Belly Up to the Bar.
Don’t forget! My podcast, Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, premieres ONE WEEK FROM TODAY! Friday, February 27, 2015. Right here, and on iTunes, and at my new podcast website. Which I will reveal one week from today ;) Cheers!
In this article, composed for his incredibly awesome magazine, Lucky Peach, Chef David Chang extols the virtues of sitting at the bar. He explains not only is it the best seat in the house, but you never have to call ahead.
I could’ve written this article in my sleep. In fact I did, for C-Ville’s Bites and Brews a few years back. The Hubby and I ALWAYS sit at the bar if we can manage it. Any given night if you walk into a restaurant where we are wolfing down food and gulping down cocktails you’ll find us at our perch, probably staring intently at the goodies coming from the kitchen, gazing longingly at the shiny bottles lined up like soldiers, and smiling endearingly at the bartender because he’s the one making our drinks, the coolest person in the place. I should know. I used to bartend. And it’s still the best job I’ve ever had.
The best reason is the view. You’re higher than everyone and can pretend you’re somebody even if you’re wearing dingy dungarees because you just finished weeding your garden. I love perching on a stool, legs crossed just so, like it’s 1977 and this is Studio 54. Plus, when you perch your gaze travels downward. Onto people’s plates. There’s no sneakier way to spy on what folks are eating, and thus make an informed opinion on what to order, than sitting at the bar. Not only that, the bar is usually somewhere near the kitchen, so you have a first-eye view (and smell) of the goodies coming out the door.
The first time Hubby and I discovered the virtues of bar-sitting was at Emeril’s in Las Vegas. We’d forgotten to make reservations and the place was packed. No matter two seats at the bar were wide open. Not only did we have a grand time, but the floor show of dishes emerging from the kitchen all night was more sexy than Zumanity. Granted, it’s not hard to be sexier than Zumanity but you get my drift.
Many people wrongly assume the bar is just for drinking. Not so. I’ve never been to a restaurant where they wouldn’t willingly offer you a menu. Most bars are full service. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s just good business. If you order something yummy and the drunk guy next to you finds it appealing, he might order something too.
The bartender often knows what to order. Become his friend. Talk to him or her. Ask the bartender to recommend a cocktail, a wine, an appetizer, or a main dish. They readily will. And I promise you it will be delicious. Quite often your bartender will have worked there longer than your server, especially in a town like Charlottesville where a good 80% are students hustling for beer money. It naturally follows the bartender will know more about what (and what not) to order.
It’s pretty cool to saunter past the hordes waiting at the door, flat buzzers clutched tightly in their hands, hoping at any minute they will start bleeping red lights madly signaling their table is ready. When you’re a bar sitter, you never have to make reservations. Decide at the last minute on a Saturday you want to go out? Head for the bar. Bar is full? No matter, do what you’d do anyway. Get yourself a cocktail at the bar and wait. I’ll bet you $20 you’ll wait less than other folks. Because they’re waiting for a table, and they have probably been waiting for a while.
Some of our best meal experiences have been at the bar. Downing vodka and caviar at Red Square in Las Vegas. The entire bar was topped with ice, making us feel like we were the 1% in the movie Snowpiercer. You wouldn’t get that experience at a table. Absinthe pipes imbibed at Sage in Las Vegas, and everyone who walked past stopping to ask us what in the hell we were drinking which resulted in some fine conversations. We’d never have had that in a booth. The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Pittsburgh was a home away from home, and the conversations we had while watching baseball games all the while gazing at the THIRTY BELGIAN DRAFT taps down the beautiful wooden bar are precious memories. Whenever someone strikes out, we still yell, “Nice fucking swing you pansy ass!” because years ago a drunk girl yelled this at a Pirate. At the bar. Still my favorite bar.
Closer to home at Bonefish Grill I had one of the best gin martinis I’ve ever had in my life, which resulted in a long conversation with the bartender about his methods and the virtues of a great martini. At our first visit to Beer Run we sat at the bar and met the owner, Josh Hunt, who directed us toward the best drafts. Now we’d never sit anywhere else.
Then there are those restaurants who don’t take reservations in the first place, like Tavola, so you end up at the bar waiting anyway. These folks hold a close, dear place in my food-seeking heart. I LOVE never having to plan to eat, and waiting at the bar is never a problem because we love it there. One of my biggest pet peeves is walking into an empty restaurant and having the hostess ask, “Do you have a reservation?” then giving me the stink eye when we say no. Not requiring reservations makes me love you more. And sitting at the bar removes that stressor entirely, making the meal an even more enjoyable experience.
Sit at the bar people! The minute you walk through the door, saunter past the crowd, inform the hostess of your lack of reservation and indicate with a wave where you’ll be dining. Take in her look of relief, her warm smile (she loves you already) before walking toward the far end of the bar nearest the kitchen. Find yourself a comfy spot. Perch on that stool as if you own the place. Ask the bartender for a menu. And prepare to have fun because you’ll be drinking and eating long before anyone else. Plus there’s no time limit. As long as you’re eating or imbibing, no one will ask you to leave! What could be better than that on a crowded Saturday night?
Red flashy buzzer things are so 2000’s people. Plus, I bet they’re germier than a Grand Central Station toilet seat. Forego them. Do what the cool kids do. Sit at the bar.