No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Rooftop Bar Personality Test: The Rules

Imagine it: You're stuck on a rooftop bar for the rest of your life with two friends, and one type of drink. Which bar, what drink, and which friends do you choose?

Rooftop Bar, Bangkok, Thailand, randomly found flickr photo

Answering such questions is clearly a crucial insight as to how we are to live our lives more broadly. You do remember that childhood personality test where you answer four questions--what body of water are you? how do you respond to light in a dark room? and two others I no longer remember--to discover the deep inner secrets of your soul, right? (Hint: the body of water represents your attitude towards sex; the light in the dark room represents your views on death.) I spent a good couple decades mildly obsessed with such "personality tests" hoping to discover myself more clearly by taking them.

With such an obsession in mind, Enoch, Luis, and I decided to facilitate our ability to answer our own version of such a soul-searching exercise by first making up the Personality Test of our choice (you know, the one that opens this posting), and then, beginning a systematic exploration of the rooftop bars in Montreal, starting with those found in the Old Port. Then, by sharing our insights we'd all have a better sense of what needs to be taken into consideration when choosing the best "rest of your life" rooftop locale.

Rooftop Bar, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, randomly found flickr photo

But, considering the project, you still might ask: You're going to do a systematic exploration of roof top bars? Systematic how? Here's how:

The Rules
We constructed the following points to be addressed at each new locale.
  1. Only rooftops count. Not a simple terrasse. A rooftop terrasse.
  2. We would each choose a different category of drink to stick to through out the project.
  3. The music at each location would be noted.
  4. So would the general decor, the language capabilities of the staff, and the overall feel of the kind of customers the place attracted.
  5. The accessibility of the terrasse itself, and of the bathrooms would be rated on a scale of safety during drunkenness.
  6. The number of flags visible from each rooftop would be counted, and recorded.
  7. We would develop a rating system to be used consistently for each place as a way of delivering the overall score.

Rooftop Bar, Mumbai, India, randomly found flickr photo

Drink Requirements
Luis insisted our process be scientific. As a first step towards that goal, we fulfilled point 2 above--selecting a drink category to stick to for each location. We were allowed to order, and stay long enough for, one well-appreciated beverage at each rooftop. By framing our drinking options in such a way we'd allow for direct comparison of drinks between different locales, and the chance to see multiple places more readily.
  • I offered to serve as the control and so stick to only one drink throughout the entire project. Since the control would need to be as consistent as possible, the drink would have to be a classic everyone knows how to make. I went for the cosmopolitan. (duh.)
  • Luis thought for a while and decided his job would be to order what looked like the worst drink on the menu. The Old Port, after all, is a fairly tourist heavy location, which means that any rooftop bar in the area is going to have to choose their balance between appealing to locals through well-proved standards, and drawing in those on flights of fancy. One sure fire way to fulfill that fantasy experience is through the offering of a variety of really awful, too sweet and fruity drink concoctions. Luis assigned himself to testing this range of the drinking world. Noble man.
  • Enoch decided to go for the open palate. He'd drink whatever drew his attention at each locale, with the understanding that it would most likely be scotch.

Rooftop Bar, Beijing, China, randomly found flickr photo

The Flags
With the multi-national atmosphere of Montreal, and the two-nations reality of Quebec, this city is big on its flag flying. The variety seen here is actually quite lovely. Quebec has it's white cross, and fleur-de-lys on a deep blue field. Canada has its red maple leaf on a white and red tripartite backdrop. And Montreal celebrates a red cross, with four different flowers representing the original non-Aboriginal settlers of the city--the fleur de lys (for the French), the Lancastrian rose (for the English), a Shamrock (for the Irish), the thistle (for the Scottish)--all on a white canvas. From any elevated location in the city you're likely to see flags in all directions. The flag count, then, tells us how alert to clear horizon the rooftop stands.

Rating System
It turns out getting three philosophers together to rate rooftop bars doesn't always go as smoothly as you'd think. In trying to determine how we'd rate each place I offered the suggestion many food critics take--some variation on a five point scale. You know, "this is a four whisk restaurant" or, "I give it three out of five eggs for cleanliness." The suggestion immediately launched us into a philosophical discussion of rating and grading systems. Quickly spotting the intellectual trap that rating analysis poses, we decided to avoid getting caught in the conundrum and chose to each develop our own style of rating system, thereby giving a different score from each of us for each place.
  • Enoch's suggestion was to rate a bar like one would grade a paper--on a scale from A to F.
  • Luis decided he'd rate the bar based on who he would either take there, or who he'd suggest go there.
  • I decided to stick with my overly narrative ways, and offer as my rating the story from personal experience that seems most apt to express the feel of the place.
Rooftop Bar, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, randomly found flickr photo

Having laid the ground rules, the reviews can begin. Throughout the summer, then, I'll continue with mini-groupings of these reviews representing a few rooftops a night.

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