Jeffrey Morgenthaler is Food Republic’s contributing cocktail editor and the author of the column Easy Drinking. He currently manages the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
I would assume that anyone reading this column is a fairly well-versed fan of all things related to bars and cocktails; if not, I’d wonder how you ended up here in the first place. Assuming that you’re one of the former, I imagine you’ve come across Jon Taffer, the bulging-eyed host of the popular Spike TV show Bar Rescue. Taffer’s other claim to fame is that he is the red-faced inventor of the Butt Funnel, a metal pipe that constricts traffic to and from a dance floor in order to, uh, stimulate guest interaction and challenge fire codes.
According to the intro to Bar Rescue, “Nobody knows more about bar science than Jon Taffer.” For more than 30 years, Taffer has allegedly transformed hundreds of failing bars around the world into success stories. His mighty fish lips hurl insults at bar owners who plead with him to clean up their crappy bars, transforming them with elbow grease, business education and, of course, flat-screen TVs.
Yet after reading Taffer’s recent interview with the Huffington Post, I have to wonder if he’s actually spent any time in a quality bar over those past 30 years, since it seems the man appears to know nothing about bars, bartenders, spirits or cocktails. So let me offer my own brand of red-faced commentary to some of his interview answers.
Should people eat the bar nuts?
There is a large, dedicated group of us who have devoted our lives to helping improve the sullied reputation that bars have had since Prohibition. We’ve championed fresh ingredients and thoughtful technique. We’ve tirelessly worked to overcome the idea that bars are not to be trusted, that they’re nothing more than binge-drinking dens of iniquity, and that our guests shouldn’t consume anything that isn’t pure alcohol. And it’s worked: Five years ago, the prestigious James Beard Foundation added an award for Outstanding Bar Program to its roster of awards, lending even more credibility to the notion that bars have changed greatly since our work began.
Yet Mr. Taffer advises bargoers to avoid the snacks that some bars offer their guests. He even goes so far as to refer to them as “blue-collar shrimp,” whatever the fuck that means. I’m guessing that the folks over at the James Beard Foundation aren’t hanging out at the same bars as you are, Jon. (By the way, thank your team for the cold call last year offering to “rescue” my five-time-nominated bar program; we’ve been far too busy to phone them back.) I guess you didn’t get the memo, but most bars don’t really offer food in plastic packages anymore. But what should we expect from a man who thinks the problem with Chipotle is that their food isn’t “exciting” enough?
Is it rude to signal a bartender?
Let me tell you what it’s like to work behind a bar, Jon, since you clearly don’t have any experience doing so. It’s fun. Sure, it’s hard work: It can be emotionally draining and intellectually challenging. But take it from someone who has been behind the bar, full time, for 20 years: We do this job because it’s fun. We get to take care of guests, we get to meet people from all over the world, and we get to make people happy with the things we serve.
And we are all, for the most part, good at what we do. So when you walk in the door, we know you’re there. You’re standing five feet away from us, staring into our mouths with your giant swollen eyeballs, Jon. We don’t always have a chance to greet you immediately. Usually we’re occupied with taking care of another guest who happened to arrive before you. So when you wave your hands in our faces or snap your fingers at us, you’ve officially turned this fun job that we enjoy doing into an unpleasant business interaction. Is it rude to signal a bartender? I don’t know, Jon, is it rude to signal another human being when you need something? It’s what babies do — they scream and cry every time they need something because babies don’t have words or manners. But at some point in every baby’s life, their parents have to teach them not to do that anymore.
“Tequila is made from mezcal, which mescaline, the hallucinogenic drug, is made from.”
Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me? Jon, buddy, are you serious right now? You want us to accept this idea that you’re some sort of expert in the bar business, yet you have absolutely no idea what tequila is? You proudly stock every bar you rescue with Don Julio tequila, one of the brands you’re being paid to hawk by Diageo, and you seriously think it’s a hallucinogen? Have you ever even looked at the label? It tells you what it’s made from right on the front of the fucking bottle. One hundred percent blue agave.
Tequila isn’t made from mezcal, Jon. It is mezcal. It’s a special type of mezcal made with a specific type of agave, with a whole host of rules and regulations that some of us have fought very hard to protect while educating the rest of the world about. Mescaline, on the other hand, comes from the peyote cactus. You might be confused because you think agave is a type of cactus, but that’s not true, either.
Is there a drink that everyone should know how to make?
Okay, you picked the screwdriver as your one drink that everyone should know how to make. Let’s not even get into the fact that the screwdriver is the one cocktail that everyone already knows how to make. It’s vodka and orange juice, Jon, and most people learn how to make that in high school. But then you had to go and quote that bullshit story about American oil workers stirring it with their screwdrivers to keep it from separating? In 1920?
So tell me, Jon, which part of that story makes sense to you? That vodka and orange juice will eventually separate if left long enough? (They won’t.) Or that Americans were drinking imported vodka in 1920? During Prohibition? (They weren’t.)
If there is one bright light that comes from an interview such as this, it’s that we now know what many of us had long suspected: that beneath your formidable presence, behind all of the shouting, and swear words, and insults, there’s a fool who is horribly out of touch with the past, present, and future of bars and bartending in this country.