Why Pay For a Drink?

I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger? —Paul Newman 1988, on his marriage

a cocktail

Why pay someone to make a drink?

Bartender, homebartender, spirits fan, expert, novice — we sometimes pay for what we could make ourselves. I don’t mean the overly complex or wildly creative drinks that most people can’t do, but the simple ones many people can.

Recently Robert Zander @darwins_erben described an experience that got me thinking about why I pay for drinks I could easily make. Obviously, pros with mad skills can put a creative spin on the simplest drink. And it’s nice to have a drink made for you after a long day; a bookend to being brought hot coffee in bed in the morning. But there are other reasons to order a simple drink or neat pour from someone else.

I learn by reading, sifting archival material & experimenting. But for the unlooked-for, nothing beats talking to people. During slow times sitting at bars I‘ve learned the unexpected. From Bourbon guru Doug Spradley @daspradley I learned about Raicilla. Over a Bywater I heard about the roots of aged cocktails from Chris Grimm @fchrisgrimm.  In the middle of molecular mecca Existing Conditions, Bobby Murphy & Jack Schramm @schrammplate elevated my thinking on the humble Daiquiri. And Jimmy Colon @sickkjimmy always surprises me with something new in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

People’s minds jump around in such beautiful ways. That’s why tasting words convey so much meaning. “Sunday Crossword puzzle” might signal for someone of a certain subculture the smell of coffee & taste of butter. “Summer Carnival” might trigger the burnt sugar aroma of cotton candy & the artificial cherry of Italian ice.

Newman’s red-blooded description of fidelity is romantic. But the farm-to-table restaurant he opened in my community 20 years after that quote actually eschewed steak in favor of locally sourced hamburger as less resource heavy. Still, he insisted those burgers have 22% fat & taste home-cooked. This was when the craft cocktails renaissance was gaining momentum & brown spirits were coming off life support.

Newman’s restaurant closed years ago. Another local place has since moved in. I sit at the bar sometimes when the chef/owner is there, order an amaro & learn about tomatoes in China.