Monday, September 3, 2007

Scoring A Bar

a'drink and I spent some time musing how we rate the places that we visit. We have come up with the following thoughts on judging bars:

Scoring is holistic
The snootiest Beacon Hill bar can be compared against the dingiest South End saloon. There's no scaling or handicap involved, instead we rely on our inferred "intent". If a bar is going for a dive aesthetic, then there had better be $2 PBR's on tap in 24 ounce plastic cups, a bartender who moonlights as an enforcer, and a bathroom with no mirror (or a shattered one). On the other hand, a high-end bar should have a wide and interesting selection of liquor, a bartender who specializes in some obscure set of drinks, and a bathroom with warmed handtowels. A good pub knows its audience and acts accordingly when it comes to decor/ambiance, service, and selection.

We judge a bar based on its lighting, seating, the art, whatever strikes us when we look around the room. Not sure whether clientele is considered part of the decor or not, but we will work that out as we go. The fewer ratings the better, right?

Hosts, bartenders, and wait staff all go under the microscope. The basics of service are a must -- take our order, get things to us in a timely manner, check in on us, blah, blah blah. If a pub can't do the basic service, they're unlikely to excel. Beyond the basics, attitude is important. We're in this to have fun, just like most other people at the bar. A fun bartender can make the crappiest bar into a great place, so we rate accordingly. Lastly, bartenders get extra scrutiny for their drink knowledge. A bartender should know:
  • What they have and what they don't.
  • What garnishes (olives, twists, cherries, etc.) go with which drinks.
  • How to make all the drinks in their competency.
  • What tastes like what. Beer, mixed drinks, whatever.

Lastly, bars can be rated based on what they can serve. Selection comes in the form of wine lists, draft beers, bottled beers, liquor selection, and drinks that can be mixed. We are working out some models of what is the minimal acceptable beer selection, but probably you need something like Sam Adams, Bass, a wheat, a brown, an IPA, a Pilsner, and a cheapo beer on tap to make it as a reasonable bar in Boston. Having specialty beers on tap or in a model is cool. It's also cool to have an interesting bourbon or rye, a high-end tequila that can't be bought in the US, in addition to the basics for mixing drinks or serving something straight up.

In addition to the hard ingredients, does the bartender have good mixers? Can they make fizz drinks that include raw egg? A bar can definitely win points by putting together an interesting drink menu that includes things that I would never think to mix myself.

This is not an exhaustive set of criteria, but it's our starting place for figuring out how we will measure the pubs that we visit. Our thought was that each deserves an overall rating plus a rating on each of these three areas. For simplicity, we will probably go from a low of 1 to a high of 5 on our rating scale, but we're open to suggestions.

drink'm and a'drink

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