Milk and Honey’s Invisible Visibility
I recently got the chance to peek at the Milk and Honey Service Manual, authored by patron-saint-of-cocktails Sasha Petraske and his staff. A pioneer in the fancy cocktail scene, M&H is especially known for 1. Quality: Extreme attention to detail in every aspect of drink making, especially in regards to ingredients (Bartender Magazine ranks it the #2 bar in the world, below its London location) and 2. Mystery: Hidden behind a door on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of Eldridge St; strict call in advance reservations only policy; and an (until recently) unpublished phone number.
To my surprise and delight, in spite of their venerated position, M&H’s manual describes a Remains of the Day-level dedication to pursuing virtue through humility and service. From unobtrusively keeping the table clean, to maintaining a dry napkin under each cocktail, to minimizing the overall interruption of the customer’s experience, Petraske views his bartenders not as mixologists or Bar Chefs, but instead as craftsmen whose everyday standard should be “offhand excellence.” To that end, the service manual suggests bartenders “pass through the customer’s field of vision regularly, making yourself available to her signal, be it by eye contact or gesture.” The manual emphasizes the idea of “touch” as it relates to the experience, encompassing the height of a counter, the flick of a wrist, the tone of a voice, the weight of an especially plush napkin. All these tiny things, physical and immaterial, produce a signification of being taken care of, that makes me want to come back.
Open since 2001, Milk and Honey recently decided to simultaneously reveal its phone number and turn itself into a members only club. Out of the seven tables available, five will be reserved for members who pay a $300 annual fee to receive priority reservations and reduced-price cocktails. It will be interesting to see how this policy evolves and how they maintain their commitment to service—I consider this development a respectful tip of the hat to M&H’s devoted following, who have long had issues with the hype and slavish phone number mongering M&H has generated for so much of its history. –Beverly