Raising the bar in bartending

Raising the bar in bartending

In 2007, word began doing the rounds that a cocktail bar – a very good one – had opened up in New York’s East Village. The problem, however, was that the hoi polloi didn’t know where it was located. It didn’t show up on any address books or the internet (not for long though!).

PDT (Please Don’t Tell) took America’s cocktail industry by storm, and made the man behind it, Jim Meehan, the breakout star. A staple on the World’s Best Bars list for many years since, the drinks from the place – and a whole lot of others – were immortalised in Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book that, incidentally, is also the name of his bar.

Cut to 2017, Jim’s second, and without a doubt his magnus opus ‘Meehan’s Bartender Manual’, hit the shelves. The eponymous book is in many ways a deep dive into the way the man looks at the art of bartending.

The book reads like a definitive modern guide on the topic, where the underlying emphasis is on bartending as an art not learnt from books and, instead, something that is picked up on the job while working behind a bar.

The contents are distilled from Meehan’s years of learning behind the bar and his learnings from his mentors and peers in the industry, whom he counts fortunate enough to have worked with and learnt from.

And, may I add, many of these people are themselves folks who have helped shape the global cocktail culture of today.

Different styles

The book starts with a chapter on the history of the American cocktail and goes on to explore a timeline of different styles of drinks as they have evolved. I think this part of the book has been well covered and has the right amount of information without being overwhelming.

Then there are chapters on bar design, tools and techniques, service and hospitality. The chapter on bar design has the floor layout plans of some great bars, including the Dead Rabbit in New York.

I particularly liked the section on branding, where he writes on the importance of getting it right. In a country where many places just don’t seem able to do so, it is great to see how the best minds in the business approach the topic with such ardent fervour. And rightly so!

The book also has a collection of 100 cocktail recipes – classics and JM’s originals – that have been classified by their base spirit and then elaborated through the drinks’ origins or history, logic behind the ingredients used and a fun, little-hacks section that helps the ones with flair of creativity tweak the recipes, if they are so interested.

For anyone looking at learning the craft or simply building a collection of great bar books, Meehan’s Bartender Manual is highly recommended. The nearly-500-page book that has a textured hard cover with a lime green colour is richly informative and is of great academic value.

Happy Reading!


P.S.: The book is available on Amazon at a great price. I got my copy (US$ 40) through a friend coming in from Hong Kong.