Tuesday, January 27, 2009

W Hotel, NYC = WTF at the Bar?

I’ve been to W Hotels in many cities around the U.S. and have generally enjoyed them. Rande Gerber, the force behind the W’s cocktail program makes a nod to quality mixology with muddled herbs, fresh juices and the like. My usual drink at the W Hotel chain is made with Bombay Sapphire gin, muddled basil and fresh grapefruit juice.

Noticing some new drinks on the menu while at the W on Lexington Ave, last night, I asked the bartender for the Green Dream (or something like that) made with Right gin, basil, lime juice and simple syrup. The gal behind the bar said looked confused and read the ingredients off the menu. I don’t judge that – I don’t even mind a bartender consulting a bar manual. If someone cares enough to look up a drink to make it the right way, I’m all for it.

First, last night’s bartender asked if I’d like it on the rocks or in a martini glass. I said I’d like it up, and she chilled a martini glass with ice, which I noted as a good sign. However, what she did next is where the cocktail it went horribly wrong.

After filling a large shaker tin with ice, she poured in what seemed to be an extraordinary amount of gin for one cocktail, without measuring. Then she grabbed the simple syrup and poured in about as much simple syrup as gin. As she answered the ringing phone, she reached for a stem of basil - a day or two past its prime - then tore off a few leaves – and stems – and casually chucked them into the melting ice-and-liquid filled shaker. Next, she added lime juice from a bottle and closed the lid of the tin.

“Isn’t the basil muddled?,” I asked. She looked at me like I was a pain in the butt, opened the tin, hung up the phone, snatched a bar spoon and fished out the soggy bits of basil which she proceeded to put into a rocks glass, douse with yellow liquid from a big plastic bottle marked “sour,” gave it a quick once-over with the muddler. That glob was then dumped back into the watery gin mix in the cocktail tin. Her shake was a half-hearted, limp-armed toss of the hand (for about 1 or 2 seconds) and strained it into a martini glass.

“Did you want to start a tab?” she asked as she placed the sorry-looking giant martini glass in front of me. I coughed up $15 for the drink, added a minimal tip, and took a sip of the worst cocktail I’ve had in years. It was sickly sweet, there was no hint of basil at all, the gin was completely overpowered by the sugar and citrus, and it left a worse aftertaste than a sugary soft drink.

As much as I wanted to drink it (get my money’s worth and kill 20 minutes before my evening appointment) I could only choke down about half the glass.

I partly blame the bartender for her lack of skill and technique but I mostly blame the bar. Training is essential to quality control. The W Hotel enjoys a reputation as a hip hangout and better-than-average cocktails, but anyone in hospitality knows that as soon as a restaurant or bar starts resting on its laurels and quality slips, its hard to earn back its good reputation.


Darcy O'Neil said...

Bad bartending is a sad thing, especially at upscale hotels that charge a hefty price for said drink. BUT, you should never tip for substandard service, ever, period, even if it is minimal.

A great bartender gets a reasonable tip of 15% to 20%, a shoddy bartender can get the same, maybe a little less. Where is the incentive to improve ones skills if you get paid the same to do a crappy job.

Bad Liquid Muse, Bad! :)

natalie@theliquidmuse.com said...

Hiya Darcy,

I hear you on the tip thing... but having worked in restaurants, bars and nightclubs for many years, I can't not tip.

I mean, if someone went out of their way to be a dickhead... maybe I wouldn't tip... but in this case, i felt that the bar training failed as much as the bartender herself. her drink sucked - but I think it was more ignorance than malice. I gave her $2 on a $15 drink. I would have felt like the a-hole if I left less.

The W is at fault for either : a) hiring sub-par bartenders and / or b) not training them to know how to make a decent cocktail.

Baytenders said...

That's terrible...especially since it was a $15 cocktail! I agree with you about blaming the bar for the lack of training. Even if her bartending skills weren't yet up to par, they could have at least given proper customer service training. Good looking out :)

MB Marketing & Development said...

I was just at the same W a couple of weeks ago and had the same problem. Was it a younger blonde girl ?

Darcy said...

The sense of guilt, for not tipping, runs strong in F&B people, me being one of them. But, maybe it's because I have a two year old, where I don't recognize / acknowledge bad behavior, only encourage and applaud good behavior (it really does work). Applying this rule to bad bartenders might improve drinks to the point where I'll actually order a cocktail at a bar. Correct, I very rarely order cocktails because most bartenders don't care and I don't want to pay $15 for a crappy drink.

Chris said...

Holy S***, Nat. That's one major post! What a dissappointment.

I have had it happen as well. Remember the "Classic Martini" story I told you?