So my bar is finally opening up for business. Technically it's in soft open mode. So today's post is about menu's.
Because I'm one of the founders of my bar as well as the managing partner I found myself in the unique position to do what I felt was right as long as it revolved around two major points:
Will it make money? Will it be fun?
First off, a bar is a business. Anyone that thinks that they do it just for the love is either so rich it doesn't matter or not responding in a revenue earning potential. Of course, I love making cool drinks and the art and technique of it all but I won't have these opportunities if I'm not make cash money every single day. If you're not hustling at the bar then you're just a customer at the bar. I really and truly believe bartending is art, you're physically creating a cocktail with your hands. Depending on the drink, you're using a pick to crack ice, you're slapping mint, you're measuring, you're tasting, you're appraising then finally when your drink is at it's pinnacle you serve it up to be judged by your guests. At the same time you're taking multiple orders as you look cool and jump around to the music. It's honest work for debaucherous souls. None of it means shit though if your pour costs are too high.
This is where the joy, heartache and compromise of menu creation rears it's ugly head like a drunken Chimera. For my bar - I wanted to focus on cool cocktails that I wanted do drink as well as some unique Punches which is my theme. As one does I costed out my drinks onto an excel spreadsheet (yay math) and then rubbed my eyes and nursed several large gins as I methodically crossed out things that were way to impractical. In literary terms, it's called killing your darlings. After the wholesale slaughter of all my dream drinks (Louis XIII Sidecar anyone?) I needed to come back with some things that would work for my pour costs and keep a roof over my head. Instead of a lot of crazy esoteric alcohols that I needed to import or hand carry from other countries I focused on making crazy syrups, reductions and inventive uses for the common fruits I would be using anyway. One of the cocktails I came away with was a Smoked Grapefruit and Roasted Thai Chile Margarita which I could serve as a punch or even an individual cocktail. Costing out a margarita is pretty simple especially if you're using fresh home made lime juice, house tequila (mines 80RMB a bottle but still 100% blue agave) and cointreau. The costs of the grapefruit and thai chile were negligible as we're using them for many other things both in the kitchen and in the bar.
From that eureka moment more and more drinks followed, Salted Caramel Old Fashioned's, Strawberry Green Tea Mojitos, etc, etc. I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel when it comes to drinks but I'll be damned if I do any more of that pre-prohibition bullshit. Yes, I'm aware Old Fashioned's are "pre-prohibition" but shut up.
With Punches, since they are volume drinks it came to be more like deconstructing a recipe, examining it's strengths and weaknesses as well as costs and prep time. I found drinks I can prep the day before tasted better and we're easier to serve in the volumes that I was looking for. I also used a lot of inspiration from David Wondrich's fantastic book, "Punch" to get the idea behind some recipes as well as the history.
Then I made some drinks that are so amazing, so delicious that they defy the written word. My Punches turned out so well that in the history of humans interaction with alcohol this is the biggest thing to happen since someone thought to add ice to a distilled spirit. Possible hyperbole in that sentence. You'll have to come over and try though.
So will my menu be fun? I've added the "F" word a lot because that's a fun word. I gave my drinks names like, Wheel Chair Assassins, The Bastard of Bolton and Naked Lunch. There's dirty jokes on the menu as well as literary references for the high society boozer. I think the menu defines one of your most important guest interactions. For the guests it's a little piece of this strange nightlife world that's explained to them in language they can understand. I don't care if your menu is in Chalk, Printed or scribbled on a sleeping hooker, what you choose to write reflects what you are about as a bar. Because I'm in Shanghai my menu is in both English and Chinese and so I thought it'd be interesting to play with the dual nature of drinking - the light and the dark. For the English, the language was rough and braggish and in Chinese instead of doing a direct translation I went the opposite and it flows almost poetically. Each menu item description lists the same ingredients but the message it conveys in the limited space tells a completely different story.
With every menu you should want to push it to the limits and show people that the best bars, no matter how well they're decorated or how shitty they look can always be Business in the front and Party in the back.
Like a booze serving mullet.