Bartender Regression

The following is a repost from A blog run by a fellow bartender up in the 51st state – Windsor, Ontario specifically.  It’s hilarity at it’s finest but Oh! So true!  This guy is no longer actively blogging and I fear his brilliance may disappear.  So read up.  Again, this is not my writing.

“Who the Fuck is Reggie?”
A new era is at hand, the dawn of a new and dark time is upon us.  This new generation will be the “Ignorant Drunks.”  That’s right, slowly but surely new adults are becoming sloppier, deadlier, and more ignorant than ever.  Gone are the days of creativity and flavour; today’s club-goer sticks to bud-lights and rum and coke.  I’ll bet you that a majority of 19-23 year olds, including bartenders, don’t even know what a ‘Cuba Liba’ or a ‘Cape Cod’ is.  Not that I blame them.  Bartenders these days are awful. they lack creativity, energy, knowledge, and personality.  Hell, the only thing bartenders have in common these days is titts.

Hey, I’m all for lady bartenders, I always encourage more women to try it out.  What I’m against, however, is hiring bartenders who know fuck-all about bartending, but get the job because of their blond hair and fresh cantaloupes.  Everywhere I go now I see bartenders moving so slowly, using one hand at a time, and denying people service because they have no Idea how to make any drinks.  Sure, every bar has at least 1 bartender who knows what he or she is doing, and I applaud them.  Bartending is no longer a passion, its no longer an art.  No no, bartending has evolved in to a hideous beast.  It has evolved into a part time job for hot girls.  Theres no more creativity, bartenders aren’t unique.  When I ask a bartender to make ‘their special shot’ or ‘something new’ and they pour me a liquid cocaine, or a jager-bomb….  fuck you.  Try and enjoy what you do, it’s a hell of a job, and for many; a very lucrative career.

And for those consumers out there, the many that make it possible for these bartenders to exist:  try something new.  Look up old cocktail recipes, mix your own liquors, try scotch; good scotch, get into wine, try a martini, order a cape cod.  Get away from Budweiser and jager bombs guys, and ladies; no more cosmos,  You’re not Carrie Bradshaw.  Try some beer, learn to like nice wine.  I’ll tell ya, there’s nothing sexier than a woman who can handle some scotch.

The point is people, both making drinks, and drinking them is an art.  It’s something a lot of people take great pride in.  Learn to appreciate it, learn to enjoy it.  You wouldn’t go out for dinner and settle for shitty food (if you would then you’re an idiot), so don’t settle for shitty drinks.  Try one new drink every month, learn how to make drinks properly, and most of all, learn to control  yourselves.  Stop drinking and driving, stop fighting for no reason, and bartenders; you have a wonderful job, explore it, be creative, and take pride in what you do.


Memorizing Drinks

Look.  This isn’t rocket science nor is it a dissertation at Dartmouth grad school on the finer points of global economics.  Anyone can memorize a couple of hundred popular drinks. It’s not difficult but a result of repetitious training of some kind including flash cards and/or making the drinks in practice over and over again.  It will sink in eventually.

Many, many years ago, I had the pleasure of initially training at some school at what was then a very seedy 8th Ave around the Port Authority bus terminal.  If you read my Training article, you’ll understand why I strongly believe you should get some formal bartending training.  Inany case, in class puffing on a cancer stick whilst teaching us a mock bar (yesyou could still smoke in an office building back then), was long scraggly haired Skeletor-faced Mikey ( I think – it was a long time ago).  He was the sort of teacher you’d dream of but rarely encounter; someone who “kept it real” and knew what to convey from the book and what writing was bullshit.  He taught you what you really needed to know based on decades of bartending in and around the City. 

Among many other invaluable practical tips, was one of memorization by association.  Nearly everynight I work with a colleague or service bartender, one of them will roll up onset and ask something like “what’s in a B52, Mai-Tai, or Harvey Wallbanger?”  Every spot has its regular drinks more orless but you will occasionally be challenged to unpopular or obscure drinkrequests.  You need to know yourbusiness. You’re a professional.  Thelast thing you want is to spit out an idiotic series of “um… um… umm.. ah…. I’llbe right back” then run off to your craptastic Mr. Boston “bible” or sit theregoogling the request on your iPhone. 

Flash cards work very, very will if you’re committed.  The easiest trick to remember drinks, just like many otherthings in life that need to be memorized, is by association.  Those trick classes and demonstrations yourimpressive motivational speakers and slick salesman perform asking 50 people’snames then rattling them all off 1 hour later without fail are performed byassociation.  So, without further ado,here are some real world examples – you can easily make up your own:

  • B-52: Kills Bad Guys: Kaluha, Baileys, Grand Mariner (in that order).  If this is straight up, it must be floated.  Don’t get lazy.  It defeats expectations especially on this drink.
  • Mai-Tai: Rum Sour To Go.  Rum, Sour Mix, Triple Sec, Orgeat (almond) syrup, Grenadine, O.J. Write it across a piece of paper and the following ingredients vertically corresponding to the letters of each word.  Again for the complacent set, shake it.  Anything with juice, sour mix in particular, must be shaken.
  • Anything up against the wall: Think the tallest bottle at the bar – always Galliano
  • With a bang: Means add vodka.  In other words, they want to get their buzz on a whole lot faster.  
  • Long Island Iced Tea: Keep the first 5 bottles of your well the same – always and you’ll have zero problems memorizing this one: vodka, rum, gin, tequila, triple sec.  I’ll go into specifics of this drink and alternate versions later.  However, add .5oz of each liquor above, .5oz of sour mix, shake and top with .5 – 1oz of cola.
  • Slippery Nipple: Sambuca and Baileys in that order (floated).  “S” for Sambuca.
  • Buttery Nipple: Butterscotch Schnapps (somewhat obviously) and Baileys in order again floated.
  • Mudslide: Just remember what it looks like – a mess or mudslide off a cliff: .5 – 1oz of the following: vodka, Kahlua, Baileys.  Pour the Baileys in last and slightly stir with a sip straw or stirrer.  Do not shake.  It’s supposed to look all marbled.  
  • Cosmopolitan: Care for some TLC: citron vodka, triple sec, lime juice, cranberry juice
  • Metropolitan: KTLC.  I have no idea why this works but I initially memorized it as a radio station call sign: Absolut Kurrant, triple sec, lime juice and cranberry juice.
  • Godfather: Shoots Assholes: Scotch + Amaretto.
  • Godmother: Visits Assholes in the hospital: Vodka + Amaretto.
  • French Connection: brandy or Cognac and Amaretto.  Think about the neighboring countries where Cognac and Amaretto originate from. This cocktail has an alternative recipe of brandy or Cognac and Grand Marinier.
  • Blowjob: Kahlua, Baileys floated and topped with whipped cream.  Obvious, no?
  • Bay Breeze: Vodka, pineapple juice, cranberry juice.  Pineapples grow in the bay, get it?
  • Sea Breeze: Vodka, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice.  Grapefruits do not grow in the bay.  They may but who really cares.  Just use the tip to commit it to the nether regions of your noggin.
  • Malibu Bay Breeze: half Malibu, half vodka, pineapple juice, cranberry juice.
  • Alabama Slammer: Makes you look like an A.S.S. – Amaretto, Sloe Gin, Southern Comfort + O.J.
  • Red Devil: Kamikaze + Alabama Slammer
  • Orgasm: Usually had on you B.a.C.K. – Baileys, Kahlua, Cream

I committed the following drinks to memory simply associating them together with one or two changes differentiating them:

  • Sex on the Beach: Vodka, Peach Schnapps (.3/4oz of each), cranberry juice and orange juice.
  • Woo Woo: leave out the orange juice from the Sex on the Beach.
  • Hairy Navel: leave out the cranberry juice from the Sex on the Beach.
  • Fuzzy Navel: leave out the vodka and cranberry juice from the Sex on the Beach leaving only Peach Schnapps and orange juice.  
There are numerous other examples of association with no right or wrong necessarily.  Make up your own.  Do what works for you. 

The Pour

Here’s one of my biggest pet peeves from the initiated barkeep – the pour. Ask most bartenders in clubbish type of hotspots how much they pour in a shot/drink and they’ll tell you “…a four-count” or something to that affect. It’s not entirely their fault because that’s what they were taught. However, anyone who is remotely interested in continually bettering themselves and their respective crafts is always learning – I included. I don’t purport to know everything – no oneknows everything.

Ask that same person again how many ounces that four-count translates to and you’ll get the deer-in-headlights lobotomized stare into never-never-land. If you’ve read my Training posts, you’ll notethat this is because most bartenders have zero formal training. Nor have they bothered to open a book (other than that horrific Mr. Boston garbage) in an effort to get a bit more edumacted since memorizing a few simple and popular drinks.

For the record, the “standard”pour of 80 proof spirits is 1.5oz although you’ll find many, many barsoverpouring to something like 2oz or even 2.5oz especially in the inner Citywhere drinks get relatively pricey. Back to that “four-count.” It’s a decent way to measure that 1.5oz butit can vary based on (1) how full/empty your bottle is (2) the type and qualityof your pourers (3) hiccups and (4) the random barkeep’s idea of “oneone-thousand.” Continue reading

The Newbie Bartender

I've happened to spend an inordinate of time working at a bar that mixes seasoned professionals side-by-side with 20 year old fresh-faced completely untrained inexperienced barkeeps.  Ugh!!! I'll try not to spend too much time complaining and digressing about how asinine and downright wrong this situation really is.  

In any case, I was once that fresh-faced idiotic bartender.  My first gig was at 23, straight out of bartending school, right after a brief but very lucrative career as a penny stockbroker.  Bartending was supposed to be temporary while I searched for a new "real" job.  Regardless, I think it was my second or third interview.  I landed my first gig at a brand new 2 bar, 2 floor upscale spot on 7th ave and 131st Street.  It was supposed to be the resurgence of the area and I assure you it was! It was glamorous, luxurious, well decorated and well promoted.  The place was initially packed.  What is was not was well run unfortunately.  

Being a kid with zero Practical Experience bartending but with memorization of probably 500 drinks and fresh out of class, I was nervous.  Sure enough, I was clueless around an actual bar, actual customers and worst of all – customers knew it.  I had walk-outs galore, made crap money sometimes, got crappy shifts quite often, wasted a lot of liquor, and essentially got the shit kicked out of me on a professional level.  However, what I did receive was something worth millions of dollars – experience.  Like most jobs, nothing you can learn in books or in school can substitute for real world experience and it shows instantly.  Would you feel better ordering a perfect Bookers Manhattan from a 65 year old, silver haired, portly dude, in a black tie at a 125 year old mahogany  bar or a 23 year old super hottie in Daisy Dukes at the newest packed club's rooftop?  Why?

As I got my chops at bar after bar over the years, things got easier and easier. Confidence grew and all the issues of bartending in my inexperienced youth quickly disappeared.  I've got balls enough at this point that I can walk into just about any bar and demand (and get) a job.  It doesn't happen overnight.  

The main reason I was lucky enough to get my first gig is because the hiring manager thought I was hot – period.  I was indeed extremely lucky.  It's nearly impossible to get a gig a busy City bar without experience and fitting the mold that the hiring manager/owner is looking for combined with timing.  Those last 2 bits are critical to getting a good gig.  Often, it's about timing and luck.  If you happen upon an interview at the right time, like someone who has been there 10 years is leaving and there is no one to fill their spot, it's not inconceivable to land the gig whereas last week, you would have had zero chance.  Unfortunately, those vacancies and the corresponding timings are not advertised.  Otherwise, like in other professions, you can often get a good gig based on who you know as opposed to your skill set and pounding the streets.

Evolution vs. Environment

Well, at the risk of enraging just about every politically correct, personality rubber-stamping, draconian societal you-must-like me snob, I’ll make the comparison: I’m believer that in this business, who you are is both a result of your DNA as well as shaped of your environment/experiences just like, ehem…. your sexuality <flame_on>.  Why do I make this point? There are all kinds of personalities and abilities – many of which are much better suited to bartending than others.

Your people skills, manners, attention span, patience, thick skin, acting ability, flamboyance, humor, poker face, ability to apply different rules to seemingly similar situations play MUCH MORE of a role to your bartending prowess and subsequently, income potential than your proficiency to make a world-class, or more often, a shitty, flat and too sweet Margarita.

Most anyone can memorize or be taught the drink ingredients.  NOT everyone can visualize and categorize who to server and when, in a 3-people deep bar where you have a drink knocked over, appetizers arriving for a couple, 3 empty drinks in front of a college set, a blender spinning a Daiquiri, 4 burly dudes asking for 3 different beers and 11 shots, a computer that’s gone down and is no longer processing credit cards, a broken ice machine (happens a lot), and an Granny demanding a Makers Old Fashioned (the right way) at the very end of the bar all simultaneously.

Furthermore, if you’re the kind of chick/dude who did not grow up with your annoying parents badgering you with things like: utensil etiquette, greeting people on the way in AND the way out, “thanks,” “please,”…. if you can’t carry on a conversation with your service bartender, waitress, hot co-worker while CONSTANTLY SCANNING THE BAR for needs, than this business is not for you – at least not in a busy club/bar.  You will fall flat on your face or be relegated to crappy shifts making $100 – $200 where you could be making double/triple those numbers, and/or constantly be leeching of your fellow bartenders in places where you pool, pissing them off severely, or worse – potentially having them throw you under the bus or outright steal from you!

The point is, using these tips, to try and figure out of this business if for you, if you could learn to acquire these necessary good habits or if you’d be better off in that icy fluorescent cubicle, sporting the tweed suit, the latest Manolos, going over those PPT sales figures in the Sales conference room with the bigwigs, and hitting the happy hour on the other side of the bar with all the other suits.

You cannot be a successful bartender if you do not scan and pay close attention to your patrons while, conversing appropriately, being pleasant, speedy, flirty, clean and knowledgeable.  You must stop leaning on the back-bar for 15 minutes straight looking bored, dressed in your best dirty New Balance 991s, unshaven, unapologetic (and giving buybacks) for screwing up an order, and are much more interested in spending 10 straight minutes flirting with your boyfriend/girlfriend or Facebooking while customers are waiting.

Unfortunately, quite a bit of what I’ve detailed here cannot be taught.  Some of it it can.  But quite a bit of it, or the ability to learn these qualities, is something you either have or you do not. I myself am OCD.