If you want to attract a core of young, upwardly mobile thinkers (and drinkers)—which has been on SA’s to-do list since the dawn of the new millennium—you need a hot bar scene. And if you want to attract a hot bar scene, you have to not be lame-os to the bartenders serving up your drinks. Here’s some tips to try in 2014.
Concept, concept, concept: Just because you’ve got the dough to open a bar doesn’t mean you should. Case in point: Rad Bar & Grill in Stone Oak. The bar had all the makings of a great neighborhood joint, solid food, decent beer lineup, attentive servers, but it didn’t zero in on one specific character trait. It would have been great to see the bar focus solely on its karaoke lineup throughout, giving the North Side a clean and put-together place to belt out a song or two, but instead karaoke was ditched in favor of live music of no particular genre. Rad closed its doors in late November. Along those same lines, Boneshakers lost its original draw of part-bar, part-bike shop after relocating next to the Hays Street Bridge in mid-2012 and instead seemed at times to lose grasp of what it was trying to do best: serve great craft beer, attract diners or host live music. After one last NYE throwdown, Boneshakers will close for good. Bottom line: Pick a theme, any theme, and stick with it. Be OK with making an impression and differentiating your space from the sea of similar barrooms in the city. If you’re hard to peg, you’re hard to recommend.
Make it an experience: Every Sunday, I know I have the option of hopping over to the Brooklynite and watching either one of my favorite AMC dramas (RIP Breaking Bad) or some sort of flick. I can visit Lion & Rose’s Broadway location on Tuesdays to test my useless knowledge of obscure facts with eight rounds of Geeks Who Drink trivia. If I were of the running persuasion, I know I could jog on over to The Luxury every Thursday at 6:30 for a social run with Soler’s Sports runners followed by river snacks and craft brews. These joints make an experience out of drinking much like you’d find during turtle races on Thursday nights at Little Woodrow’s-Midtown in Houston or air guitar qualifying tournaments throughout the U.S. (the closest was Houston qualifier on July 27 at AvantGarden). In the words of Tracy Chapman, “give me one reason to be here” by making drinking a fun, social experience.
Mescal bar, por favor: Considering the amount of tequila San Antonians ingest on any given weekend, it’s a damn shame we haven’t capitalized on our love of the spirit by jumping on board the mescal train. I’d love to get to know tequila’s complex cousin within the borders of our fair city by sipping sampling flights and cocktails in a mescal-only lounge. Out of the 21 places to drink mescal in the U.S. named by Eater National, only one, Houston’s Anvil Bar & Refuge, was from Texas. For shame, SA.
Bar-goers, here are a few resolution suggestions for you…
Stop asking for Crown Royal at cocktail bars: I can’t disclose which cocktail creator brought this to my attention, but file this tidbit under bartender pet peeves. Is there anything particularly special about this Canadian whiskey blend, or a specific sense of pride that goes along with ordering this at a bar? Any self-respecting cocktail purveyor will carry Ranger Creek’s line of Texas whiskeys. Ask for these across the bar to show off your local hooch prowess.
Take a class: A personal resolution for this writer is to beef up her cocktail knowledge. There’s something rather intimidating about the whole process. (Or maybe I just don’t own very many form-fitting vests?) One of the ways to demystify cocktail making is checking out area classes for demonstrations and hands-on practice. Of course, with the San Antonio Cocktail Conference around the corner, I’d suggest one of the many daytime seminars (Mixology 101: Build Your Own Signature Cocktail sounds tempting). More intimate settings include Wednesday classes with cocktail guru Olaf Harmel at Blue Box ($25 per class with cocktails), or Gustology sessions in Alamo Heights ($38 per class with cocktails).
Stock your bar: Some may be able to glean cocktail wisdom with the occasional class, but there’s nothing like getting your hands dirty. While I’m not suggesting running out and buying a bar cart, I do recommend getting the essentials: shaker, muddler, strainer, different size jiggers, peeler, one great bottle of your favorite spirit, bitters and fresh citrus. Try mastering one or two cocktails per month and make sure to ask your favorite bartenders for tips. You’ll either impress your friends with your newfound skills or at least be able to whip up a decent nightcap after a long day at work. Here’s to ordering a cocktail with a confidence in 2014.