Friday, October 11, 2013

Drank Bar Journal No. 19: How to order a drink in film noir

Every bar customer should watch at least one work of film noir to learn how to properly order a drink. In these movies there is no poring over menus, no drinks with obscure artisan bitters, no hemming, no hawing, not even a pause. The drink requests are never wrong, never questionable. Ordering is done quickly, with a tilt of the head, and is always appropriate to the place. Nothing fancy when you're in a dive. Nothing boring when you're at the club.

Like in The Lady Vanishes, when Margaret Lockwood comes in from the cold to a smart hotel, she requests, "A small chicken and a magnum of champagne." Because that is what you do in smart hotels.

Film noir also shows us how to treat regulars. When you say "whiskey," film noir bartenders know which one and how you like it poured. Better yet, your drink is poured before you ask, a stunning act of kindness.

The same lesson is true for those taking drink orders. Bartenders can perpetually learn new tricks from film noir, where there's usually at least four legit cocktail references per film. Probably the best drink order scene I've ever come across is in the late noir classic Chinatown where Fay Dunaway walks in to the bar, sees Jack Nicholson, then sits down silently across from him in a red leather booth. He's already got a drink. The waiter arrives immediately in a white jacket. He asks Nicholson for the order. Dunaway never takes her eyes off Nicholson and says, "Tom Collins, lime, not lemon." Nicholson looks up briefly and repeats the order to the waiter. The waiter says very well and turns to get the drink.

You know from the scene that Fay drinks her version of Tom Collins all the time. She's made it hers but it's not too complex; she doesn't need to recite a prescription. Everyone should have a drink like that. Ready to go when we walk in to a place we've never been. If a customer doesn't arrive with one, bartenders, go ahead, give them one. It's a nice courtesy. And, if you ask me, there is absolutely no harm in it always being a champagne cocktail.

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