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Bouncer Lives the Artisanal Life at Bar Agricole 

Wednesday, May 4 2011

The cynical critic in me, the bitch, does not want to like places like Bar Agricole. It is au courant, trendy, artsy, pricey, Alice Watersy, reclaimed-woodsy, thoughtful-stemware-choice-y, and full of artisanal concrete, glass, and lumber. Its menu has words like gems, gnudi, remoulade, gums, and cardoon. It describes itself as an urban tavern, and it uses farmers' market ingredients in its cocktails, which, to my mind, meant that it would be the kind of place that takes its drink-making so seriously that it takes upward of 15 minutes to get the booze placed in front of you. No bar of this kind has yet been able to combine a foodie approach to bartending with our expectations of fast service. I think these maverick bar owners are waiting for the paradigm to shift; eventually, they hope, people will equate speedy drink delivery with the evils of fast food. Anything worth getting is worth waiting for, they think.

So this is all the mental baggage I showed up with when I arrived at Bar Agricole. It sits on 11th Street near Harrison, a few doors down from Slim's. There is still no word on whether the same woman who is trying to shut down Slim's because the noise keeps her up at night is also bummed about the hundreds of people shuffling in and out of Bar Agricole. "Slim's put a sign on their door saying that all their problems were due to one woman, and they posted her picture," said my friend Quinn. Though I completely agree with the Slim's camp — the woman has what an English major might call hubris — but posting her picture, if that did happen, seems a bit lame. I wonder if she has countered by posting a shot of Boz Scaggs in a rifle-sight on her mailbox.

I arrived at Bar Agricole on a Monday evening and hadn't thought to make a reservation on what is generally a very slow night in the nightclub trade. I was wrong. Every table was taken, and there was only one seat left at the bar. The very personable host said he would put me on the waiting list. My friends hadn't arrived yet anyway, so I sat on the remaining stool. The bartender was busy creating something very involved, so I had time to really give the place a gander. It is expansive and open, yet warm. From what I have read, everything that has gone into the place from the napkins to the glass ceiling sculptures has been born from the bowels of an artist, and it shows. Even the cocktail shakers are singularly beautiful, curved and burnished with a faint golden hue. When they rest on the bar, upside down, they look like gilded Russian nesting dolls. Then there are the aprons worn by each staff member, which look like they were designed by OshKosh B'Gosh. Each staffer wears them differently. My bartender, Eric, wore his full-flap up, like someone manning a barbecue. Barback Dan wore his folded over around his waist. I point out these things to show that Bar Agricole's attention to detail did not go unnoticed by someone like me, who pays attention to details. There was a certain sweetness to the whole place that was endearing. Someone has poured his or her heart and soul into it. You can't fake authenticity.

The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the herb-infused limeade, which I ordered and then waited to see how long it would take to arrive. I waited for a bit, and then Eric told me someone was taking care of it at the other bar, motioning to a long banquette behind me. "Okay, cool," I said, at least grateful that he noticed. Then a fellow came and grabbed some limes, so I figured he was the mixologist and these were to be my designated citruses: "Hello, my name is Stanley, and I will be your lime for tonight." Eventually I was presented with my drink by a third person, approximately eight minutes after I had ordered it. Less than the 15 I have waited at places like Beretta, but longer than it takes to get a PBR at the Phone Booth. The drink was tart and tasty and definitely worth the wait, and I could already feel my paradigm shifting, because if I give up my obsession with timeliness, I might actually start to enjoy myself more when I go to these kinds of places. What is the rush, anyway? It comes down to this: If I feel like a bar is being run by douchebags who think they are better than me, then I refuse to wait forever for a $10 drink. If, however, I am in an inviting tavern created by Betty Crocker's food-forward, successful grandnephew, with cute lil' engineer aprons and ice cubes hand-chiseled by Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly, waiting a bit for a delicious concoction is fine.

"I hope we aren't sitting here when the big one comes," said a well-dressed guy to my left, referring to the giant glass sculpture hanging over us. It was composed of hundreds of tubes fused together into sheets, then posed in a massive undulation. The guy looked familiar, like he was in the Eagles or something. From the sound of it, he was an artisanal whiskey seller, and he used every opportunity to push some on the bartender. "I have a bottle in my trunk," he said matter-of-factly, as if coming there to try and find a new customer was entirely an afterthought. That must be one of the more annoying things about doing a bar this way; every farmer and rye fermenter from here to Needles wants to grab your ear. You must have to be very patient. Your paradigm must shift from a go-getter business mogul to a guy standing in a field in his overalls, talking about cloud patterns and probably rain.

I finished my drink and sat there with just a glass of water in front of me for a while, which was okay, because I couldn't make up my mind what to have next. My friends still hadn't arrived. What was taking them so long? Patience, I told myself. I ordered the cheese plate. The Eagles guy toasted his glass to me like he wanted to keep talking. I smiled, then politely looked away.

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Katy St. Clair

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