15ml Yellow Chartreuse
15ml dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir down over ice. Strain, garnish with orange zest.
Adapted from The Cocktail Book: A sideboard manual for gentlemen 1900
By Stuart Morrow
Morrow is a Sydney-based bartender and bar manager. You can find him mixing things up behind the stick at The Baxter Inn.
I still remember the first time I heard the term ‘bar geek’. I was working in Greece, in what was the busiest bar on the island. The team was made up of a host of international bartenders from London and abroad, each bringing their own style of working and skill set to the team. This diversity is what most likely led to the success of the venue and is quite possibly why, by the end of the night, we would be packed full of workers from every other bar on the island. These young and enthusiastic hospo kids would come In and sit at their favourite bartenders station, watching every movement of how they worked the bar, taking elements of what they’d seen back to their own venues to recreate the following night. It was in reference to one of these bartenders that I first heard the term used.
So, what exactly is a ‘bar geek’? The oxford dictionary describes a geek as “an unfashionable or socially inept person” however when used with a modifier such as in the term bar geek it’s defined as “a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast”. I’ve certainly served my fair share of them. They’re normally the guest asking what range of amari you stock or ordering some forgotten and obscure cocktail dating back to a time when it’s ingredients would have been more commonly measured in ponies than in millilitres. They will be sat at the bar, scouring the shelves of booze for something they have not seen before, or intensely watching the bartenders every move, mentally noting every positive and negative that they see.
I think sometimes that this kind of enthusiasm can be viewed by bartenders as a negative. That by ordering an obscure drink, the guest is challenging their knowledge or skills in their trade. I’ve seen many a bartender get wound up by people ordering obscure drinks or sitting and watching their every move. It’s my belief that if you’re good enough then it shouldn’t matter. As bartenders we’ve spent hours learning forgotten cocktails. What’s the point in knowing them all if nobody ever orders them?! I think sometimes the frustration towards bar geeks can come from a fear of being caught out. To be seen to know less or be incompetent in our own venue.
I’ve come to take this kind of behaviour as a compliment. For someone that is so passionate about what they do, to come in to my bar and sit and scrutinise the way that I work means that we must be doing something right. After all, nobody watches a bad example of how to do something to improve themselves. They watch the people that they believe are top of their game. They’re certainly not going to spend $20+ on a cocktail if they don’t believe that it’s going to be made right.
It’s become a bit of a faux pas to order particular cocktails in a venue. Either they’re deemed too labour intensive or too obscure to be casually ordered. One of my personal favourites is a Brandy Crusta. The chance of me ordering one of these though on a night out is pretty slim. I know that with a drink like this, it’s not always a given that the bartender would know how to make it. Another favourite is a Vieux Carre but I wouldn’t order that for the same reason. I know that ordering these kind of drinks can be perceived as being somewhat pretentious. Instead it’s sometimes safer to just stick with something simple.
But if we enjoy these drinks and are confident that they can be made well, should we not feel comfortable enough to order them anyway? When I think of cocktails that are popular amongst hospitality people (Negroni, Americano, Daiquiri, Margarita, Tommy’s), they all have something in common. As well as being delicious, they all contain no more than three ingredients. That’s not to say that more ingredients equals better drinks, but we have some of the finest bartenders in the world in Australia and I don’t think we should be put off ordering more complicated or obscure drinks because of the perceived notion that we may be challenging the bartender.
I’ve certainly been that young and enthusiastic bartender before and I have definitely sat at bars watching the bartenders work. These days I prefer a good drink and great company over watching someone work a bar. I’m still passionate about what I do but after many years you feel you don’t have to watch as much. That being said, every now and then you’ll sit at a bar with an amazing bartender and you can’t help but geek out… just a little.