I think the days of pretentious bartending are coming to a close. It was a necessary evil for a period of time, which helped renew the concept that bartending can be a genuine profession. Most bartenders that I know would prefer to be easy-going, competent and accommodating. So what if someone orders a cosmopolitan? A real bartender isn't defined by someone's drink order but by how they treat the customer. — Darcy O'Neill, ArtOfDrink.com
The timeless art of snobbish cocktails with hand-cut ice cubes and homemade bitters being served up by humorless guys in standard issue, form-fitting vests and sporting Don Draper hairdo's has flourished from the East Village to Singapore. But Richmond has been largely bypassed. Our city's staunch refusal to sway from cheap beer, whiskey and trendy wine bars has kept us from entering the world of the neo-speakeasy and its $15 cocktail.
A select few — Bobby Kruger of Juleps, Ben Petty of The Belvidere at Broad and everyone at Balliceaux — have embraced high-quality, handmade, painstakingly time-consuming drinks. But most, like me, militantly still pour JAger bombs, use gas-station-quality ice in our drinks and wear T-shirts. A real mixologist would never be caught dead in a T-shirt. Trust me, these guys' panties start to tingle every time Urban Outfitters releases a new vest. I can't explain it.
While I adore Kruger and Petty and the high-quality hooch they grandly bestow upon their admirers, I generally don't hang out at their establishments because Rod Stewart's latest take on Nina Simone's covers of Frank Sinatra standards and a septuagenarian crowd aren't really what I'm into (sorry fellas). Balliceaux pretty much nails it with its youthful vibe, breathtaking interior and hip, constantly changing music lineup. But it's the benchmark, and the only one that's nailing it.
Is Richmond ready to become a San Francisco, a Portland, or even a Sacramento when it comes to high-quality cocktails? I doubt it. I do think there's room for more Balliceauxs though. Places where the bartenders make you smile, play Mos Def on their iPods, don't wear skinny ties and still make an amazing cocktail without pretending that they're splitting the damn atom back there. Which if you ever go to some of these world-class cocktail lounges in New York or Berlin, seem to be the exact things that they don't do.
Richmond will never sway from our shot and beer bars, but sometimes it's nice to enjoy something other than a vodka and whatever, something with class, with style … for enjoyment of the drink more so than the effect of the alcohol.
The trend of A¬ber-high-end cocktails is becoming less trendy, which means it should wash up on Richmond's shore any day now, and I think we have the bartenders and bar owners here to make this trend less of an exercise in arrogance.
Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback contributes to Mixology magazine in Germany, composes surly Twitter missives at @jackgoesforth and blogs at jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. E-mail: email@example.com.
Editor's note: In the print version of this column we incorrectly referred to The Belvidere at Broad.