Samantha Fisher definitely does not want to be a bartender. But after a breakup and breakdown in San Francisco, she decides to defer law school for a year to move to New York, crashing on her best friend’s couch. When she is offered a job at Joe’s Apothecary, a beloved neighborhood bar in Brooklyn, she tells herself it’s only temporary.
Each chapter begins with a cocktail history spiel, which clunks up the narrative like a few too many scoops of pebbled ice. Most cocktail back stories turn out to be cases of he-said — mostly he-said — whose biggest takeaway is that bartending is the art of chemistry as much as it is of flavorful storytelling ... What I craved from the book was a stiffer pour. Straton was once a bartender herself, and perhaps the book’s realism could’ve used a few extra dashes of bitter, bright or unexpected flourish. The ingredient that makes you sip and ask, 'Hmm, what’s in this?' It’s probably Cynar ... As Sam binge-drinks with her colleagues and finds her new family, you can sense that neither Harvard nor the hospitality industry will be her end-all-be-all. Perhaps the bartender’s ultimate cure is getting out of the slim profit margin game entirely, and maybe, instead, writing a book about it.
Bartender-writer Straton invites the reader to belly up to Joe’s polished brass bar and learn how to mix cocktails, stay out of the weeds, and get to know the nightwalking crowd alongside Sam. Compelling and informative, this sure-bet read-alike for Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter (2016) looks head-on at the physical, mental, and emotional toll of working in the hospitality industry, as it blends Sam’s internal struggles with the joy she finds in mixology, in equal parts.
Straton’s debut is two books in one—a thoroughly researched and mostly charming compendium of information about bartending and recipes for cocktails and a rather lugubrious account of her narrator Samantha 'Sam' Fisher’s gap year employment at a drinking establishment called Joe’s Apothecary ... This Columbia graduate is nothing if not a dedicated student, and if her boring love life and slowly revealed traumatic backstory aren't sufficient to shake together a compelling plot, she will certainly find out what goes in a Negroni and a sidecar, and how and why and where and when as well ... This novel is a close cousin of Stephanie Danler’s bestselling Sweetbitter, but the characters don't have as much star power, and the will to educate is more dominant. Tics in the storytelling voice—endless clauses strung together with and, endless asides beginning with 'Once upon a time'—become annoying in the absence of narrative momentum ... This illuminating paean to mixology is best read at your favorite bar or with ingredients nearby.