When I asked the bartender for the cocktail menu, unnecessarily announcing, “I’m going to get some cocktails!” they [Author’s Note: descriptive details are being omitted to protect anonymity] looked me up and down, trying to decide what to make of any non-underage person declaring their intention to drink several cocktails before noon on a weekday.
The picture-filled cocktail menu featured an introduction with the title “Drink Up the Details” in one of those fonts you select when you want to pretend you used a paintbrush. The mission statement read: “In our bar, bartenders don’t make things the easy way. They make things the right way. Fresh fruits and fresh house-made mixers. Beer at the perfect temperature, poured perfectly. Every cocktail, professionally crafted. Because we know the harder we work, the more you can take it easy at our bar.”
Second Author’s Note: I requested to speak to TGI Fridays beverage director through multiple platforms, but, at publication, had not received a response.
There were many pages. Margarita and sangria pages. A page for “Tropicals” and mojitos. Another for “Classics” (though that included a spin on a Moscow Mule invented in a TGI Fridays in 2015), and “Celebrations” (shots). There was also a page confidently stating, “Our bartenders know thousands of drinks. If you don’t see the one you’re looking for, just ask.”
Overwhelmed by the combination of the menu and the fact that the Milky Way is around 93 billion light years in diameter and our sun is just one of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies within the Milky Way, and it is entirely possible and even plausible that our universe is one of hundreds of universes out there, and therefore the actions of one man at one time of day on one planet amongst the billions and billions of planets out there is meaningless, I put myself in the bartender’s hands. “Make me your favorite drink,” I said.
I tasted four cocktails that day. I wanted to say they were fantastic, that there in Union City, they were doing things that would’ve made Gary Baldwin and "Magic" Mike Werner and the rest of the yesteryear Fridays bartenders proud, and there would be a tidy full circle-ness to my narrative.
That, friends, was not the case.
You don’t need to hear details -- the drinks were as I’d imagined they might be, mostly over sweet and all over the place. What was more interesting, though, was the conversation with the bartender. They talked about how they’d worked there a long time, and, at the beginning, the bartender training was extensive, but the labor shortage and massive turnover in the restaurant industry created a nearly perpetual staff shortage. “Now,” they said, “they’ll let basically anyone who’ll consistently show up bartend.”
We talked about the weekends and how, by 10pm, there was a line to get in and security outside checking IDs. “We’re the only place that’s open until 2am around here,” they said. “So the late-night bar scene is pretty wild.” We also talked about the most popular drinks (“tiki-style drinks, mostly the super sweet ones using a bunch of different purees”) and then, as they left to get my check and I sat nursing French Montana’s signature cocktail, I tried to make sense of it all.
I kept coming back to something Wayne Curtis had said about croissants at the Bellagio. Apparently they are some of the best in the world, and he imagined it was just one person back there working at a casino who truly gave a shit about really putting out these amazing croissants. “But as soon they leave,” he said, “that magic will go away.”
I thought about all those bar managers at the Fridays in the '70s putting together their bar manuals and truly just giving a shit, and how they trained up an entire cadre of bartenders who gave a shit, and that, for those few glorious years, the possibilities must’ve seemed endless. I thought about the most influential cocktail bars of the modern era, places like Milk & Honey and Pegu Club and Death & Co. and Absinthe and Violet Hour and Anvil and Holeman & Finch, and how they’d started because someone gave a shit and how their bartender family trees (aided, of course, by social media and our relatively newfound obsession with deputizing bartenders as celebrities) had built the modern craft cocktail movement.