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May 21, 2008

Frou frou vs. old fashioned

With all of the new fruit-infused cocktails like Bacardi Mojito (pictured) and all of the fancy martinis you can get these days, you gotta wonder:

Does anyone still know how to make a classic drink like a bourbon old-fashioned?

I mean, at least one of Mosaic's bartenders couldn't even get an Absolut martini right.

That's not a good sign.

I assume a ritzy place like the Havana Club or the bar at the Prime Rib can make classic drinks like it's nobody's business.

But has the art of the simple classic drink been buried under an avalanche of fancy fruit-infused liquors? 

(AP Photo) 

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:17 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


I couldn't even get a long island iced tea made correctly a few weeks (this was out of town)

My brother drinks burbon and water. One time, he asked for said drink and got a glass of burbon and a glass of water.

You've identified the problem right there, Sam. You were trying to get a drink at Mosaic, a place more concerned with image than substance and quality.

Much of this can go back to a previous MS debate about style vs. substance. But that's not the only issue.

Now, we have two sets of people behind the bar: bottle poppers and real bartenders. Somewhere along the way, there developed a separation between people who know what a vodka-OJ (bottle popper) is but not a screwdriver (bartender).

I'll drink a good martini just about anywhere, but a good martini can not be found everywhere. Like all things, you've got to know where you are.

Since I'm snobby, I test a new place with a Sidecar. It's one of about a dozen drinks that everyone simply has to know to call themselves a bartender—along with the Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned, etc. If they can make it without looking it up, that's a good sign.

Saying, "You know, I don't know how to make that, and I should," and then looking it up is also good—it shows a healthy respect for the classics. (I tip him/her extra and then together we look up how to make a French 75.)

Forget the sugar around the rim, I will stab you with my plastic saber-shaped cocktail stirrer. (Man, I love those things. So stabby.)

The Old Fashioned is a great barometer too. It's a fantastic summer drink, but most people have no idea what it is, and even if they do, they don't have the ingredients.


Your brother was served the Bourbon and water appropriately... kind of. Traditionally, a Scotch (or in this case bourbon) and water should be served in a classic highball with a small pitcher of pure, unchilled water on the side. This allows the consumer to add as little or as much of the water as they prefer. Whiskey drinkers prefer different amts of water with different whiskeys, and this way they can adjust accordingly.

Other good "out of date" drinks to be on the look for:
Manhattan (although, still somewhat common)

coincidentally, I found this on a rival publication (sorry Sams editor)

I wish more bars would list recommended mixed drinks (that they know how to make) or specialties... my friends are no help: "I'll have a HighLife" or "I'll have a Stoli Raz and Sprite" (sigh)

Sam, you hit the nail on the head. The staff in most bars now do not know much beyond a vodka/gin & tonic. Sure they know shots because B'More is a beer & shot town (nothing wrong that). Even Little Havana is not immune. I asked for a Dark & Stormy last week and got a shoulder shrug.

I hit the gin mill for the first time last week. A list of coctail specialities was provided. Had a great Moscow Mule. All fresh squeezed juices too for those that require it. Seems like a good place to get a manhattan, old fashioned and so on.

My ordered a Sloe Gin Fizz a few months ago, after a couple of my friends had ordered them before I got there. I asked for one somewhere else in the city -- blanking at the bar right now -- and got a blank look.

Mather is right - Scotch drinkers are usually very particular about the amount of water added, so serving it in a separate glass is the proper way.

PS - Love classic drinks, but onions in cocktails are nasty

I've used the Gimlet and Sloe Gin Fizz test before (I thought they would be safer to test than a martini). I was wrong, as somehow the bartender made them both undrinkable.

Since Bill mentioned getting a well-made cocktail at the Gin Mill, I wanted to give some respect to a bartender at The Waterfront in Fells. The bartender made a damn fine Goose martini. I don't remember her name, but who could after a few good martinis?

I've never had a bad time there, so I'd go in anyway, but after those martinis, I'll pop my head in to see if she's working when I'm in Fells, even if I'm headed to another spot.

I really don't find a competitor. In fact, the print version in Baltimore isn't even one, they are all old.

You should have seen how bad the bartenders at Vin in Towson botched a vodka gimlet. Three times before they got it right. It was staggering.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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