

I also like your beloved Manhattans, and just about anything with gin in it.

AE said...

I really want to like Negronis -- I love things that taste terrible -- but they just go a little too far for me. Maybe it's the Campari... maybe baby steps are required with that.

You should talk to my friend Chris, who often feels very alone with his love of the Negroni.

Chris said...

Ah, ha! Another Negroni lover! Aren't they the best things ever? They're both delightful and easy to make, and yet pretty much every time I order one in a bar I either have to explain what it is to begin with, or ask for something to be changed so that my second one is as delightful as it should be.

Anyhow, your review of "Twist" is totally spot on. No cocktail menu? No care about classic cocktails? You're absolutely right that there's more to spirits than serving them in half-gallon glasses covered in cream and sugar. It's not like the classic cocktail revival is exactly new, people like Jean-Robert should be all over this stuff.

Best of luck for your hunt for a lounge with true class!