Several times over the last year I’ve written about the evolving nature of queer spaces here in New Orleans. Naturally, then, I was curious to learn which bars the Times Picayune had selected as New Orleans’s best for 2016. I was saddened to learn that Good Friends was selected as the only gay bar on the list.
This bar is very nice. The staff is lovely, the balconies are lovely, and its history is lovely – none of that I have a problem with. The reason I so strongly disagree with the Picayune’s selection is due to the mechanical pouring devices used by this establishment to measure booze. They are not only incredibly tacky and impersonal, but they undermine the experience of being in a bar.
If you have never seen these pouring contraptions they are called The Berg – cost-control mechanisms which are the antithesis of all that is New Orleanian. Instead of pouring drinks “free hand,” bartenders here must pour through The Berg in order to compose a cocktail. The Berg allows for only a measured shot of booze to flow from the bottle before cutting off the pour, and then ringing up the purchase on the register automatically.
While this mechanized process is no doubt good for the bar’s bottom line, it wreaks havoc on the customers experience. In the bars’ attempt to control liquor costs, the process of making the cocktail is robbed of nuance, style, and professionalism. Even a Taaka and Ocean Spray should be made with more love than this.
Bartending is like ballet for drunk people – a dance that must not be encumbered by stodgy machinery. The snap of a bartender’s wrist as a he pours, how his body language adjusts while moving from customer to customer, and how is back arches ever-so-gracefully while reaching for that top shelf – all a part of the show, and all movements which must remain unscripted and unencumbered for maximum impact. Anything, such as The Berg, which compromises this undermines a bartender’s appeal and strikes at the heart of the profession.
Unfortunately, instead of masterfully throttling the potency of drinks, bartenders using The Berg appear hamstrung and emasculated. Their movements dictated not by their personal working style, but by this cumbersome contraption which they must yield to. In our barrooms, bastions of social space in an increasingly digital world, the intimate experience of a bartender crafting a drink for his customer is being quantified and mechanized.
Now, none of this would matter if we were in someplace else in America. In much of our country, quantity over quality is the credo, and efficiency rules the day.
But this is New Orleans.
We like to believe that there is more value in an interaction which is personal than in one which is automated. If I flew across the country to spend Mardi Gras in “The City That Care Forgot” and I was poured a cocktail by a robot, I would feel duped and heartbroken. To any tourists who’ve had this experience, I am sorry. That is not how we roll.
For what its worth, the bars are free to operate as they see fit, and customers are free to vote with their feet. But what is most troubling to me is the fact that local food and beverage writers in New Orleans, the drinken’est town in the nation, are giving top honors to drinking establishments which cheapen the very act of making drinks. This is frightening evidence of the faith we are losing in the mutually therapeutic relationship between customer and bartender. It reflects horribly on our city, its drinking culture, and its gay scene.