Bartending seems pretty cool, doesn’t it? You’re sitting on your couch 4:30am, after a long night of partying, inhaling Cheetos, toking a bong, and wishing you hadn’t sucked down those last two shots of Jager. The TV is glaring and - wouldn’t you know – Tom Cruise is spinning bottles, without spilling a drop of precious booze – go figure. “Cocktail” is on again. You’re captivated by this ultimate display of Flair and enthralled with the “the good life” bartending can offer… a playboy lifestyle on a Caribbean island, and endless string of doting groupies – ready to rip of your clothes, travel, fast cars, easy drugs, blaa, blaa, blaa.
You want to be a bartender above all else. Screw the post-graduate work, your parents ambitions for you, law school, or whatever. You’ve got your eyes set on getting behind the stick. I mean, how hard could it be? Any monkey can pour drinks, right? Let’s find out…
Get a new bartending job, and you start at the bottom of the totem pole. Start at the bottom of the totem pole, and you’ll get sub-prime shifts until you’ve “paid your dues” for a few months or otherwise gratified the Keeper O’ The Schedule. Get sub-prime shifts, and they will include a mixed bag of night and day shifts. Get a mixed bag of shifts, and you’ll surely get the dreaded Opening Shift.
Chumley’s. The origin for all things “86″ in this business. I’ spent many a late evening here. Yes, it was real - replete with no signs, multiple points of egress, cops on the take, trap doors – covered with sawdust – on the floor, bookcase doors, shady customers, after-hours imbibing, blaa, blaa, blaa. The bar flourished, even in the Quality-of-Life deprived, big club raiding Mayor Giuliani days.
I spent many a quality evening in this place after long shifts toiling on MacDougal and Bleecker Streets. It was just the shit. There really is no other way to put it. Before every other storefront in Willamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Lower East Side purported to be a hidden room, dimly-lit, no-sign-having speakeasy, there was Chumleys. It was indeed born of the Prohibition days, as many other freak bars were. But, this one survived intact.
It was the genius of Leeford Chumley. Unfortunately, it closed for good a few years ago. In my handful of walks along Bedford St. recently, it seems that – like many other historically spectacular properties with immeasurable social impact – it’s fallen prey to modern economics. Specifically, short-sighted land-owners and social-impact-deprived developers have conspired to rip apart Chumleys living history and convert it into yet another member of urban blight: condos.
I died a little bit inside, recently, when I finally accepted that Chumley’s would never reopen and return to what it once was.
I’m unique in appearance. You can’t really make out what I really am. My entire life, I’ve managed to both fit in to every imaginable group, as well as feel excluded from those same groups from time to time. Usually, I can deftly move into just about any group (outside of Neo-Nazis) with aplomb. I can shape-shift my appearance, swagger, tone, lexicon and dress to fit just about any environment. I’m agile like that. Well, in my latest bartending gig, you can reasonably assume I’m making full use of my God-given talents, and fully leveraging my Thug Dizzle. That’s because, I’m once again living the
Thug Life Pub Life.
In all my years of tending bar, rarely have I seen any other cocktail prepared as inconsistently (and wrongly) as ye olde Hot Toddy. Why? It’s mostly a result of the “telephone game” or Pass It Down theory of learning to bartend. It’s a situation where Barbacks working Service Bar, teach Runners “how to bartend” – the stupid passing down (uh…) knowledge to the ignorant. This cocktail requires a couple of minutes of preparation and often, a bit of running around. Usually, that means leaving the bar for a trip both to the espresso machine and perhaps to the bowels of the kitchen to retrieve necessary components. What bartender in their right mind would look forward to unnecessary complicated cocktail prep in lieu of serving 3 or 4 other gratuity-rich guests? Answer: the usual suspects – the short-sighted contingent.
“The grass is always greener…” “Better the devil you know…” We’ve all heard those well-worn phrases thousands of times, right? People are funny. No matter how exceedingly spectacular your situation (e.g., David Beckham, Kanye, Sir Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, etc.) we always want mo’ better something. Humans have an insatiable desire for faster, stronger, wealthier, better-endowed, younger, or whatever. The bartender life is no different. I did two (count them) four-year stints in a particular venue where I was basically: The Man. Among a large bar staff, I could demand outright, any shift, had my choice of pretty much any uh… womenses, and made beaucoup duckets on the regular. The earnings at that particular gig, while not rivaling strip club bartending money, were significant and steady – bankable. That job allowed me to save enough fat stacks to buy a private house, and bang out two money-sucking black holes of darkness (read: kids), in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world -New York City.
So why the hell would I actively choose to pack my bags and walk off the job with nary a promise of another bartending gig lined up? The answer is not so simple.
“Aviation Aramos Fizz…” and 10 minute, $20 cocktails. “Smoked Salmon Infused Vodka… over Lava Rocks.” “Sazerac with some muddled Sage.” You can pin the blame for the mixologist craze mostly on Jerry mother-fucking Thomas. Yeah… more on him to come. Post-Prohibition revival and modern fainboi’ism of all things late-19th century have also had a hand. In the last few years, Brooklyn and San Francisco hipsterdom (who seem to have committed every passage of Imbibe to memory) took all this shit and ran absolutely raving wild with a ridiculously wide expanse of “throwback,” speakeasy’ish saloons. They’re not done. There seems to be no end in sight to this pseudo-retro explosion. It’s all gone a bit too far. Me? I heart me most of those cool spots as evidenced by my Pub Crawl. I just hate when folks go overboard and refuse to keep it real. I like to believe that I’ve got mad creative skills as well – no doubt. I’ve contributed to many a successful cocktail program. But mostly, I schlep my ass off in busy ass bars. Do yourself a favor and watch this epic video backlash.
Bravo Malina Bickford, blogger and bartender. She sums it all up quite nicely if not succinctly. If you’re not in the know, throwing a “what do you really want to do?” or “what’s your ‘real job’?” out there is like a bitchslap backhand. It’s insulting, degrading and plainly tactless. Get a clue people. Click through for the full article.
“For some, tending bar is truly a passion. There’s a serious craft to cocktail making, elevated to high art by many of my peers who’ve built a tight knit community that I respect but will never become a part of because I just can’t muster the same enthusiasm. They carefully and lovingly craft; I schlep.”
“But worst of all is the stigma. Just saying, “I’m a bartender,” seems to automatically imply that I’m a party girl, unambitious, an alcoholic or — worst of all — not good at anything else. People often assume that my job as a bartender is just an unfortunate situation that I’m in until that “real job” comes through.”
Read the entire article.