Matt Pre­ston:

Laments time spent in the bar from hell

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSLE LIVING -

I’VE just been to the worst bar in the world. Over the years, I’ve been to some shock­ers, so why was this the worst? Only an as­sess­ment of my drink­ing past can shed light on the truth.


Aus­tralia has some of the best bars and bar­tenders in the world. Even so, there are bar­keeps that you fear to ask for ad­vice on what to drink. Don’t think that your choice will im­press them ei­ther. That Red Hook or Boule­vardier you or­dered will still be greeted by the haughty mixol­o­gist as if you had asked for a generic bour­bon and cola.

I could deal with this if it didn’t take 45 min­utes to make each drink, and the gar­nishes didn’t need to be mas­saged, twisted, scorched or tram­pled on by a herd of teeny musk ox.


While I ap­pre­ci­ate the ro­mance of bar­rel-aged cock­tails or in­di­vid­ual bot­tles of your favourite tip­ple served in ice buck­ets, I think we can do with­out Ne­groni on tap and Cos­mos made in bulk in a fac­tory out by the air­port. If I’d wanted some­thing quick I’d have or­dered a gin and soda, and let you put some spanked dill in it to make you feel like you were still prac­tis­ing your craft.


No fancy nuts? No band? No aper­i­tivo snacks? Then I say no charge! Isn’t the money I’ll pay for drinks am­ple rental for this bar stool?


These can take many forms: the racist lit­tle-Eng­lan­der who runs that quaint pub on the vil­lage green, the tat­too sleeved hip­ster who’s do­ing you a favour by tak­ing your money. But these pale be­side the pub owner I worked with who had once tried to saw his twin brother’s head off with a bro­ken beer glass. Ah, good times.


Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly won­der­ful bars in ho­tels around the world. From New York rooftops and LA pool­sides to the home away from home feel of the al­ways pump­ing bar at The Vine­yard in Cape Town, the Syd­ney quay­side views at Pier One and the im­pec­ca­ble cock­tails at the Amer­i­can Bar in Lon­don’s Savoy. Make mine a Corpse Re­viver #2 please.And in some Mus­lim coun­tries, of course, the ho­tel is the only place where you can drink.

But at their worst, they are sad places full of lonely, cor­po­rate road war­riors drink­ing by them­selves and the oc­ca­sional dead-eyed woman. These bars are par­tic­u­larly sad if there’s live mu­sic.The Su­ma­tran jazz trio play­ing bad but jaunty ver­sions of Ce­line Dion hits on the 50th floor of a Shang­hai five-star was a low point for me.


At least at a ho­tel bar you are un­likely to get shot in the face. When I lived in Ber­mond­sey, deep in that part of the East End no­to­ri­ous for il­le­gal dog fights, hard­ened crim­i­nals and even harder cop­pers, my lo­cal had a strict “no guns” pol­icy for both po­lice and crims. Still, it’s amaz­ing the dam­age that can be done with an ash­tray.


If there is one place worse than shabby, low-life bars round ma­jor rail­way sta­tions, it is their dock­side coun­ter­parts. These are the sorts of venues where film noir pri­vate eyes might go to garner in­for­ma­tion by break­ing fin­gers and sweet talk­ing dames who are down on their luck.

In re­al­ity, though, there’s no such ro­mance about a bar where the clien­tele carry knives never in­tended for cut­ting tricky nau­ti­cal knots. I’ve had to run away from a few of these.


It was my last night in Tokyo and spir­its were high. On the sur­face, this cor­ner bar looked great. Mod­ern ex­te­rior, a heavy door that needs two to swing it open and the prom­ise of a dozen craft beers on tap. What made it the worst bar in the world wasn’t a clien­tele of heav­ily tat­tooed yakuza pick­ing their nails with katanas or a dead rat in the dunny (other places, other times), but the to­tal ab­sence of any­thing re­sem­bling hos­pi­tal­ity or at­mos­phere.

The room sucked life from all who en­tered.The decor was aim­ing for cool and min­i­mal­ist but in­stead got ster­ile and soul­less. It was empty too – just a ta­ble of three nurs­ing long-flat ales.

Then there were the rules, rules that even in the hottest bars would be in­de­fen­si­ble. No big ta­bles. No phones. No loud con­ver­sa­tion. No seat for the friend who’d just joined us un­til she bought a drink. Oh, and that no phone rule also ex­tended to us­ing your phone to take pho­tos.The fi­nal straw,how­ever, was the ban on loud laugh­ing.What other kind of laugh­ing is there?

We hastily con­sumed our $20 beers and re­lo­cated to an empty, one-man cock­tail bar over the road where a bar­tender in a crisp white jacket and nifty bow tie mixed clas­sic drinks served in di­a­mond-etched glasses.

We made our own mu­sic, he made a healthy profit and to­gether we turned a bar dis­as­ter into a suc­cess.

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