The Gin and Tonic meets Whiskey
This is going to be a long piece of reporting. Longer than most. I know that you all check in on this blog to get hard hitting investigative journalism. To get to the heart of the gin and tonic crisis in Worcester bars.
No. You check in because I created a very silly goal for myself. To go to every bar in Worcester and order and drink a gin and tonic. Some people donate their time to running food banks. I give back to the community by drinking at a lot of different places.
I did it faithfully for nineteen months, writing up 144 bars and the gin and tonics I encountered. It was great. I stopped it and then six months later I decided that I wanted to check out the bars I didn’t get to. The new ones, the ones I was too fatigued to do during the first time.
This was in March (three months ago) and I posted that I was to start and that very week I gave myself a Friday night to hit three new bars. They had something in common and I thought grouping them together is a fine idea.
Then I just didn’t write them up. I forgot when I did the blog, that the going to the bars is easy. Writing about them was not. When I did the blog originally, I was very structured on how to write them. On starting up again, I wanted to free the writing form from how I did it. But I couldn’t get it to work.
So a month later I went to another new bar and just started there. Ignoring those three bars. I don’t even know if those bars are still open or if they are still behaving the same way that I saw them. I don’t know, and for this exercise in completeness, I don’t care. .
The three bars I went to all had the same word in their name and I couldn’t resist not going to them all in one go.
The word is “whiskey.”
The Word on Everyone’s Lips is Whiskey
Naming your bar after a type of spirit or cocktail is courting ruin.
What if you are named Side Car Saloon and your side car is sub par? How will your customers feel if you can’t deliver what’s in your name? You’re called the Side Car, and this is no respectable side car. Good day sir!
In my initial tour of the bars of Worcester, I went to two places named after drinks: Sake Bomb and Mai Tai. I didn’t see anyone drink a sake bomb at said location, but my opinion is that you shouldn’t set yourself up by having the word bomb in your name. “Sake is not the only thing to bomb here.” I had very bad service there so I felt like it did bomb for me.
At Mai Tai, I did see the eponymous drink made. From pre made ingredients living in a plastic bottle at the well of the bar. That place felt prefabricated as well. From the Asian-Restaurant-Bar-Popular-With-The-Kids kit that you order from the back of a comic book. Some assembly required.
In those 144 bars, none of them had the word Whiskey in the name. Not one.
Then I take a hiatus for six months and we suddenly get Whiskey (a bar on Main Street), Whiskey Tango (on Park Avenue) and Whiskey on Water (which is on Water Street, natch).
Is there any reason why, out of the very veil of nothingness, Worcester has been suddenly graced with three bars all with pretty much the same name?
Why whiskey? Is it the hot new alcoholic thing? Like Zima?
Did three enterprising bar owners all lose bets?
Why not another alcoholic main stay? Couldn’t we have four bars all names Vodka? Martini is a good name for a bunch of bars. How bout a string of roadside dives all named Hooch (which could mean either blinding cheap liquor or the beloved movie dog).
What’s in a Name?
When I say a bar is named Whiskey, do you not think then that it is a whiskey bar? I do. So the question then is, what is a whiskey bar?
Let me hazard an uninformed opinion (as all my opinions are).
The bar is tony, with hardwood, comfortable chairs and stools. If one could smoke there would be ornamental ash trays ready to take any stoogie. Their would be a menu of opulently priced examples and fine glasses to drink them in. The conversation is muted and I imagine jazz being played.
Let me put it another way, a whiskey bar is the kind of place a Bond villain drinks at.
That’s what you imagine. Not just me. When i told people I went to three bars named Whiskey everyone asked about them in regard to it being a place where you can drink expensive liquors in a comfortable environment.
And I then I said, “No, none of them were whiskey bars. Not a one.”
How the Evening Went (an Overview)
At a little after nine in the evening I went to Whiskey, which is on Main Street. I was there for no more than ten minutes.I was the only person in the bar. I then arrived at Whiskey Tango on Park Avenue at 9:35 where I was the only person in the bar. I talked to the bartender for forty minutes or so. It was after ten when I made it to Whiskey on Water, on Water Street. It was busy in there and getting more packed by the minute. They were setting up the velvet rope outside when I left twenty minutes later.
Only Whiskey on Water had a whiskey menu. But no one I saw was drinking one, and I was looking. The bartender from Whiskey Tango and I were talking about whiskey bars and he was dismissive about Whiskey on Water. The story he told was a friend of his who loves good scotch went as soon as Whiskey on Water opened and got the pretty bartender’s attention and asked her some detailed questions about the whiskey they had. She rolled her eyes, gave him the menu and said, “Just look at the menu.” She then turned and left him. He left the bar without ordering.
This is just the story from a guy working at a rival bar with Whiskey in its name. But my impression of Whiskey on Water allows me to believe it.
So the thing they all three had in common was that none of them were whiskey bars and the cups.
The Common Denominator (the Cups)
All of three of the bars with whiskey in the name served me my (not inexpensive) gin and tonics in plastic cups. All three. I was beginning to wonder if the bartenders were calling ahead and telling the next stop I was coming and I was not deserving of glassware.
Going through my notes of the first 144 bars, I can only find four bars wear I was served in plastic cups: Cisero’s, , Pleasant Cafe, City Lights and Azteca. The rates of plastic cup appearances are very low. But then I come back and hit three in a row and get my seven dollar drink in a plastic cup.
If this sounds like I am being a snob, then you have been paying attention. I am being a snob. Listen, I have gone to 150 plus bars and in most cases have had subpar gin and tonics, the least I want is a comfortable, solid piece of glass to hold onto. Like an anchor.
Also, the plastic cup can tell a little bit about the place. Dive bar. College bar. Bar where they don’t know any better. What is this thing called a dish washer?
What is the Proper Hunting Season for Bars?
For those that have read this blog, you know that I have been dogged by the fact that I can’t seem to get to a bar when it is busy and full of its proper element.
This is me. I have a family and going out at ten on Friday or Saturday is not something I can swing often. I would go in the middle of the day, on a Sunday perhaps. Or Wednesdays or other times when the hunting is thin.
My response was always, you go to 144 bars You see if you can swing prime bar time for all of them. And when is that really? I remember going to one bar and they said that every other Thursday is the time to be here, every other Thursday when they have the karaoke machine going. That’s when I should be there. Mark you calendar.
The truth is, every bar is an odd eco system where only luck, and knowledge will allow you to discover when the good times to go to the bar are.
Or maybe the bar is just a raft on a large sea, floating far away from any of known shipping lanes and it is only just some time before the next big storm will topple it over.
The First Bar Named Whiskey
It tries mightily to look like a whiskey bar, but the place is more open than I would expect. Maybe I think that because it is empty.
I sit at the bar. The girl behind the bar gives me my plastic cup. She is setting up for the night when people might show up to go crazy. The bar manager is there asking the girl where the other bartender is, shouldn’t she be here already? She gives an excuse or two and the bar manager doesn’t believe it.
The drink is seven dollars and alright at best. The emptiness of the place is exhausting.
I look and the the bar has a small shelf of high end whiskeys but that is clearly ornamental. On either side of the bar are sets of spirits but on inspection, each side has the same spirits, so the selection looks big, but is pretty small.
I ask the bartender when it gets busy, she says at eleven or later, it can get pretty crazy.
There is something off about a place that only is alive for a few hours a week. With some places you can tell its going to get busy and alive later, I felt this place was questionable. Maybe people will come. Maybe.
The bartender said to me, “Sorry, you came too early, you missed all the craziness.” Thanks, I will be fine.
The Second Bar Named Whiskey (Whiskey Tango)
No one but me and the bartender. Great, another bust. It had no special whiskeys. Just a name that was more about some vague military fetish than a desire for fine spirits. The place used to be Nuff Sed, and then it was Micky O’Neils and now it was Whiskey Tango and it looked exactly the same as the last iteration. The gin and tonic was six bucks in a plastic cup and the plastic improved the flavor.
Luckily, the bartender, who told me he was the bar manager, liked my Star Wars tee shirt and we chatted for a while. I got the skinny.
The bar started up with the plan of being a high end location for good spirits and wines. That didn’t happen. If people were coming in, they weren’t coming in for high end wines. As a matter of fact, most days were as anemic as this night. Then they hired this kid from Worcester State to tend bar and like magic, Whiskey Tango became a Worcester State Bar.
The issue is, when you are a Worcester Bar, you full of life and excitedment…for seven and half hours a week. Thursday thru Saturday from eleven to one thirty. There is no whiskey drinking, but a lot of beer. The place is hopping, but at all other times it is empty.
The bar manager told me tales of other bars and living the bartender life. They were fun to hear. I wished him well after forty five minutes and I figured it was time for me to move on.
Two months later, I went to the new restaurant Dead Horse Hill, and that same bartender was there. He told me he moved on. Whiskey Tango still had no action. He was happier at the new place.
As I said earlier, I really don’t know if it is still in business. Now that Worcester State is mostly empty with Summer vacation who knows who will come. That stretch of Park Avenue is known for hosting college bars. Its nice that someone was trying to create something new, but what if your potential customer base will not accept change?
There is something to be said for a quiet nearly empty bar, it can be fun. But not all the time.
We Finally Get to Whiskey on Water
When I first heard of Whiskey on Water the article mentioned that the concept was to have food trucks in the back parking lot and you can use an app to order food and it will be delivered to you. Some friends think that’s an awesome idea. I don’t know if that really happens. I didn’t see anyone with food. I just saw beer and fruity happy drinks.
Whiskey on Water is a very popular place. Scores of people were there and more we coming. Women out for a night. Guys ready to try to get some action from said groups of women. The second floor was a dance floor. Too early for dancing so a lot of High School Gym dance behavior with people congregating on the edges, waiting for critical mass for the boogying to explode.
There is nothing wrong with this type of place. It’s not the kind of place I like. There is definitely a need for a dance club because people were lining up and excited to come.
The bar is beautiful and has lovely bottles. Bottles guarded by bartenders who are more intent on looking fine and pouring Budweiser.
My one complaint was watching the men my age sitting at the bar wolf eyeing all the young women. I guess that’s part of the deal, but ick.
On the ground floor a woman was singing popular hits, accompanied by a thing young dude with guitar. She said she got a request for a song she didn’t know, so she sang it while reading the lyrics on her phone.
The gin and tonic was seven dollars and it was actually a very nice drink.
And then, the night of bars with whiskey in their names was over.
All Good Things
So that’s it. I spent a little over seventy five minutes in three bars three months ago and I have now spent four hours writing about it. I couldn’t find a way to write this. I am not sure if I wrote about it well here, but at least it is written.
Maybe my issue is that these three bars named whiskey really solidified my feeling on finding the right bar in Worcester. Two places were completely empty, but in one I had a great conversation. The guy who I had the nice talk with isn’t there anymore so why go? The last place was packed and I was completely not where I would like to be. The last place was alive and crazy and thumping and in two years it will probably be empty with the owners by themselves drinking cocktails from plastic cups, wondering why they were forsaken for the next thing, the next big bar with Whiskey in its name.
Whiskey is located at 316 Main Street
Whiskey Tango is located at 377 Park Avenue
Whiskey on Water is located at 97 Water Street