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What is a "cocktail"?

Bar Basics

David Willner (General Manager, PS 450, Vig 27 & The Volstead, NYC) gives expert video advice on: Why do people like cocktails?; How much does it cost to put together a "well-stocked" bar? and more...

What is a "cocktail"?

A cocktail is a nice way of saying "mixed drink." You essentially take one or more spirits and mix them with one or more juices and/or sodas, that's a cocktail. Cocktails started in Prohibition time when bootleg whiskies were being mixed with other drinks to improve their substandard flavor. It wasn't until much later that people really started experimenting with vodka and gin, and realized that those were great mixers as well and they made great cocktails.

Why do people like cocktails?

People like cocktails for a wide variety of different reasons. I think that cocktails really just bring people together. drinking cocktails is a very social activity, and it also loosens people up a little bit. It's a conversation starter, and it lets you bring down your guard a little bit and have a great night or a great afternoon with some cocktails and friends.

What makes a good bartender?

A good bartender needs to have a lot of different qualities. The first thing that I'm looking for in a good bartender, as a patron and as a manager, is personality. If you have personality, I can teach you how to bartend. I can teach you drink recipes but I can't teach you to be a fun person, which is the most important thing about being a good bartender. You have to be engaging, welcoming, make people comfortable and have a great smile. People want to come to your bar and spend their time and money with you, you need to make them feel good about that. Another important aspect of bartending is theoretical knowledge; people want to be comfortable that you can competently mix anything they order. Cleanliness and preparation are also crucial in bartending; maintaining your bar throughout the night and being prepared to make any order that comes in are both vital.

Is bartending as complicated as it looks?

I don't think so. I think you can always be a better bartender, learn more recipes and develop your knowledge. The hardest thing about bartending is experimentation; learning to get the balance of flavors and alcohol is important, but I think that you can only acquire that through experience and practice. You could always learn to do stupid tricks like spinning the bottle around, but I think the most important thing that you need is have a great personality, willingness to learn, and the ability to multi-task. If you can do several things at once, your going to be a great bartender.

How much does it cost to put together a "well-stocked" bar?

A well-stocked bar can cost as much or as little as you want to spend on your bar. I would hope that you can get a great well-stocked bar for somewhere betwwen $200 and $500. You just need one of every major liquor from what we call the well which is one vodka, one rum, one tequila, one gin, and then hopefully one of each mixer. Sodas, juices, et cetera. How much you spend will depend on the quality of products that you want to get. If you want to get some high-end products, that's certainly going to cost a lot more money than some of the more basic products, the vodkas, the rums, et cetera. And then of course it all depends on how much you want to have in your bar. If you want those random drinks that somebody might ask for once in a while then your prices are going to start adding up quickly. But hopefully for the basic bar, you can get there for about $300 to $500.