"A situation of urban comfort" is one of the definitions
Merriam-Webster gives for the word "civilization." A sure sign of
civilization is the presence of a tavern, saloon or pub --- a bar.
Certainly, what goes on inside these establishments will
occasionally resemble something from humankind's knuckle dragging
past. But the existence and popularity of commercial establishments
dedicated to the ritualistic preparation and distribution of
alcoholic beverages is a reassuring indication that as members of
the human race we share a common desire for "a situation of urban
comfort." On the rocks, up, twist, no twist, or even just tonic
without the vodka, thank you, the bar is both evidence of and an
escape from whatever passes these days for civilization.
That the tavern plays a vital role in the human experience can be
argued over cocktails. But Toby Cecchini, author of COSMOPOLITAN: A
Bartender's Life, understands the bar as a common and familiar
stage on which the human experience plays out. His delightfully
entertaining and insightful memoir offers plentiful evidence of his
appreciation for the complex juxtaposition of tradition, ritual,
fantasy, reality, irony and expectation that are the DNA of any
Cecchini takes very seriously the role and responsibilities of the
bartender: the craft, skill and knowledge that come into play
behind the bar, and the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle)
manipulations necessary to exert some semblance of control over
what goes on in front of it. But he also has the sharp wit, keen
eye and sense of fun to see the entertainment value in a job that
requires his professionalism to remain intact while his customers
gleefully rid themselves of that particular burden.
He clearly loves the job. This affection, coupled with a writing
style that combines hip downtown street wisdom with uptown
eloquence and sophistication, makes COSMOPOLITAN: A Bartender's
Life as welcome and inviting a slice of urban comfort as the
crackle of ice in a tumbler of good scotch.
Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 21, 2011