so in my aforementioned searching out of a good Fancy Cocktail Bar, i and a friend ended up at L’Assommoir here in the ol’ Vieux-Port, the results of which experience were a. expensive, and b. somewhat disappointing, if still instructive.
now maybe i just don’t know good cocktails, or perhaps as a borderline bibber i prefer mine stiffer than is reasonably to be expected in polite company, but there was definitely something of a middling quality to most of what we each had. they being Manhattan, Ginger’tini, Espresso Martini, and Sazerac, Dry Martini, American Beauty, respectively.
the bar itself was sufficiently classy (ie: costly. it is important here to distinguish between the two kinds of classy. there’s “ooh, classy,” which means expensive and a bit horrid, populated by men who gel their hair and if they wear ties have never buttoned the top button in their lives, and there is “you know, this is a pretty classy joint,” which means that there’s a quiet dignity that pervades the space, however raucous the atmosphere may become, and the staff are either painfully professional or genuinely charming, and maybe even professionally charming, but at least genuinely professionally charming – it’s never a professional charm attempted to be passed off in the shopworn livery of genuine charm. no mauvaise foi here. and if you’re wondering, No, I Haven’t Ever Been To The Latter Place, and probably it doesn’t exist, outside of the memoirs of the Left Bank) to serve as backdrop for our intended masquerade as nouveaux riches, and on a not friday night it might be actively pleasant to be in, but the combination of the bumpin’ (~shudder~) atmosphere and only-decent cocktails made for some underwhelming (it’s a good thing we two are so charming and attractive, otherwise the night may have been lost!)
so on the topic of the stuff of the thing:
THE MANHATTAN – too sweetish. not burly enough, in either of our opinions. what i like about Manhattans is, like a lot of classic cocktails, it’s booze cut with booze (in which case it’s rather less like ‘cutting’ and more akin to He-Man and Skeletor combining their two Power Swords to make the One True Power Sword, which is AWESOME [if i remember correctly]) so it has that effect of making a Good Idea Better/Bad Idea Worse, so when you get weak Manhattan you get to wondering what they put in to some how make it less boozy than either of the primary ingredients. but they did ask whether my compatriot wanted it in a rocks or martini glass. i like that.
THE GINGER’TINI (i don’t know why that requires an apostrophe, whereas the Chocolatini does not.) – i mean, every ______-tini is going to be a bit of a wash because you’re taking a drink which is also, and at its best just barely, booze cut with other booze, and while the slice of ginger garnish was a nice touch, we found it neither boozy nor gingery enough.
THE ESPRESSO MARTINI – can’t be more specific about this, but it just seemed like a weak Black Russian, with supposedly a shot of espresso in it, which you know, should have been great, but it just kinda mehhed. one begins to suspect we are undertasters?
THE SAZERAC – was actually delicious, but i kick myself for not paying attention when they were making it, so i didn’t see whether they used actual Peychaud’s bitters (which as far as i can tell you can’t get in Québec, which…..maybe also means you are not allowed to sell/use commercially in Québec?), or what kind of Absinthe – as it’s not even listed as an ingredient on the menu, but the barman did make a point of mentioning its inclusion when serving me – so who knows what’s really in it. he did do something involving a lemon peel catching fire, though, which i appreciated, because i am a child/Magic Lover/flying insect.
THE MARTINI – gin, obviously, dry, one olive – i will admit that i am still pretty new to martinis, but i love gin so maybe i should have asked for extra dry, because again, not so much kick.
THE AMERICAN BEAUTY – sounded great, sounded fancy (cognac, port, oj and strawberry coulis) and honestly i appreciated that you really could taste the cognac, but it wasn’t something that felt…..made, so much as it did a glass in which multiple different things were put. you know? it didn’t achieve that almost alchemical gestalt that some cocktails carry around in their hidden heart.
it’s a shame, that.
and another thing, a point of some contention, sure, but a good cocktail shouldn’t come across as if it’s trying to mask the taste of the alcohol, in my opinion. it, like all foods involving multiple ingredients, should be about putting the component parts into a productive interplay, that allows you to appreciate in a different fashion (in a different light, if you will. the light of vermouth, for example) the flavours of the alcohol. this is ideally speaking, obviously. historically, while Prohibition was one of the cocktail’s heydays, it probably contributed mightily to the former phenomenon, because in all likelihood you can do without a more nuanced appreciation of bathtub gin.
and that’s alls i know.
actually, you want to know what else has been getting to me? the name. the name of the damn place. L’Assommoir, i have discovered, is the name of a novel by Emile Zola dealing with the ravages of alcoholism amongst the impoverished Parisian working class. oh, ha ha ha, what more delicious irony could there be for we, the rich and literate, enjoying nos martinis funkys and our 3rd ceviche (that’s not fair, i know. probably most of the clientèle don’t know shit about Zola. also, do you know how glad i am that i didn’t make some “don’t know Zola from Zara” pun? because it’s bad. it’s a bad pun. it’s…totally annoying. and i hate it. so i didn’t.), it just seems a little gauche, no?
outside of the specifically literary and political connotations, what really gets on my nerves (predictably) is that un assommoir, is an old colloquial term for a little booze shop that sells (usually) its own liquor of . . . dubious quality, or as the Larousse puts it “les boissons de dernière catégorie.” and what is adorable about that bit of idiom is that it derives from the verb assomer which means to throttle, bludgeon, or otherwise render senseless, thus making it a great little name for a bar, but one where 6 drinks tab up to 80$?
come, that’s got to grate. like that (now nonexistent) bistro up in Westmount that was called THE MESS HALL. myeah. g’way.
but i don’t mean for it to sound like a horrible time/mistake. i enjoyed every moment of it, and i am not convinced that they are bad at making cocktails (i mean they have made their name of it), but rather that until i find a bar with an ambience understated to my tastes, i’d rather just make ’em at home, and eat my own olives while i’m at it.
ultimately, i can appreciate the poetic justice that in dissimulating nouveau riche we just nudged ourselves that little bit further into that gutter of insolvency in and about which we cavort and gambol so happily (if not carelessly).
joke’s on us?