Big Screen Cuisine: Hey Bartender
Downtown Market, 435 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids
UICA, 2 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids
$35 (includes class, snacks, cocktails, Hey Bartender film admission)
In celebration of Grand Rapids Cocktail Week, on Sunday, Nov. 22 the UICA and Grand Rapids Downtown Market are hosting a hands-on cocktail class from 3–5 p.m. at the market and are pairing it with a 5:30 p.m. screening of the 2013 documentary Hey Bartender at the UICA.
The class, held at the market’s teaching kitchen, features lectures hosted by organizers from the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild. They’ll discuss the “history, practice and techniques behind making perfect cocktails.”
The market will also host its own cocktail hour with drinks and appetizers. After that is when everyone heads to the UICA to watch the documentary.
There are those who bartend to pay the bills and then there are those who bartend as a way of life. The 2013 documentary Hey Bartender follows members of the latter group as they navigate a world of upscale New York bars, decadent parties and the Mecca of cocktail culture itself: The Tales of The Cocktail festival in New Orleans.
The film, which screens Nov. 22 at UICA, begins with this quote from American journalist Pete Hamill: “The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards … above all the elusive promise of friendship and love.” From here, through a series of interviews, it delves headfirst into the wonderful world of cocktails and mixology, a scene populated with eccentric bartenders who consider their trade not only highly-skilled work, but an art form.
This is a world where bartenders wax their mustaches, wear bowties and prepare their own bitters and garnishes from local farms. They turn bartending into a ballet of sorts by spinning bottles and putting that ever-important little extra flourish into their gesture as they place the final garnish in the glass. Throughout the movie the filmmakers interview a wide array of mixologists, restaurateurs, food critics and bartenders who give first hand accounts of the resurgence of cocktail culture in America.
While the film’s subjects do have the tendency to get a bit elitist at times (I mean, we get it, you only drink at world-class bars and namedrop as often as possible), the beautiful liquid delicacies they make are more than enough reason for viewers to stick around. These gin fizzes, mint juleps and cosmopolitans are pure pieces of culinary art and watching the detailed preparation process (from crushing mint leaves to juicing fresh lemons) is enough to make any foodie drool.
The filmmakers also dig deep to uncover all sorts of interesting facts about the history of bartending, from the “Golden Era” of bartending in the 1880’s to the detrimental effects of prohibition, all the way up to the current cocktail resurgence.
Overall the film does a good job of exploring a scene some may be unfamiliar with. The drinks themselves look dazzling, the bartenders prepare them in a hypnotizing fashion, and a generous dose of history is thrown in to give viewers a firm foundation for this decadent industry. Sure, not everyone can afford to get ice flown in from Scandinavia to chill our Old Fashioned, but it sure does look delicious.