Hobson’s choice

In small places all over the world, when a new bar or club opens, everybody praises it and then they all proceed to go crowd it. For weeks people had been telling me to try the new Scarabbeo bar and the local listings magazine agreed. After theatre (Mc Donagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which was ok) and dinner at a newly-opened American diner (very good burgers but a tiny menu and, eventually, more of a glorified overpriced fast food place than a diner) we eventually headed straight there last Saturday.

The place had a veneer of swankiness and taste. The music was unnecessarily noisy from a jumbled up playlist, whereas the place was irrationally organised, with overcrowed rooms next to empty unfurnished ones (no, the latter are not dancefloors). pH and me went to the bar. I asked for an “extra dry martini” (verbatim). “You’ll regret it”, said pH. I should have heeded his wise words. The bartender indeed asked me: “Ice?”. Perplexed, I answered “er, no”. I should have known right at that point, but then I looked up and at the other end of the bar was someone I know waving at me with her boyfriend. I waved back. Looking down at the bar I found my drink in a whisky glass and full of ice. I should have known right at that point. pH was in the process of paying, so I told the bartender she got it wrong. She gave me a ‘be damned, you creep’ look, shouted that she had never heard my answer, proceeded to take a new whisky glass and pour from a bottle of Martini Bianco, you know, the vermouth, passed it to me and sneeringly informed me it was on the house. I stood there agape, dumbstruck. Not wanting to make a fuss, I decided to once more bear it with a smile, grabbed the glassful of ice and Martini Bianco, leaving the complimentary one at the bar with the rude bartender, and joined the others at out prized table.

The poor thing did not know what a martini is. Sure, where I come from bartenders sometimes do not know (exactly) how to mix a drink, either because you are a weird customer or because they just don’t. So, they ask you. Not here. I sat down. I took a sip of the aperitif, for the first time in 15 years. I recalled immediately, in this cliched by now Proustian fashion, how vile Martini Bianco tastes straight. Only then did I erupt in fury. I severely and patronisingly scolded the hapless waiter who came over to furnish us with carrots and nuts and crisps and asked him to tell the bartender to come over to our table so that she can be told how to make an extra dry martini — I was out of control. Of course nobody ever came over, so I spent the next half hour sulking and in furious silence. Then Jod got angry at my behaviour and we had one of our quiet rows which involves exchanging stares and making carefully nasty comments to others in a contrived mock-carefree way.

Why does a drink matter that much? I am not an alcohol connoisseur, I am not bar savvy. I had no business ruining the good time of others and making a working person’s life hard (I mean the waiter). But I am so tired of having to choose among, say, the same six bars to have a drink in and two clubs to go dance to — none of which I would really hang out in, if I had a real choice. Especially given that we spend most of our weekend time working at home, so going out is precious. Especially given that it’s all a bloody lottery: if you are lucky, it might just happen the right crowd gathers in one of the few places you have a limited choice among — and you are there, too. So, given we already have to settle for less, rudely being given the wrong drink can make me feel really miserable and retrospectively angry. (Plato’s Bar in the Old City make very good martinis, exactly as ordered. I may give Scarabbeo a second chance but next time I will order a Carlsberg. Bottled.)

Today it was Jod’s turn. We were driven to the mountains through a downpour by NewYorker (she is one of our three Outposter friends) to this “wonderful rustic taverna”. Now, this is a national sport here: going to fairly inaccessible places to eat on Sunday lunchtime. The food was mediocre (well, worse than that, by Outpost standards) and there was no real service: people would just go to the kitchen and pick up what they were tired of waiting to get at their table. A woman going in and out of the kitchen carrying dishes all the time told us she did not work there. A large group next to us cleared their own table, as they made the mistake of asking for doggy bags. This is not some kind of ‘special’ traditional self-service place or an arcane local practice: it was just untypical and very very frustrating, not to mention that the prices were like those you get in restaurants in the Capital. This, in combination with the place being overcrowded and packed with screaming kids nudging us all while passing through… well.

6 thoughts on “Hobson’s choice

  1. I would have a fit over it too Loxias. I’ll bet you paid upwards of 7€ for that drink. If you hire a secretary and she can’t type, then she would expect to be fired for incompetence on the job. Likewise, if a bartender cannot figure out how to make one of the most popular and well-known drinks in the world, then she should find work elsewhere. You were right to be angry. I can’t even order a White Russian without having Baileys or Tia Maria in it and then hearing the bartender tell me “it’s the same thing.” The least she could have done was asked what it was and then attempt to make it.

  2. your local food and drink experiences immediately transferred me back to countless dysfunctional winter sundays, time wasted in far off, supposedly quaint, but loud and slightly smelly places with mediocre food, worse wine, stale frappe coffees, years worth of boredom coming back to me, numbing me to the bone.

  3. Legendary dry martini is usually a problem for young barmen and women without any fantasy or previous experience in cocktails, mainly because of its name. (the liquer gives only a light, elegant aroma, so it needs no more than one – two drops. Gin must be Shaphire!)
    So I use to do the following rude question which, surprisingly, works:
    “I m sure you will excuse my question- it’s the first time for me here… do you know how to make a martini?”
    If the answer is “well, what do you mean?” you explain politely how you prepare it at home.

    That gives the idea of an “idiosyncratic customer” so the barman doesnt feel humiliated. It sounds complicated but it’s the only way to get something drinkable.

    (excuse my english people!)

  4. Much sympathy here. When you want a martini, nothing else will do (except maybe a gibson…), but I happen to also like Martini Bianco, with plenty of ice and a squeeze of lemon. Not you, apparently.

    I find that ‘Martini & Rossi’ in place of ‘dry martini’ happens quite frequently. Thas has a good scheme for educating without humiliating. Also, it can help if you specify ‘a gin martini’. Then you get a puzzled look and it gives you the opening to explain how to make a proper martini. Granted the last time I did that the bartender looked at me as if I was CRAZY. Clearly he had never heard of such a thing. This in a bartender well over 80 years old.

  5. Pingback: “… neither reveals nor conceals” » Wedding

  6. Pingback: Martini, yay « “… neither reveals nor conceals”

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