Bar Book Review: Cosmopolitan

Tony Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan is a memoir written by a bartender, but don’t be fooled: it isn’t just a bunch of drunken stories like Tucker Max’s memoir I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Instead, it is a surprisingly funny, readable, and erudite tome about the bartending life.

Cosmopolitan : a bartender's LifeThe book started out as a series of diaries for Slate, written in 2000, so it’s no coincidence that this 2003 book reads a bit like a series of diary entries. There is no cohesive narrative here, so if you’re looking for something about what it’s like to grow up being a bartender, look somewhere else. As a said, this is a memoir, not an autobiography. In fact, it contains a lot more of Cecchini’s opinions than it does anything else. For instance, he mentions that he has a girlfriend a few times, but he never says anything about her. Nothing.

If you’re not familiar with Cecchini, he is one of two or three people who are said to have invented the Cosmo, even though none of those three actually claims to have done so. As Cecchini says in his entry on Slate,

One night Mesa showed me this drink some girl from San Francisco had made for her at Life CafĂ©, where Mesa had worked before. It was called the cosmopolitan, and she made it with vodka, Rose’s lime, and grenadine. It looked pretty but tasted awful: jarring and artificially sweet and just wrong. I liked the presentation, though, up in a martini glass, so I decided we could take this and make it much better. Absolut had just come out with Citron, so we wanted to use that. We substituted fresh lime juice for the Rose’s and put Cointreau in it to soften the citric bite. We added just enough cranberry juice to give it a demure pink blush. We decided it had to be shaken extra hard and long, to make it frothy and opaque, and garnished it with a lemon twist for color and flourish. We thought it was pretty good, like a high-end, girlish kamikaze. The wait staff went nuts for our concoction and started soaking up dozens during their after-hours binges. For a few months the reconceived cosmo was just our private staff drink. But soon enough the staff started raving about them to their friends and some of their favorite regulars, and from there the floodgates opened.

So the guy has some credibility in the bartending arena. Now he is part owner and bartender at Passerby, a former Chelsea bar that is now closed.

One of the things I like about Cecchini is the number of allusions he makes to everything. They’re all over the place, from name-dropping about so-so famous artists and writers to making grand literary allusions to books I’m not familiar with. And he doesn’t explain anything. If you don’t know who Basquiat is when you come across his name in Cosmopolitan, well, you will just have to look it up. It’s a bit strange to read something about a bartender and to see references to obscure works of literature, but it also makes it fun.

The one thing I don’t really like about Cosmopolitan is the persona that Cecchini adopts. He comes across as a bit of a snob. Sometimes he appears perfectly fine pouring someone a draft beer, but then other times, he rails against some new drink. Even the way he insists that he doesn’t really drink much is a bit off-putting. After all, we’re reading a book about a bartender. Therefore, we’re all drinkers. He claims he’s never had a whole Cosmopolitan even. That’s just bad manners.

In the whole, Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan works, and it’s fun, even if the persona does get a bit tiring.

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