Shut Up and Pour

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“People want their sin the way they want it,” writes The Threepenny Review’s Sarah Deming in a spirited screed against crème-brûlée-tinis, glow-in-the-dark Jell-O shots, and all things mixology. “This is something every drug dealer and pornographer knows, so why can’t today’s upscale bartenders understand? To the so-called mixologists, I say: Pour up and shut up.”

Mixology–the creative pursuit of making ever-more complicated and obscure alcoholic mixed-drinks–has been gaining cultural and commercial steam for decades, but has been lambasted since its inception. H.L. Mencken is credited in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary as the first to use the word “mixology” in writing, notes Deming. Mencken dismissed the word as “silly” and proof of drink-slingers’ “meager neologistic powers” in his 1948 essay “The Vocabulary of the Drinking Chamber.” Is it so hard, Mencken and Deming wonder, for a person to drink some plain old, unpretentious booze?

Deming recounts a particularly frustrating exchange when she brought her father out for a drink in Tribeca:

In his broad Oklahoman accent, he ordered an Amaretto sour.

I’ll never forget the way the waiter smirked. “We don’t serve those here.”

“Why not?” Dad asked.

“The mixologist doesn’t like Amaretto.”

My father looked hurt and confused. He was probably trying to simultaneously parse the word “mixologist” and understand why it mattered whether he liked Amaretto, since it was my father who was going to drink it.

“Do you maybe want a whiskey sour, Dad?” I asked. “They’re really good here.”

He shook his head stubbornly. “How about a mojito?”

This time the waiter actually laughed. “We don’t have those this time of year.”

I forget what Dad ended up drinking. Whatever it was, the mood had been ruined. He felt like a hick, and I felt like a jerk for exposing him to such unkindness. This was an ongoing theme in our relationship. You can never make up for a childhood spent apart, and Dad and I were always out of step in each other’s world. We were always thirsty for something that wasn’t on the menu. A bar should be the kind of place that lubricates such tensions, rather than aggravating them.

Reservations aside, Deming ultimately calls for compromise: “Drinkers should try new things, even if they aren’t ‘the usual.’ Bartenders should honor the spirit of the public house, a place with wide-open doors.”

Source: The Threepenny Review

Image by Dana Moos, Realtor, licensed under Creative Commons.

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