Getting The Edge On Your Local Watering Hole

Cocktail, cheflife, dave mau, fatdrunknhappy, bartender

A lot of old time bartenders I’ve known have referred to the joint they worked at as “The House” (caps intended) and doing so has some interesting implications. The reference is almost adversarial, portraying their place of employment as an entity unto itself that needs to be dealt with in some manner. The phrase also implies authority, like The House sets the rules in its favor and there is an undeniable tension. Both these implications are true and have a great deal of sway in how bartenders deal with their guests.

Casinos are also called “The House” and that is a good way for clients to approach the situation when they walk into a bar. When you’re playing against The House, as opposed to playing against other gamblers, you are destined to come up short. Casinos and hotels aren’t built by letting people take their money and, in the end, The House always wins. Same thing with bars and restaurants – they don’t pay their rent and buy food by losing money (They’ll even lose money on food to make money on booze, a little known truth) and in the end they will get their due from you.

Think of it this way; only a four star chump plays the field in a craps game; good gamblers know the odds are better if you back up the line bet and hope your number(s) hit. Even more astute ones do less obvious things like buy the 4 or the 10 instead of playing the line. The odds are ever so slightly better, just enough to make a sophisticated player take it.

The same can be said against playing against The House in a bar. They’re gonna take your money no matter what but there are ways to slide the odds slightly in your favor. Next time you sit at a bar pretend you are sitting at a blackjack table and see how that changes your thinking. It’s The House’s rules and The House’s room but here’s a couple tips to level that field.

Happy Hours – Once considered gauche or reserved only for dive bars, happy hours have made quite a comeback with the recent economic downturn (more on Happy Hour history soon!). The House wants to get customers in the door and the value menu thing seems to be all the rage. Even better is the fact that a lot of shops are doing late night happy hours as well; no longer are they reserved for the early drinking set and now there’s even food! Birra Poretti’s from a million years ago still stands out as one of the first I can remember (I still miss those pizzas) and plenty have followed suit. Memphis really stepped up a few years ago with theirs and the revamped lineup is great. Lola Gaspar is another favorite – the small plates are a real treat. Check out Zipangu: $1.95 Sapporo drafts are a deal. And the list goes on and on.

Neighborhood bar – If you really want to tie one on without worrying about getting a tapas plate or gourmet chicken wings, hit your local hole in the wall bar. C’est Si Bon in Westminster was a perfect example and there are plenty more still around, The Quill being a fine example. Nothing like ordering a draft beer and shot of whiskey and have that shot come out three fingers deep in a rocks glass. The House in these cases can be quite generous; bartenders with a heavy hand make for a good time. You might have to make due with pickled eggs though.

Dirty martinis – Never, ever, ever order a dirty martini. I know we’ve seen them in the movies and it’s supposed to be cool but the fact of the matter is they are a blatant rookie move. On top of that, most bars up charge you a couple bucks for a martini so you are actually paying more for less booze. The only thing that makes The House happier than replacing your expensive Grey Goose or Belvedere vodka with free olive brine is charging you extra for the privilege. If you must befoul your otherwise pristine vodka or gin, order the olive juice on the side.

Tip your bartender – Your knight in shining armor, doing battle with The House, is your friendly neighborhood bartender. Treat him or her right. Just because you are getting discounted drinks doesn’t mean you are getting discounted service and the person behind that bar can make or break your day. I know I harp on it at times but shorting the person on the other side of the bar is the worst thing you can possibly do and, believe me, they are going to notice.

Avoid corporate places – Despite their glossy menus and alluring bar specials, corporate joints are a disappointment. The House there is a much larger version than you are aware of and they out think their guests. The drinks are watered down (who drinks a blended anything anyway), food generally bad and corporate shops suck anyway. Your otherwise heroic bartender is a mere shadow of himself in a corporate joint. No comps, no free pours and the constant lurking eye of the manager make for an atmosphere far from conducive to your inebriation.

Act like a pro, or at least try to – Nothing makes a rushed bartender more irritated than answering a bunch of obvious questions. And don’t ask “what’s good?” under any circumstances, although it’s okay to ask what he or she makes that’s a specialty. At least point them in some sort of direction if you are undecided, don’t stand there all poopy and confused taking up valuable bar space.

Making a few choice decisions can affect how the end game of your drinking experience is going to turn out and never play into The House’s hands if you can. it’s a bad move. Stay ahead of The House and on the side of your heroic bartender at all times.

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