Toby Cecchini's lavish and loving descriptions of alcohol really make you want to have a drink; in fact, I'm a beer-only guy, and found myself hankering for a martini or Manhattan while I read Cosmopolitan. Not with the author, though, who maintains the effete and disdainful tone of a French snob throughout. There isn't a single instance in this book's 238 pages where a $10,000 word and/or a French turn of phrase wasn't substituted for the $10 version, regardless of the fit. This was as goofy as it was distracting, and I can't imagine it endears the smarmy author to anyone who reads this.
Case in point: "I always marveled at the élan with which he pulled off that simple action; my efforts at duplicating this maneuver always end with me bludgeoning the recalcitrant glacier mercilessly as chips fly helter skelter." Um, call me crazy, but isn't that a mite highfalutin to describe watching someone chip ice? And while describing the staff at a restaurant where he used to work: "Even now, at the remove of more than a decade, it is easy to conjure, but difficult to summarize, the atmosphere of that floor, its peculiar combination of superfluous terror and incestuous, striving kinesis." Pal, the only reason it might be "difficult to summarize" a bunch of the interaction between a bunch of waiters, cooks, and bartenders, is because you're trying too hard. The last time I saw this much use of the word "lovely" was when I brought our daughter to my grandmother's senior center,
It gets worse. There is an obnoxious Europhilic tone throughout Cosmopolitan, as if all Americans are yokels undeserving of the drinks he pours (sorry, "the gustatory libations he decants")- Cecchini fantasizes of his dream bar, which among other things, only accepts Euros; he refuses to serve a Cosmopolitan to a customer who asks for a "Cosmo"; he sizes up customers approaching his bar, and thinks through some gift of human insight he knows everything about them from just their walk or drink order; he describes a wine argument with a friend, during which Cecchini referred to a Pomerol as a Pommard- the friend gloated about it for two years (anyone call for an Ambiguously Gay Duo?). There are many instances when Cecchini describes standing behind the bar and observing his customers from a pompous distance, having a laugh or a shake of his head at the human condition, as if he's so above their depredations because of the two foot wall of oak between them.
On the plus side, this guy clearly loves his craft, and brings enough experience and perspective to the table to keep his audience interested. I wouldn't have thought there were this many aspects to discuss about bartending, and was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of topics: the adulation met by workers at a city hot spot; the difficulties of entering the NYC restaurant business (this book is a cautionary tale against getting in the New York food game); the process of stocking the bar's alcohol in a way to ensure only those crowds you want; the art of being a good listener without getting too involved; crowd control; interesting and unpredictable barflies; and the chemistry necessary between two bartenders working the same shift.
Cacchini almost redeems himself with a couple of uncharacteristically humble stories at the end: the first describes his morbid curiosity and horror at hosting a raunchy bachelor party at his bar, and his struggles to get closer to observe the action, while at the same time maintaining professionalism. The second involves a trip to Europe, stumbling into a family-run bar and getting swept up in a week of unconditional hospitality. These two anecdotes aren't enough, though, to bring this snob back to Earth.