Three years ago, I was jet setting to New Orleans with a dozen members of Worcester’s service industry to attend the world’s premier trade conference for spirits. My story ran on the cover with the headline, “The Rise of the Career Bartender” and I felt so proud.
In the piece, I described a long-held view of bartenders as transient employees. I bragged about Worcester’s record number of restaurant openings (55 in just 18 months!) and explained that many owners had come to recognize professional development as a valuable tool for retaining serious talent behind the bar. I discussed fair compensation models, questions of intellectual property, and the rise of bartending as a craft vocation. Back then, I had tremendous hope for the hospitality industry’s future.
This week, I wrote a forthcoming cover story outlining the lose-lose situation restaurant workers are facing as their employers are left with no choice but to reopen amid a pandemic. Guests are on edge. The future is uncertain. The vision I imagined of Worcester’s restaurant scene three years ago has changed drastically.
Worcesterites have always been gritty. We dig in and find creative ways to persevere. We can be flexible if it means survival.
One of my favorite emerging trends over the last few months has been the availability of cocktail kits. Restaurants cannot sell hard liquor or to-go cocktails yet, although the pending Restaurant Relief Act may very well change that. Nevertheless, bars across the city have wowed me with fresh squeezed mixers to which I am free to add my own spirits.
I’m partial to margaritas, which, as it turns out are also the most popular cocktail in the USA according to a recent analysis of Google search data by Scenic Cruises & Tours who reported that, “Online searches for cocktail recipes increased a whopping +640% since March with people spending more time at home.” I admit I’ve tried to make my own margs, but they don’t measure up to the likes of Armsby Abbey, deadhorse hill, and Mezcal who have provided me with expertly prepared mix over the last few months.
I was surprised to see that the mojito is the world’s favorite cocktail. The data compiled by SCT revealed mojitos as the most searched drink across 60 countries. It came in at number 5 in America. The mojito is easy to make with 1.5 oz. white rum, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, 2 tsp. sugar, mint leaves, and soda water.
I was not, however, shocked to find that the fastest growing cocktail worldwide is the Aperol Spritz, which has seen a +179% rise in online searches over the past 5 years gaining particular traction in Europe. It’s simple to make at home with 1 ¼ oz. of Aperol, 2 oz. Prosecco (I like Kris Sparkling Cuvee) and a splash of soda water over ice.
I know the year ahead for bars and restaurants is concerning, but the least we can do is to keep cocktail culture alive. We’ve come so far in elevating Worcester’s culinary landscape over the last decade and I want to hold our ground. Whether you invest in properly made mix from a local establishment or bungle your own version at home until you get it right, I think it’s important to maintain the level of sophistication Worcester’s diners have come to value. If anything, quarantine has brought a whole new appreciation for bartenders as the keepers of their craft.
While we’re thinking of it, Venmo your favorite restaurant worker a tip and let them know you care. You can tell them, you’ll see them on the other side.