Midway through getting nice and buzzed at a Highland Park tasting at Toronto's Colborne Lane, I ended up in a bit of a philosophical discussion with a local bartender. This guy possesses real talent, but many of his customers wouldn't know it. They just order whatever boring drink they always get. (This happens at every establishment, no matter how solid the bar staff.)
Unlike some other skilled bar folk around town, Talented Bartender said he would never cast a disapproving look at, or refuse, an order for a crappy, bland drink -- a vodka and soda, for example.
(In case you didn't know, many cocktail and spirits snobs -- including me -- turn their noses up at vodka. I explain why here.)
But vodka and soda is what the people want, says Talented Bartender. It's their right to reject the (really nice) cocktails he makes in favour of something safe, even if they only do so because they're a bit afraid of the unfamiliar. And a restaurant has to make money after all.
Bear with me while I present my counter-argument using pizza.
Imagine you apprenticed under some renowned pizza maker in Naples for a year, slaving away slicing ingredients while sweating next to a hot oven.
You've spent long nights reading up on the history of pizza. You talk about pizza; dream about pizza. You're obsessed.
Now a bona fide pizza snob -- and I mean "snob" in the nicest possible way -- you return to your home country, buy a top-of-the-line wood-burning oven, and open for business. You proudly await the first customers salivating for authentic Neapolitan pie.
Except this is what they say: "Uh, can you serve us something with a stuffed crust?"
Well, no. Not here. Not in the best, most authentic pizzeria in town.
Snobbery is a calling, a mission. Part of that mission, I would argue, is to say no to mediocrity. It includes explaining why a customer shouldn't order crappy mixed drinks at one's awesome cocktail bar.
While saying no to the mundane, you're pushing people to say yes to the unfamiliar. People are often afraid to try new things, especially if those things go into their mouths. You practically have to force people to venture beyond their safe zones. But it's good for them when they do.
Is this know-it-all arrogance? Sure. But you want the person feeding you to be a bit arrogant and a bit of a know-it-all, because it means she's going to try her hardest to impress and educate and delight you. You'll be confident what you're getting is the real deal.
The snob also works this hard because she respects you, her customers. She thinks you're worthy of the best. She has faith that you'll appreciate quality the way she does -- if only you'll try it. Show that respect back by following her lead.
The fancy pizzeria has a mission to provide people with a more refined experience than the chain restaurants. Run-of-the-mill pizza still has its place. Likewise, even a vodka and soda has its uses (granted, the only one I could think of was blotting a fresh ink stain off a shirt).
The point is, we ought to keep special experiences special by not dumbing them down to the lowest common denominator. If you're in a fancy cocktail bar, order something fancy. You'll drink better, look smarter, and make for a happier bartender.
Meanwhile, if you want a stuffed crust, go to Pizza Hut. If you want a vodka and soda, head to a club that does bottle service.
I wouldn't serve you either one at the mind-blowingly amazing pizza and cocktail parlour I just dreamed up in my head. You'll be offered something made with care, and it'll be so much tastier that you might never go back to your old ways.
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