You need a stronger constitution than I to run a bar review website. It’s not the liquor that got to me, though – it’s that bar reviews are almost meaningless within months of being written. Possibly weeks.
Allow me to explain.
For starters, it’s the bartenders that make the bar – not the other way around. They’re the ones that can make the difference between a friendly greeting or a sneer when you order that Brandy Alexander. They can make a martini taste sublime or disgusting. They can offer sympathy when your date stands you up, or look at you as if you’re something unflushable in their toilet bowl. Yet these days bartenders come and go. They are a fickle bunch that, much like geese, migrate on a regular basis.
A bar review written just a month ago might now be out of date. Bar Zine would have been better if I followed bartenders rather than bars, but I’d probably be arrested if I did.
And then bars – and their menus – and service – can change dramatically shortly after launch. Most bloggers and reviewers will jump on a bar as soon as it opens, but that’s not a good indicator of how that bar will turn out.
For one thing, it takes a good few weeks at least for a bar to find its groove and work out what does and doesn’t work – and for another, within mere weeks managers become unbearable, staff members surly, and novelty fades. Then, when the PRs, bar consultants, journos and bloggers move their focus onto other bars, the quality often falls as well. When I think about it, I can count on one hand the number of bars in Sydney that have retained their standards over the years.
Now, I’m not saying bar reviews are as worthless as horoscopes, but … well, it’s no longer for me. I’m egotistical. If I write something, I want it to be fricken immortal.
If that hasn’t put you off reviewing bars for yourself, then I don’t know what will – but I’ll not only wish you luck, I’ll even offer you the secret Bar Zine methodology for figuring out if a bar is decent. This is the process I’ve used to punish my liver all these years:
- Does the bouncer snarl when you arrive? If so, get out. There have been many Sydney bars that I never reviewed because of this.
- Does the bartender smile when you arrive? If not, get out. A bar is supposed to be about the service – not the bartender’s attitude.
- Is there a decent bar counter you can perch at? If not, the drinks better be frickin good.
- Do they have Frangelico, Malibu, Tia Maria, and other hideous chocolate/coffee liqueurs on their back bar? If so, get out.
- Do they store their vermouth in the fridge – or do they have a dusty bottle on the shelf? If it’s the latter, stick with gin and tonics. Or get out. Stale vermouth is the reason why so many people drink their martinis far too dry.
- Do they make sazeracs? This used to be my benchmark, but these days most bartenders can make one. If they can’t, get out.
- If their cocktail list is filled with vodka and fruit abominations, get out.
- The only exception to rules 4-7 is if you’re a beer drinker and they have some great craft beers on tap. In that case, good luck to you. It’s cheaper and your liver will last longer than mine. The ride isn’t as fast, though.
- If you review bars, stay away from reviewing wine. Only wankers do that.
Talking of writing bar reviews, here are some tips:
- Do not say a drink is good because you can’t taste the liquor. If you feel that way, you have no place reviewing anything other than soft drinks and juice.
- Don’t evaluate a cocktail on whether or not it tastes strong. That’s like evaluating a steak on whether it tastes meaty.
- Do not accept free drinks. If you do, it will bias you – even if you don’t think so at the time. The industry is so small, and you tend to get so friendly with the PR and bar managers after a few years, that it’s easy to fall into this trap. From experience, I believe a good reviewer needs to be a complete bastard. Don’t go to the launches. Avoid the free food and booze. Ignore the siren song of the PR. It’s better to fork out for your own drink and actually write an article you’re proud of.
- Always mention a cat in each review. It makes you sound suave and seductive.
And on that note, my bar review career is now finally over. I am officially handing over the mantle to whatever poor dumb bastard decides it’s a good idea. If you know of any good bar review sites – or have your own – then let me know in the comments section below (even if you review wine).