Suffice to say, by bartenders I am thinking neither of college students filling pitchers — and occasionally themselves — from a leaky keg, nor of hostesses tipping Suntory Royal into a bleary-eyed salaryman’s glass with their left hand while otherwise engaging their right.
No, the bartenders we need consider here are inheritors of a noble tradition to whose Western imperatives they have added their own special Japanese je ne sais quoi touch of Zen in the night; a dash of obsessive compulsion and the stirring and unshaken belief that — by God — booze matters.
And cocktails matter most.
Japanese bartenders do cocktails like chemistry experiments and, faced with the precision of their measurements, half the lab personnel at Cal Tech would slink away in shame, wondering if it’s too late to re-train for refrigerator repair.
But it’s more than precision; they are masters of their arcane mysteries and insouciant enough (should your Japanese be up to it) to discuss proper gin viscosity, the merits of shaking to cha cha cha or samba rhythms or the correct bitters for mango-infused grappa.
Recall, if you will, buying that emerald and diamond brooch at Tiffany’s last year and remember how the salesman lovingly laid it on its pad with a deference suggesting you were in the presence of a holy relic, a talisman not only of transcendent beauty but one capable of redeeming a fallen human race.
That’s pretty much the way your cocktail arrives. You’re almost afraid to breathe on it.
When barman Tom Cruise in the movie “Cocktail” kept three bottles spinning in the air, flashed a boyish grin at four admirers, and plopped down a dripping drink on a sodden napkin, he demonstrated conclusively that (despite what you may have read in the Enquirer) he is neither Japanese nor a Japanese barma