bottled ingredients are not the only constituents of a cocktail that can make it good. there's also that x-factor; the sixth man (for basketball); a je ne sais quoi; the twelfth man (for soccer and football); the indefinable (except, perhaps, via sports metaphors). the atmosphere of a bar can leave just as sour a taste as that careless extra barspoon of lemon juice, or it can bring together a drink as well as a dash of bitters. (for those scoring at home, if you thought 'ice' was the sixth man, you get half credit.)
music, lighting, warmth, menu fonts, cloth napkins...the courtesy of the staff, the obnoxiousness of the patrons, the flare of the bartender...the number of variables to control would drive me half mad if i were a bar manager.
i've already written about the likes of drink, craigie, and eastern standard with their great reverential, hospitable, and belle époque atmospheres. these three new case studies, however, serve average drinks with the equivalent of a flamed orange peel for atmosphere, reaching them out of the depths of one-visit-only bars.
the manderley - as a temporary bar in the immersive theatrical installation 'sleep no more', just the notion of a transient classy oasis amidst a mansion of murder and the supernatural delights the exegetical corner of my mind to no end. after wandering through the play, i got to sit down at one of the tiny tables (flickering candles and all) in front of the jazz band and pick apart this new interpretation of shakespeare with a friend, cocktails in hand. a gin and tonic could have tasted just as good...but it didn't hurt that they were at least classically inspired (but nothing to write home to dunsinane about).
delux - i coudln't stop grinning once i got $9 in change after exchanging my $20 bill for the manhattan and guiness. nevermind the lack of rye or the presence of the scarily red cherry...deluxe was already decidedly awesome. plus, the records on the walls, the santa and xmas tree out months early, the regulars quietly sipping schlitzes, grilled cheese on the menu, and the dr. seuss stories as wallpaper in the bathroom didn't really hurt its case, either.
beehive - cocktails at this south end establishment trespass on the uninspired region of the expensive cocktail landscape. most are bubbly ones mixed in the champagne flute. but - mon dieu - they know how to decorate a space. carpeted stairs, wooden banisters, tile floors, and thick red drapes against cliffs of exposed brick walls. very sippable, that atmosphere.