Our perspective defines us all. It is unique to each of us. It is a summation of all that we are, all that has happened through our individual walks of life, and our loves, hurts, and laughs. It is what makes any one of us, “us.” It is our interpretation of the world through our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and hearts. Our interpretation of our perception becomes our ethos and logos - our point of view. Yes, we did go to the dictionary a few times. This week’s ShakeStir article is us sharing our wonder about how difficult it is to have a philosophical perspective and a cohesive point of view in this “pleasing every guest” world we all try to scratch out a living in.
With perspective also comes point of view. Point of view takes into account your perspective, but is also a marginalizing of the risks when setting out to open a new place. If pure perspective is somehow magic, a strong, concise point of view is a strategic, thoughtful plan that is something akin to a chess game where all the pieces are other bars and restaurants. You must have a point of view. Decisions have to be made. It is very precise. When any one of us walks into a bar, a story is told starting at the first thing that catches your eye, and ending with the last thing you taste. Point of view is that well-woven tale that keeps you engaged throughout your entire evening.
There are many successful restaurateurs in our country and we would argue one thing that makes multiple properties successful is point of view. This seems almost elementary to mention, but think of all the times you have been somewhere and the menu doesn't have any identity, the drinks all have citrus in them, or there are six drinks and five of them are vodka (and it’s not a vodka bar), or you have Thai skewers alongside flatbread and then Coca Cola braised ribs - little somethin' for everyone! Trying to be everything to everyone is to lack a point of view (unless your place is called Cornucopia or Hodge Podge). We don't want to eat or drink at a place like this. Inevitably, it becomes difficult to attract a talented and engaged staff as they are opting out for bars and restaurants that scratch this professional itch. Quick glances into the kitchen show you a staff that doesn't look engaged. Your eyes wander the room and the art isn't harmonizing with the light fixtures. The more attention you try to pay, the blurrier it all gets. This place lacks a point of view - most likely, trying too hard to please everyone.
Achieving a strong point of view can take restraint, and that can be painful. Considering all the potential products you want to put on the backbar is exciting. But then it’s like rain on your wedding day when you are forced to deal with the reality that there isn't enough room, or some of them don't make sense. Editing is never fun. We all love the opportunity to be kids in a candy story of when it comes to choosing the spirits for a backbar. But that “carte blanche” is not a typical situation, nor always appropriate. Some places are whisky centric, others Latin American spirits only, or possibly "We're the best gin bar in the world." Does being the best mean having the most? Are these choices of style, or substance? Does design matter if it tastes that good and the service is that on point? Couple of candles and card tables and call it a day? It gets tough; we empathize with everyone having to make these choices.
We have spent a great deal of time going back and forth, harangued by having to answer these hard questions, and make these choices. Every place has to have its ethos and logos. Some are just more highly developed. We as consumers understand this on a very intuitive level, and we as industry consumers have an even greater gauge for bullsh!t. Too much time in bars and restaurants, and you start to see past the comings and goings - it becomes a language in motion. If it’s clunky, you see it right away. By sticking to certain choices and training intensely on the reasons why things are the way they are, a mythology is built and can be passed on into the minds and mouths of the press and the public. They want to be led, told a story, and held through their experience by someone who loves to tell a good story. If you build this magic castle, they will come.
We are currently in the process of building a bar in SF. The process has taken much longer than we would have ever thought at the outset. Mired in this place where the lease is signed and the process is bogged down en route to opening, we have had a lot of time to ruminate on our original designs and concepts, many of which have changed. We have also had the same time to reflect on our menu concepts and those are also in a state of constant flux. Some of the initial ideas we were so confident we were original on have found homes, being born into other people’s bars out of the collective unconscious. This moving ball of energy we live in shares whether you want it to or not. Often times when the idea light bulb goes off, we think it just lit up someone else at the same time and now it's a race to the finish. And then there is the creeping doubt, “Is it possible to be 'the first' or original... and then does it even matter?” What does matter?
What matters is if you are true to yourself, your ideas, your thoughts, and that you have the sack to not give up on your ideas... the things that you love and come from within you, even when the public doesn't love it from day one. To have the courage to be the tiny percent that breaks through the glass ceiling of "playing it safe" and ending up in the quiet vacuum of truly individual perspective is the result of a strong point of view. And then does it matter? We have always been open with all of our recipes and techniques. Keeping secrets is too much work and that mindset only limits the growth of this innately artistic business. But that desire to be first is innate in us, and we're pretty sure we aren't the only ones. With that being said, it’s less about being first, per se, and more about innovation – pushing to break new ground and make an impact on the profession we all love so much.
It requires bravery to stand alone and dream without compromise. This takes into account that true iconoclastic places and people are rare. There are a large number of places that are thorough and thoughtful in their design and menus. They resemble and pay homage to one another respectfully, and are welcome additions to every city. Then, there are the places that have achieved institutional status over time, or have become the darlings of the public upon opening. These places have a strong point of view, and honest perspective. What are we hunting? Is there an alchemical formula for true individual expression and execution? Is that even possible?
This pain in the a** question (which probably drove Van Gogh to cut off an ear), has paralyzed a good number of creative people whose voices were muted by the inability to come up with an answer.
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