A Newbie Bartender’s Manifesto

25 Feb

I think I’m finally getting the swing of bar-employment. I think. Maybe? It’s a tricky game, and I’ve definitely had some trials, but I try to remind myself that time is a prerequisite for things to become easy and/or second nature, and I’m feeling pretty optimistic that enough time has passed to deem me Not Completely Incompetent, maybe even Pretty Okay, Most Of The Time.

Capitalization is necessary.

And okay, I realize that my blog is devoted to food, but since now I also happen to work in the beverage industry, can we just round it out to include all things consumable? Yes? It’s my blog? Okay then, we’re in agreement. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my recent life (specifically the nearly three years between college graduation and now), motivation, economy, and apathy. It’s probably just the weather leading me to bouts of introspection, but it’s bizarre to feel, for the first time since graduation, anyway, comfortable in my routine. When I first set out on my own with no real plan, it felt like a major downgrade to be hustling in kitchens, working weird hours in an industry that is (in my experience) not particularly kind to whiny intellectuals* who feel they are above the work. I often told myself I was just doing this to get by. And then I changed jobs a few times, settled into the easily mediocre challenge of the line, and then, just for fun, decided to become a bartender as well.

*Not that I’m saying I’m an intellectual. I think maybe I once wanted to be, but let’s be real; I am far too lazy and unoriginal for that sort of thing nowadays. In college I was a powerhouse. Now I’m… well…not. 

But in all my introspection lately I’ve felt a sort of solace in my decisions. I’ve stopped berating myself for not more actively pursuing creative work. Sometimes I need to remind myself that yes, I DO freelance on a regular basis, and YES, that counts. Or at least I think it does. Maybe this is complacency or maybe its just self acceptance, but it feels pretty decent (though somewhat bizarre) to have finally come to terms with myself for this. But anyhow, this was just a long, long, long segue to say,

“Wow, isn’t it weird that shortly after college graduation I am well on my way to knowing the ins and outs of nearly EVERY. SINGLE. JOB. in the industry?” Just kind of a novel thought. SO far under my belt (or working on the notch, anyhow) I’ve got dishwashing, prep, line cooking, catering cook, waitressing (to an extent), barista, door-girl, bar back, and bartender. Whoa.

So far though, I’ve learned a few things.

1. Nothing you say when you’re drunk is ever as interesting, original, or as insightful as you think it is. Every person says the same jokes and laughs like they’re the first ones to say them. Every person complains about THE MOST first world problems without an ounce of irony. And they might think their conversation is going somewhere, but as the unintentional eavesdropper can attest, they usually talk in circles for the better part of the evening. It is now my mission to never allow myself to talk while drinking. It is terrifying to think I might sound this idiotic.

2. Assert yourself! If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t get overwhelmed. Drunk people are easily deceived by false confidence. Make up any story you like to divert their attention away from your “tattoo meaning,” or whatever they want to know about you personally. Explain rules clearly and patiently, and if they bother you incessently or won’t take no for an answer, be forward, straight to the point, and don’t try to laugh along with them. If they’ve taken the definition of “asshole” to new levels, feel free to yell a little bit.

3. Which brings me to the next point! Drunk people love being abused. I don’t get it, but it’s true. You can be as friendly as Santa Claus and many people will find a way to be a nuisance to you without remorse. I swear though, as soon as you bust out your sassmouth they fall over each other to be your new best friend. I think there’s a happy medium between the two, but essentially it’s important to keep in mind that drunk people are like dogs. Well trained, masochistic, sloppy dogs.

4. I should probably note at this point that I’m not as hateful as I might sound in print… but what is there to say about nice, well-mannered, polite customers? I guess I will address it now: to all of the wonderful, fun, good-natured and thoughtful bar-goers of the world, I salute you. You are officially on my “People I want to party with when stranded on a desert island” list. Without you, I probably would’ve cried at work on my first day. Keep it up! And keep an eye as well on your wasted friend, they don’t understand limitations on alcohol intake and it is your sworn friendship duty to educate them. Also, buy them a taco since they can’t find their wallet and desperately need food. Thanks, and good job!

5. As far as actually mixing drinks goes, my method seems to work pretty well so far. I remember new information best by writing it down and reviewing it, so I started a little notebook of drinks I’ve encountered while bartending. For the most part people order mixed drinks, beer, or standard shots. But when I had some time on my hands I flipped through my Bartender’s Black Book and wrote down the ingredients/proportions of drinks I didn’t know how to make and knew were popular (think White Russians, Sex on the Beach, etc.) Later I went and sat down with a coworker and had her outline some other drinks she thought I should know about. Between asking questions, scanning the guide, and physically writing down ingredients, I feel a lot more confident about drinks I would’ve been clueless about before. If someone asks for something I’ve never made, there’s a good chance I remember writing it down in my book, in my own words, and I can flip to that page without a problem. For everything else totally foreign, I keep my Black Book on hand as well.

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This way I also get the coworker spin on things– since many bartender’s make things differently, I can make drinks approximately the same way that my coworkers are making them, and we’re all on the same page.

Well, enough numbered lists for now. Here, at 3:35 in the morning, smelling somewhat of spilled beer and popcorn, drinking a whiskey-ginger of my own (with bitters) my body is exhausted and it’s time to get to bed. These past two months I’ve become intimately familiar with the owl screech outside before I open my front door, the hum of the refrigerator when there is no other noise to distract me from it, and the 3:00 am train that runs every day and echoes throughout the house.  Every chair creak and typing noise is amplified when you are tiptoeing into a house to unwind while every other person you know is sound asleep. It’s strange being all alone at this hour. But I’m starting to find it to be peaceful as well. I’m off to sleep, praying that C stays dreaming while the floorboards announce my arrival to bed.

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