Cocktails in the Real World

I left the Tap Room at The White Hart Inn (Salisbury, CT) just three weeks ago and I’m now managing the bar at Castle Street Café in Great Barrington, MA. Leaving the Tap Room was a hard choice because of the many wonderful guests I came to know there, but the opportunity at Castle Street Café was too compelling to ignore… and, of course, the place is much closer to my home.

As a bartender, my professional interest is cocktails and bringing back classic cocktails adjusted for contemporary tastes. This is exactly part of my work at Castle Street Café, which, after a wonderful twenty-something years under Chef/Owner Michael Ballon, was bought by a new owner intent on refreshing this venerable restaurant.  I was brought aboard to shape the bar as a cocktail destination for the Tri-State area.

No pressure.

For me, the opportunity is to test the market for quality cocktails as part of the basis for expanding the establishment’s business.

It isn’t that you can’t get a great cocktail in Great Barrington. Allium, a neighbor on Railroad Street, produces good drinks. The Prairie Whale, at the other end of downtown, has Joe Scully, who is skilled and imaginative in his cocktail-making. Still, at many restaurants and bars, a cocktail can be a hit-or-miss thing, and bartenders these days tend not to get much training, nor do establishments have much in the way of focus on cocktails, so that consistency can be a real problem. Guests don’t like slapping down $12 or $14 dollars for a drink that is poorly made, or uses old and oxidized vermouth, or gets the bejezus shaken out of it.

And here’s a pet-peeve: bartenders and “mixologists” who like to make up their own drinks, even while never bothering to understand cocktail basics.  The problem with re-inventing the wheel is that oftentimes, the new effort doesn’t really know how to make the wheel round. Chances are that drink you’ve just named after yourself has been around for decades and decades, and better, at that.

At Castle Street Café, we’re honoring the rich tradition of exemplary cocktails, adjusting as needed for contemporary tastes: less sweet and more “liquor-forward,” highlighting top-quality liquors.

This may sound simple, but getting drinks right pour after pour takes work and training and, of course, interest about cocktails on the part of the bartender. Getting drinks right means choosing the right liquors, fresh juices and mixers, liqueurs, bitters, garnishes, and glassware.

Getting drinks right is fun.

Maybe I’ll see you down at Castle Street Café and we’ll have some fun together. Maybe TalkTails is our meeting place. Either way, enter and sign in, please.

Castle Street Café has a strikingly beautiful bar, but with absurdly little work space and insufficient glassware storage. Hey, I’m working on it.

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