Before launching into this week's topic we must pat ourselves on the back for a vaguely heroic act. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a man we presume to be New Zealand's ambassador to Canada wound up in our beat-up Kia. Because our conversation focused on beer and American tastes in the foamy staple, the Burning Question crew naturally became suspicious and began plying him with McCormick's gin, incapacitating him for days. We now believe our actions that evening thwarted a covert plot to stock this country's sacred shelves with Labatt and Export Gold.
OK, back to the question at hand. Now, when we pursue stories of this nature, it's not sufficient to merely read up on the topic and call a couple experts. No, our understanding of journalistic integrity requires that we spend quite a bit of time in the field. So forgive us if our deep professional commitment to sling back more alcohol than the entire city of Dublin leads to a minor lapse or two. For example, we don't remember who made the following comment or where we were at the time, but it seems particularly appropriate:
"A man drinking a cosmo is a man wearing pink panties."
The nonverbal language of alcohol
Every time a person orders beer or scotch or whatever, they send a message to other bar patrons. In the nonverbal parlance of nightlife, dark liquors mean one thing, clear liquors another and girly drinks something else entirely. "The way the person drinks and how they carry themselves at the bar is a reflection of personality," explains Jack Freysinger, bar manager at Cool River.
But there's a twist. The information presented by each drink is subject to a complex set of variables. Take brown spirits. Sipping whiskey suggests a degree of self-assuredness. Some people bury the stuff under a hefty splash of Coke, others water it down with ice. And what of those lapping it neat? "People who drink it neat, they like the taste," says Danny Versfelt of Al Biernat's, "as opposed to those who want to get shitfaced."
Gender changes expectations too. While colorful, fruity drinks will emasculate a guy (or so we've heard), women may find their status enhanced by ordering something considered "male." For instance, Phil Natale of Sense claims a female patron swirling scotch says "take me seriously." Of course, an unsteady babe pounding cheap tequila shots, now that's another matter. But, says Kerri Lytle, bartender at Cretia's on McKinney, "a woman drinking a real martini, that's a more mature woman."
Vodka brings up other issues, especially when shaken into a long-stemmed cocktail glass. "Martini drinkers are looking for something," Freysinger explains. "They want to look sophisticated or be a part of something they aren't." Apparently he failed to notice we were slurping martinis and trying to impress a cute blonde. The clear spirit's unique odorless, colorless, tasteless character and wild popularity makes brand the most important factor where image is concerned. "Vodka is the drink of choice at the moment," says Old Monk's Brian Rudolph, "but you don't have to be very educated about the product." People in this market tend toward upscale names such as Grey Goose. But, cautions William Chappell of Old Republic, "there's only a slight variation between high- and low-end vodkas...but we're in Uptown. Image is everything."
To put it another way, by identifying with a well-known label, a guy increases his chance of hooking up with an equally superficial babe. But what of the Burning Question crew's official vodka, often found in the well?
"Monopolowa?" Chappell says. "You're probably already getting laid that night, and you're not worried."
By the way, we've always considered Chappell a wise, worldly and talented bartender.
Stemware also shapes the message of a drink. Chappell contends the elegant cocktail glass used for various incarnations of the martini frightens young men uncertain of their masculinity, and Neal Hargis of the Ginger Man agrees. "Belgian ales come with their own glass, but a lot of guys won't carry around a glass like this," he points out while holding up a tulip-lipped stein.
So, what does your drink say about you?
Well, there are a few simple rules: That herd mentality associated with Grey Goose or Bud Light wins with other followers but draws scorn from educated alcoholics. Clear drinks, according to Chris Michael at Dragonfly, identify you as a metrosexual. "A manly man tends toward the brown." Jagermeister and other popular shots? Well, says Natale, "you might as well have 'professional partier' stamped on your forehead." And if a guy catches the eye of some female inebriate toward closing time? "If you're trying to pick up a chick," warns Chris Chapman at Hector's, "you don't want to order a cosmo or white Zin."
But does any of this really matter? After all, image varies according to age, gender, location and whether or not one prefers rose-colored panties. So many mixed signals...
That's why locals often just settle for the most expensive brand, Rudolph explains. "Ostentatious consumption, that's what Dallas is all about. We're the other OC."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.