So not to dwell on San Francisco, but on the way to work today I was thinking about this bar I went to with G and P--Rye, which is up in the that twilight zone between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill (the Tendernob? Tenderloin Heights? Dealer's choice, I suppose). Rye is a very, very hip and tasteful bar that specializes in highly-skilled bartenders making classic drinks with the utmost precision. You know, the kind of place where they use a jigger to make sure you're getting exactly the right amount of bourbon in your old-fashioned. And also the kind of place where that attention to detail adds an inordinate amount of time (I think) to the preparation of each drink.
Anyway, it was my turn to brave the queue at the bar, so upon our entry I elbowed my way as close as I could to the front, all the while trying to get the bartender's attention. But he would not be distracted from his task, being hard at work carefully measuring shots in the jigger and zesting oranges and doin' some fancy muddlin'. I sat there in tortured agony as he did all this--hurry up, man! He eventually finished, handed his drinks to their new caretakers, and then set about finding the next person to serve, giving his half of the bar a good scan. It kind of reminded me of the first person view from the Terminator movies. We made eye contact for a brief moment, and I thought I gave him the best "Oh! Oh! Pick me!" look, but I was passed over for the guy immediately to my left. I could almost see the "error. error. does not compute" flashing through his lifeless eyes as he passed me over.
But, as luck would have it, the guy the bartender picked had the good sense to order the quickest thing possible--a bottle of beer. So after popping the top off, the bartender once again entered "scanning" mode. The remainder of the people at the bar now looked to have drinks, so I ended up winning by default (as I tend to do) and put in my order: an old-fashioned, a manhattan, and something called a sutton station. As I sat there and watched him go to work, I couldn't help but notice the grim look on his face; a scowl almost. The Terminator reference was initially made in jest, but the more I watched this guy, the more robotic he seemed; a cold precision that seemed to suck the life out of something that inherently is brimming with vitality--getting people drunk.
Anyway, as the bartender moved from the old-fashioned to the manhattan, the guy to my right commented to his friends, "Isn't it awesome how these guys make 'real' cocktails? Like, the 'classic' style? I'm glad that it's back and here to stay. It's so refreshing." It really shouldn't have, but his statement bothered the shit out of me. First of all, his tone of voice, oozing with haughtiness, made me want to throw up. Second of all, what the hell is "refreshing" about a bartender so singularly focused on the science of bartending to lose sight of the fact that to bartend is to serve? And third of all, who the hell did he think he was making such a bold, sweeping statement like that? Only I am allowed to do that! There just wasn't enough room in that bar (or San Francisco, for that matter) for two pretentious wannabe sociologists. One of us would have to go.
Lucky for him I had to catch my flight the next day, so I'm taking my act to the Web (much to your chagrin, I'm sure). For those of you who've rolled their eyes and have still decided to keep reading (slow work day?), I offer my small insights into the phenomenon of the "new" classic that seems to have gripped the country (at least in the pretentious corners where I tend to find myself). Many people I talk to think the whole fixation with Don Draper is definitely just a fad, and we know how cyclical the fad market can be. Odds are that in five years the trend will shift back to "modern," and we'll look back on this time period and mock it while drinking weird, purple mix-drinks out of strangely shaped metallic cups. Me, though? I think there's an argument to be made that it's more than just a fad, but the beginning of a renaissance for the American male.
I say for the American male because the whole "classic" thing seems to be skewed pretty heavily toward men. And that makes sense. What sane woman would want to roll back the clock and go back to the "Golden Age" of America where she could have the pleasure of being a second-class citizen and having her ass grabbed all the time? Conversely, though, I think the steady march toward equality among the sexes breeds a secret angst among men. Gravitating toward the look and feel of the classic could be a way to hold onto a time when power and authority came just from having a Y-chromosome. Not to say I condone calling women "dolls" and "broads" and the like, but there is definitely an allure to drinking whiskey neat, having a slick haircut, and wearing a badass suit. It carries with it an understated aura of authority; an easy proxy for power in a time when simply being a man isn't enough to garner it.
"But," you might be saying, "male angst does not a renaissance make." This is true. I think the key factor that could push the classic from the whimsy of fad to the transformative of renaissance is that it fills a void in a time when men, in addition to having that angst, are dying for a uniquely American tradition; a sense of continuity from generation to generation. When I go to other countries, the first thing that jumps out as me is how their long histories have bred robust traditions--the Tao or the how of doing things. I always felt that was lacking in America, which I guess is understandable given our relatively brief history. But now with some years under our belt and Mad Men leading the charge, I think there's a legitimate Tao of the American male.
Ok, so I guess a lot of the above is pure armchair sociologist bullshit and encapsulates all the pretentious nonsense I generally dislike (irony!). Still, this is the type of shit I think about on the way to and from work. For all I know, "the jock" could be the next big thing for men, where we forsake grooming, manners, and equality of the sexes. I mean, just take a look at how popular Axe body wash commercials are. Not to mention those semi-pornographic Carl's Jr. commercials where some bikini-clad babe is having oral sex with a hamburger. So although I hope for a renaissance of the aesthetic of the classic American male, given our track record maybe it's more likely that the jock will prevail and manliness will be measured by the amount of weight bench-pressed, the number of beers chugged, and the fistfuls of wings inhaled. And as men embrace their primal nature, their mighty roar will echo across this great land--"buuuuUUUUuuuuUrp."
I guess on the plus side it won't take so long to get a damned drink.
"I love the way I am, and can't nobody out here change me."