A post pandemic primer for returning to bars

Well, we are finally here. 14 months is a long time, but bars and restaurants are now 100 percent open. We can all breathe a sigh of relief (pun intended). Or can we? 14 months is a long time in the bar business. An exceptionally long time. According to the National Restaurant Association, 60 percent of all restaurants fail within their first year of operation, and 80 percent fail within 5 years. Which means that “most” restaurants that open never even make it to 14 months.

We all know that everyone eventually checks out the newest hippest place in town. And since that is always changing, whatever they are/were doing won’t be all that new or hip once the next thing comes along. It is a never ending cycle.

So, rest assured, whatever you were doing 14 months ago is probably not going to be the “happening” thing now. Big ice cubes and stirred Manhattan’s? Boy you are in for a big surprise. Misted martinis and Moscow Mules? Tread carefully because that twenty-something mixologist is almost certainly going to call you “sir’ or “ma’am”.

So, in the spirit of the service industry, we’ve taken the liberty of “curating” a few of these new mixology trends/terms so that you won’t feel quite so old when you set foot back in your old stomping ground, or your new one.


Curating, by definition, means the assembling, organizing, and presenting of something based upon some sort of expertise. As in “curating” an art exhibit, or “curating” a collection of classic cars. In the beverage world what it most often means, is limiting your choices. Bars used to be based on the most abundant variety of choices: lists of bourbons, lists of tequilas, more was always better. But more recently some establishments are going the other way, and only offering a few choices, and there are some that are only offering one choice, which by definition, is not a choice at all. They call this “curating” and quite often it takes on an almost snobby tone. Imagine being told there is only one kind of wine offered for your meal, and that wine has been “curated” by an expert. But you don’t like that wine? And who is this expert? Therein lies the problem. However, some curating can be a good thing, if the person doing the curating is creative and open minded. In those situations, you might just experience something new or different or unexpected. If, of course, that is what you are looking for in the first place.

Hand Crafting

Aren’t all drinks in all bars hand crafted? Isn’t mixing drinks by hand exactly what all bartenders do? The simple answer is yes. The longer more arcane answer is no. Hand crafting is a term typically used to signify a certain level of creativity and not necessarily a particular activity. Hand crafting terminology is often used as a way to entice a customer who is looking for something more than a whiskey and coke, or a draft beer, or even a vodka martini. A Bourbon Honeyed Blackberry Smash? Well now you’ve probably come to the right place. In an extreme irony, the most likely bar for you to get a pre batched cocktail (due to their inherent intricacies) is a bar with a “hand crafted” sign hanging on the wall.   

Molecular Mixology

An offshoot of Molecular Gastronomy, both sound more scientific than they really are. The usual definition is the application of “physics” and “science” to the transformations that occur during cooking. But one must recognize that all “cooking” technically relates to molecular transformation, usually due to heat. However chemical change can also be induced by pickling, drying, fermenting and other processes. In gastronomy what that often means, is that non typical techniques are applied to cooking in non-typical ways. Sous vide chicken is a great example: chicken cooked in a sealed bag in hot water for long periods of time at temperatures far below what every food safety manual states is required, yet still safe to eat. And delicious too. Sous vide when applied to cocktails is a similar process. Spirits or cocktails or infusions, are cooked on extremely low heat in a sealed bag for long periods of time. It certainly does make a difference regarding flavor extraction, but is the effort worth the time? Only the person paying for it knows for sure.

Other examples of molecular mixology are, the “gelling” of drinks (with either gelatin of agar), flame torching garnishes, creating foams, smoking individual cocktails and “clarifying,” which is the removing of all color from a cocktail. Important to note, clarifying is not simply filtering, and most “clarifying” processes use animal products or animal proteins (egg whites, milk, gelatin) rendering such drinks unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans.