It’s All in the Details

review by Rachel DelRocco 
January 15, 2018

It’s not often that a book comes around in the cocktail world that can claim a space next to those of cocktail legends like Jerry Thomas and Jeff “Beachbum” Berry but Meehan’s Bartender Manual earns its spot.

An acclaimed bartender, Jim Meehan cut his teeth at Gramercy Tavern and Pegu Club in NYC before opening PDT in 2007, a speakeasy behind a phone booth in a hot-dog stand that’s become famous for its craft cocktails. He’s since become a partner in Prairie School, a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired bar in Chicago’s West Loop; he also runs a consultancy, Mixography, Inc. Meehan’s Bartender Manual is a compilation of all the knowledge he’s amassed in the process, a 20-year climb that started with tending bar during his University of Wisconsin days. 

From the first page, the book stands out for its viewpoint that a bartender’s job is not just about the drinks. The beginning of the book, in fact, is devoted to design, from location scouting to décor. The level of thought and detail is remarkable: Floor plans of existing bars highlight the grace and economy of a well-planned space while tips alert the reader to just how much thought goes into creating a comfortable and functional space—like making sure the chairs are heavy enough not to fall over when a purse or bag hangs off the back.

illustration of Jim Meehan copyright © 2017 by Gianmarco Magnani
illustration of Jim Meehan copyright © 2017 by Gianmarco Magnani
Meehan takes readers behind the bar as well, touching on everything from glassware temperature and best shaker tins to new-wave machinery and a proper ice program. He even takes us through a complicated real-time ticket order of cocktails, explaining how to shake, stir and swizzle your way through the onslaught while remaining a gracious host. It’s an homage to the degree of organization, attention and grace essential to a bartender’s job.

There are recipes as well, from vintage classics through contemporary innovations, many accompanied by personal stories and historical backgrounds that make compelling reading even if you’re not planning to mix a drink. If you are, you’ll want to read them, too, for all the tricks he offers that will up your game, whether it’s a tip on how to perfect a spice rim or his method for executing a hot drink without a nostril-burning blast of alcohol. (See his recipe for “Hot Whiskey”.)

With words of wisdom from industry leaders splashed throughout, Meehan’s Bartender Manual is not only a useful guide to mixing good drinks, it’s a call to bartenders to shift gears and focus on the bar as a whole—including everything from the comfort of the customer to the well-being of the staff.

This review appears in the print edtion of the February 2018 issue.
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Cocktail Recipe

Hot Whiskey

reprinted from Meehan’s Bartender Manual, by Jim Meehan