Of Bars, Booze, and Bartending - Proving "Coughlin's Law" Invalid Since Feb '05

Monday, January 29, 2007

Good Night, Barbaro

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I have a soft spot in my heart for animals, especially dogs and horses. My grandfather raised trotters and pacers, and I was lucky to spend much of my youth in the company of magnificent racehorses and the colorful, "horsey" people who were devoted to them. So, it brought me great sadness this afternoon to hear that Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro had been euthanized by his caring and dedicated veterinarians.

It's my understanding that he'll be interred at his birthplace and home, the gorgeous Springmint Farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky. That suits him, to rest surrounded by rolling pastures and white fences in the heart of the Bluegrass where he was foaled.

For eight months, this beautiful thoroughbred beat the odds and fought for his life. There's something inspirational in his story, and if animals can be heroes, he certainly was to me.

While I'm sad to say goodbye to this champion, I'm relieved that his suffering has come to an end; it must have been such a painful decision for his owners and caretakers to reach. I hope they can always remember him as in the photo above, enjoying the roses he ran for, and won.

Goodbye, and good night, Barbaro.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Birthdays and Baby Seals

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This woman walks in, wearing a floor-length white fur coat, with matching Cossack hat and gloves.


She doesn't want to have her coat hung up, so she takes it with her and lays it down in the booth. She carefully lays the gloves over the coat, but leaves the hat on. Throughout her entire dinner. It's as if she's channeling Julie Christie or something; she really is that lovely, but it's not at all cold outside, maybe in the low 40's. And we're not exactly in post-Revolution Russia.

Now, the coat was real, wasn't it? As the front-of-the-house staff debated this, I argued that you wouldn't wear a fur Cossack hat through your meal if you weren't trying to show everyone that you could afford real fur. Are there white coats that can be obtained without clubbing baby seals? At any rate... it was just a weird thing to witness. She was outrageous, and I have to give her props for pulling that off, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In other news, we had a fun surprise party tonight that was well-executed. The twenty-top party was seated well before the Birthday Girl showed up. When she did, she and her companions had a relaxed drink at the bar, and she opened a few presents from them. As soon as the clock struck 8:00, the twenty-top stood up and sang a hearty rendition of "Happy Birthday." She turned around, and her face turned ten shades of red. It was delightful. The entire dining room broke into spontaneous applause, and the servers and bartenders smiled and applauded right along with them.

Moments like that make me realize how much I love what I do. Not everyone gets to celebrate the joy of life and milestones while earning a living wage.

A toast to everyone celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or any other joyous occassion. It's nice to make your loved ones feel like the Belle of the Ball, isn't it? May we always be so kind to each other. Cheers!

Oh me, oh my oh, look at Miss Ohio
She’s runnin' around with her rag-top down
She says I wanna do right, but not right now
Gonna drive to Atlanta and live out this fantasy
Running around with the rag-top down
Yeah, I wanna do right, but not right now
Had your arm around her shoulder, a regimental soldier
And momma starts pushing that wedding gown
Yeah you wanna do right, but not right now

- Gillian Welch, "Look At Miss Ohio"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The White Russian Bible

Pursuant to the previous post, my good friend Steve would like to learn more about mixing White Russians, and I'm happy to oblige.

Now, there's more than one way to skin this cat. Personally, I'm in the equal-parts camp, but others prefer the traditional version of more Vodka, less Kahlua. While I avoid using more than a half-ounce of liqueur in any drink, as liqueurs are very concentrated and heavy in flavor, I do make an exception when it comes to the Tavern Wench White Russian. Kahlua is delicious, even all by its lonesome in a two-ounce cocktail. It isn't as overpowering as some liqueurs; neither is Baileys Irish Cream, but that's another post...

The most important thing in keeping the White Russian classic is to avoid shaking it. Many bartenders make the error of using the tin until the drink is so disrupted that it resembles a chocolate milkshake. Please, please avoid this technique. There's beauty in simplicity; just build on ice and the cocktail will look gorgeous. The trick is an ever-so-slight swirl with a swizzle stick until the liquor and cream seem to just marry each other, like the most pleasant of shotgun weddings.

I once ordered a White Russian in a corporate-type restaurant; it was delightfully described in the after-dinner-drink menu, and I couldn't resist. Sadly, it arrived shaken, strained (gasp!!), and served in a footed coffee mug, with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa on top. I thought I'd die from embarrassment.

The White Russian is such an easy, classic drink to make, and I encourage everyone to give it a whirl.

Tavern Wench's Favorite White Russian

Build on ice, in a snifter glass:
1 ounce Stolichnaya Vanilla Vodka
1 ounce Kahlua
Add a bit of ice after the liquor melt
Pour heavy whipping cream to just below the top of the snifter

Stir slightly
Serve and accept compliments

Just to keep it honest, the traditional White Russian would be made as follows:

Old-School White Russian

Build on ice, in a rocks glass:
1 1/2 ounces Vodka
1/2 ounce Kahlua
Add half-and-half to just below the top of glass (some recipes call for whole milk, but, just don't. Trust me.)
Stir slightly
Serve, and accept muted compliments. You can do better.

There are many variations to the White Russian. Two of my favorites:

The Colorado Bulldog

Build on ice, in a rocks glass:
1 ounce Vodka
1 ounce Kahlua
Add a splash of half-and-half
Top with Coca-Cola, stir slightly
Serve, and accept compliments. Who knew Cola, Cream and Booze could live so delectably happy together?

For your less-decadent, weight-conscious customers, or if you're just feeling puffy and in need of a good buzz, try this version:

The Anna Kournikova

Build on ice, in a rocks glass:
1 ounce Vodka
1 ounce Kahlua
Add skim milk to just below the rim of the glass; stir slightly
Serve, and accept compliments. It'll do. And you won't feel all that guilty.

I do hope you enjoy exploring the wonderful world of the White Russian. Consider making a pitcher of your favorite variation, and invite some friends over to watch "The Big Lebowski." Or even "Gorky Park."

In keeping with the theme, I offer a classic, Cold War lyric to send you off with. It seems so dated now, just typing it, especially on this, the night of the 2007 State of the Union. Come to think of it... it doesn't seem dated, if you just substitute one or two words...

At any rate, lift your White Russians and toast to better, more peaceful days. Cheers!

There is no historical precedent
To put words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie we don't believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me and you
Is that the Russians love their children too

- Sting, "Russians"

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

White Russian

Do consider making your White Russians with vanilla-flavored vodka (Stoli is forever the best, and it keeps it Russian) instead of regular vodka. And do consider making them with nothing lighter than heavy whipping cream; it should be a delightfully decadent concoction. And do consider serving them in a snifter instead of a rocks glass. And do consider giving them the slightest little swirl with a swizzle stick after pouring.

It's a gorgeous drink, isn't it? An absolute classic, the kind of beverage that I forget about until "The Big Lebowski" comes on, which I watch every single time it pops up on television, and then I crave a White Russian endlessly, until I actually make and guzzle one or three.

So, apropos of nothing, a couple comes into the bar at 6:00.

"What's your pleasure?"

"Hi, we're with the party. (The party is in our private room, and beer/wine are included.) We'll take whatever they're serving for free."

"Well, the party starts in an hour and a half, so whatever you care to drink until then, I'm going to have to charge you for."

"But?? We're with the party!! Drinks are free, it said so on the invitation!"

"Well, yes. But the host specified to us that the party begins at 7:30."

The couple, looking quite angry, decided on ice water with lemon, and lots of it, until 7:30 sharp. They declined when it came to leaving any kind of tip.
Fine with me, honestly, but who comes to a fiesta an hour and a half before it starts, expecting to booze it up for free? Would you do this if it were a house party?

(Here's a tip... bartenders really, really appreciate a $1 tip for an ice water, the moment it's served. It's the kindest gesture, and it will ensure that your glass of free liquid remains full. May this tip come in handy the next time you've indulged a bit too much at your favorite nightclub, and your cotton-mouth is craving an endless river of cold, quenching water.)

We entertained their successful surprise party, and they left their helium balloons behind. After closing, Chef was the first to grab one, skillfully untying it and immediately offering her best Vern Troyer impression from the Geico commercials. "New tailpipe, it's your birthday." She sounded like a drunk baby, and I laughed and laughed.

Maybe you had to be there, buzzed from post-shift White Russians made with Stoli Vanilla and heavy whipping cream.

This strange, gray, rainy week has an old, great Crowded House song stuck in my head...

Walking 'round the room singing "Stormy Weather"
At 57 Mount Pleasant Street
Well it's the same room, but everything's different
You can fight the sleep but not the dream
Things ain't cooking in my kitchen, strange afflictions wash over me
Julius Caeser and the Roman Empire couldn't conquer the blue sky
Well there's a small boat made of china

It's going nowhere on the mantlepiece
So do I lie like a loungeroom lizard
Or do I sing like a bird released
Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you
Everywhere you go, you always take the weather

Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you
Everywhere you go, you always take the weather, the weather with you

- Crowded House, "Weather With You"

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Buckeye Battle Cry

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If you'll indulge my inner football fangirl for just a moment, there's a great drink recipe in it for you.

It seems like months since that glorious game against Michigan, but the Buckeyes are back, it's arrived, it's here. The day all Ohio football fans have been looking forward to... the BCS National Championship Game against Florida!

The game is of such national import that, according to the New York Times, even the new Congress has delayed their "First 100 Hours" in order to allow some members to attend the championship. Membership has its privileges, indeed.

It hasn't been the best year to be an Ohio football fan... but even when the Bengals imploded in the last several weeks of the regular season, I clicked my heels together and kept telling myself, "We've still got the Buckeyes... We've still got the Buckeyes... We've still got the Buckeyes!"

In honor of tonight's game, I offer the recipe for a Long Island Iced Tea variation called The Scarlet and Gray, which I first posted almost a year ago. It's really quite delicious, and quite potent, so by halftime, you might not even care who's leading.

The Scarlet and Gray

Build on ice, in a pint glass:
1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Rum
1/2 oz Sloe Gin
1/2 oz Southern Comfort
1/2 oz Triple Sec

Re-ice after liquor melt, then add

Splash of sour/bar lemon
Splash of cranberry juice

Shake generously with bar tin until foamy
Top with 7-Up

I'll admit to making myself just a little bit sick with anticipation over this game; that's what happens when they make you wait weeks to see the Bucs in action again. Whereever you are, lift your pint glasses of Scarlet and Gray, and root them on!

Update, 1:12 am 1-09-07:


Well, that sucked.

Drive, drive on down the field
Men of the scarlet and grey
Don't let them through that line
We've got to win this game today
Smash through to victory
We cheer you as we go!
Our honor to defend, we will fight to the end for OHIO!

- Buckeye Battle Cry

Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart

- Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

2006 Food Blog Awards

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The good folks over at Well Fed Network have announced their nominations for the 2006 Food Blog Awards, and, for reasons which I do not understand, this li'l blog was nominated. You can find me in the Best Food Blog - Food Industry category.

I'm flattered to be in the company of these great blogs, imagined by some of the wittiest and most creative people in this industry. I couldn't win the category, as I hardly belong there, especially considering Eggbeater's poetic writing and wonderful photographs, but if you enjoy reading Tavern Wench, and get a kick out of my tales from behind the bar, I'd appreciate your vote. In addition, I promise Universal Health Care, Free College Tuition, and Half-Price Ten Minute Gimlets For All.

Pick Wench!

Be certain to take a look around at the nominees in other categories... you'll discover a really funny, interesting, and/or delightfully educational blog you never knew existed. You only have until midnight (EST) on Tuesday, January 9th to vote for your favorite food sites.

Thanks, and cheers, to Cate and everyone at Well Fed Network for the recognition!

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Friday, January 05, 2007

We Only Hit and Run

We're so busy in the dining room that the floor manager asked me to pick up a table.

"How many?" I asked.

"Just a five-top."

"There's no way. The bar is packed, look at the service printer!! I'll take a deuce, maybe a three." I'm dreading what he's asking of me.

"I really need you to do this."

"I'll screw it up, I promise you. I'm not a very good server," I'm begging. He walked away from me and I realized I was stuck.

Is it strange when you're a diner in a restaurant, surrounded by servers in neat white oxford shirts, black ironed pants, and perfectly pleated aprons, and suddenly someone in all black and no apron approaches your table, looking a bit scruffier than the servers with their unison ball-point pens all in a row, to take your order? It strikes me as odd when the bartender goes out on the floor, outside of the little high-tops in the bar area, and that's the excuse I give my floor manager every time he asks of me this unreasonable favor, but it never seems to get me off the hook.

"Could I bring you some drinks?" I ask the nice couple who have unfortunately been assigned to me. "Do you know the specials?" asks the male. I wasn't expecting that response, and I stall for as long as I can, but finally confess.

"Actually... I'll be right back, just one sec," I say, nervously, and literally scurry away. I always lose my cool when I leave the cozy confines of the bar wood. It's entirely embarrassing. When I ask one of the servers in the station to run through the specials for me, he laughs and hands me his little cheat-sheet, which he committed to memory hours ago, being the professional that I am not, in this moment.

When I return to the table, I take their orders, realizing just as they're giving them to me that I don't have a pen, or a pad. I'm pretty certain I began to sweat. I'm relying on memory but I'm proud of myself when I get back to the POS and enter it correctly.

I serve the very nice and sweet couple their salads, followed by their appetizer. The woman says to her companion, "See! It's very traditional here! They serve the salads before the appetizer, and then serve the entrees!"


I didn't spill anything on them, and I served them the meals they ordered, but it wasn't my proudest restaurant moment. Still, they tipped just over 20%, and seemed generally pleased. The floor manager declined to offer me any more tables that evening, and every other evening since. I imagine he learned his lesson, and I learned that servers are expected to be far more charming, competent and confident than bartenders.

It reminded me that barkeeps get away with more than we should... and that I chose the right position for the front-of-the-house.

Oh I just don’t know where to begin
Though he says he’ll wait forever, it’s now or never
But she keeps him hanging on, the silly champion
She says she can’t go home without a chaperone
Accidents will happen
We only hit and run
He used to be your victim
Now you’re not the only one
Accidents will happen
We only hit and run
I don’t want to hear it
’Cause I know what I’ve done

- Elvis Costello, "Accidents Will Happen"