Some Things Are Worth Taking Seriously

From Behind the Bar: What Makes a Good Bar? | Serious Eats: Drinks: 4. Overall Execution — My favorite bars are distinguished by the fact that they do a lot of things very well.

No. 4 on the “list” excerpted above is enough to show that it is not a serious attempt to tackle an admittedly frivolous question. It also is not true; many good things fit snugly in esoteric niches.

The list’s preceding three (unexcerpted) criteria (community, passion and atmosphere) are no more helpful and, pointedly, act as vague signposts to the silliness. What is “community,” anyway, if not code for the assholes you have to sit next to? Does passion for making money count? And doesn’t everywhere have “atmosphere”?

What makes a good bar, anyway? Start with these four points, which risk being labeled as curmudgeony, then get back to us: First and foremost is a good bartender. This is a person of any sex, preferably attractive, who can be consistently triangulated using these adjectives:

  1. Skillful. A good bartender can quickly pour a draft, change a keg and make a basic, classic cocktail without thinking, needing help or asking for clarification.
  2. Sociable. A good bartender can relate to any customer, but his or her tolerance and amiability should not cultivate hateful or obscene acts.
  3. Skillfully social. A good bartender must still leaven his or her drink-making and conviviality with an awareness for other, less chatty, less demanding customers. 

Next is a good selection. There must be something for the good bartender to serve. The good bar should, for instance, be able to appease the beer snob without being forced to serve everything in a stein or goblet. Over all, in this age of craft beers and boutique vineyards, this probably just boils down to having a “wide” selection.

A good bar also has room for the next customer, whether it be places to sit or stand. A table would be nice, but an empty stool is fine — and a clear spot out of the way of traffic is enough. Let the college students stand like commuters on a subway car.

Finally, do not forget about a good restroom. Seriously. Be wary of the bar owner, however possessed of senses of community, passion and atmosphere, who cannot provide what even a Midtown Starbucks can: a toilet that can be used without soaking your pant cuffs and assaulting your senses.