Food News

Burning Question: Is It OK To Drink From The Well?

Yeah, yeah. Red state, blue state, Sunni versus Shiite, McCain battling against his "maverick" past--big deal.

These are but minor little spats compared to the one issue that threatens to rend our social fabric, set brother against brother and perhaps even topple our sacred devotion to progress: in these troubled economic times, is it okay to drink from the well?


"No, it's never OK," exclaims Mike Wallace, bartender at The Old Monk, "I'm not going to drink any tequila with a plastic sombrero on top of it." He's joined in his anti-well stance by Chris Chapman. "This has been down here for years," says the Hector's on Henderson fixture, waving a nearly full bottle of cheap Scotch. "I can't remember the last time I poured it."

But the issue has well-wishers equally riled. "Yes it's OK," counters Mr. Dallas, beacon of hope for lounge lizards everywhere and nightlife writer for the Dallas Morning News. "We've all got to cinch our belts." Besides, adds Dan O'Keefe, bartender at Central 214, "it really depends on the bar."

Clearly America is a house divided.

So how to resolve this crisis? While W twiddles away the lamest days of his presidency and Obama tweaks his plan for a college football playoff, the Burning Question crew set out to mend this desperate rift...and, you know, have a few cocktails.

Well drinks, as most of you know, consist of inexpensive brands semi-concealed underneath the bar. For the most part they end up in mixed drinks--screwdrivers, rum and Coke, that sort of thing--unless patrons "call" a particular label. Depending on the bar and the type of alcohol, bottles pulled from the well can be rather decent. Rattlesnake Bar in the Ritz, for instance, keeps Jack Daniel's as their cheap whiskey. And Monopolowa, one of the finest vodka's in the world, used to end up in the discard tray largely because of it's modest price.

But wells also contain those gut-dissolving potions in plastic jugs. And tequilas decked in colorful trinkets. Simply put, there's a stigma attached to the act of sitting down at the bar, pointing to one of the rack of no-name bottles, and ordering a drink, straight up.

"I don't get that many calls for well alcohol," Chapman explains. Even if customers can no longer afford Oban or Grey Goose, he adds, "they're either not going to come out, or they're going to order what they want." And if you down too much of the McCormick's brand gin, Wallace warns, "you'll probably have a really shitty hangover."

True, but you can afford to go back for more.

"You get what you pay for," O'Keefe admits, meaning drink at your own risk from plastic bottles. But at the same time, he points out, some of the blended whiskeys wasting away in wells aren't that much different than Dewar's or Old Grouse.

"People are influenced by price and brand," Mr. Dallas says, alluding to the popularity of Grey Goose over Monopolowa and Stoli.

Drinking on the cheap, Wallace finally acknowledges, is about the same thing as people calling Dalmore and Coke or a Grey Goose cosmo--spending good money for the taste of a mixer. "Just order from the well."

So there it is--the Burning Question crew managed to find some common ground between warring factions. If there were Nobel prizes offered for, say, preserving democracy, or at least for not contributing to a cure for alcoholism, we're pretty much in line. OK to drink from the well? Yes and no, depending on what the bar stocks and the type of alcohol one prefers. But few people resort to such a desperate measure.

Besides, Wallace says, "you're only saving a buck or two."
--Dave Faries