I Wanna Be a Bartender

Sometimes our job looks misleading. When we are behind the bar, we are in our element. It’s fun for us. In turn, it’s fun for our guests. Sometimes people see that and get an idea- “I want to be a bartender!”. Cool! We always welcome talented people, whether they have experience with it or not. Bartending was a total left turn in my career but I ended up loving it more than anything I had ever done before. But while we always welcome people who show interest, there are always a few wildcards in the mix.

Once before, I hired the wrong person. I’ll just call him Carson again. I gave Carson the usual spiel about what the job would entail, what the obstacles would be, how daunting the memorization of recipes will be, how stressed you’re going to feel as a trainee, what your body is going to feel like when you first start. He appeared to be excited by the challenge and didn’t hesitate to accept, even after the second interview. He got through his first day and it wasn’t anything noteworthy. He didn’t impress the team but he also didn’t appall the team. He didn’t seem like he was engrossed in the process, but he also didn’t seem detached from it. One day of work, surely I shouldn’t overthink it. Second day comes around and he’s late. Third day in and he starting to vocalize complaints… long hours, tiresome, can’t remember the recipes, having trouble  communicating with people as a trainee.

I’m really not one to say I told you so. However, I’m also not one to sympathize complaints when the reality is just that, I told you so. I stay positive, but remind him that these are all things he should have been expecting. The day goes on. He starts asking for shots. Now, I’m not opposed to the team having a pour of social lubricant but I trust my team. They work their asses off and are dedicated to the bar, even beyond their scheduled shifts. Carson, on the other hand, displays a work ethic that I’m unsure of. I tell him no and move on. No more than an hour later, he asks me if he can be cut. 3 days of work and you’re already trying to get out early? Literally none of the staff asks to leave early, and they’ve all been there 6 months at least.

Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with the details. Short story shorter, I obviously hired someone who just wanted a job. His presence was toxic to all 9 of the amazing people that I work with. They deserve better. They deserve to work amongst people who have as much passion as they do. I quietly let him go. At first, he acted confused and questioned my decision but as we talked, it became obvious even to himself. I thanked him for joining us and wished upon him that he finds what it is he truly wants to do.

I don’t have unrealistic expectations about what people will and won’t be passionate about. And more specifically, I certainly don’t expect people to really know if they would hate or love working at a bar. What I do expect from a person (especially one that I hire) is that you take pride in what you have chosen to do. If you look at your work as if it is just a job, it’s always going to be just a job. An army of average people could never accomplish what a small group of passionate people could.

So to all of you good people out there who take pride in what you do, thank you. Thank you for setting the example for the rest of the world that no matter what profession you are in, you are taking it seriously and treating it delicately. Whether it’s a door greeter who makes you feel welcome, a nurse who makes you feel cared for, or a bartender who gives you companionship- thank you.


I’ll call her Claire. She is a first time visitor and is vocally enjoying her experience so far. She is by herself. She likes gin. She starts with a G&T then advances to an off-the-menu classic Southside. She is helped by my colleagues and pays with cash as she goes. She orders her third cocktail from me. She gets a Poppy My Sherry ($12, gin-poppy-sherry). Knowing that she hasn’t opened a tab and has been paying with cash, I ask if she wants to cash out and she accepts. I tell her it will cost $12.99 (8.25% state tax). She hands me $20 and I give her change and the receipt. Pretty standard stuff, here.

She sips on her cocktail while making conversation with the woman sitting next to her, who has also come to the bar by herself. They chat politely but in no time, they are talking quietly and laughing loudly. I like witnessing people become friends right before my eyes. Even if the exchange only lasts while they’re out that evening, human interaction is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it’s less so.

I’m not making an effort to hear their conversation. Note that many bartenders have boast-worthy lip reading abilities which prevent customers from having to scream or repeat their orders over the chatter and music but even if I had been paying close attention, their conversation was undecipherable. I do, however, catch their eyes a few times looking my way. It’s instinctual for me to check up on a guest whenever I make eye contact but each time, Not-Claire gave me the same response.

“Yep, all good.”

Life goes on. Not-Claire leaves. Claire takes the last sip of her Poppy My Sherry, drops a $5 bill on the bartop and says to me, “Next time, don’t assume that I won’t tip.”

“Pardon me?”

She repeats her statement.

I’m stunned. “I didn’t, what makes you say that?”

Claire points to the menu then states that her drink was $12 so I took a dollar from her to tip myself. FACE PALM! I stay calm, point to her receipt and explain the part that reads, “Sales Tax: $0.99”. She isn’t convinced. She prosaically says, “I haven’t been paying tax all night. You were assuming that I wasn’t going to leave a good tip.” You can’t make this shit up.

I try to diffuse it. I explain that tax rings in automatically. I physically show her on the computer screen the action of ringing in a drink and the tax applying itself. I give her verbal confirmation from others that there is, indeed, sales tax. She leaves and I’m shaking from the effort it took to maintain “the customer is always right” during such a trivial and blatantly wrong situation. Later, she writes an online review. 4 stars. She praises the bar but, as expected, slanders me. Despite everything, I privately reach out to apologize and ask her to give us another chance. This isn’t about me, it’s about the reputation of the bar. That’s hospitality, right?

So to all the “Claires” out there that think we are just trying to make a buck- our job is intense, challenging, extremely time consuming, and a physical/mental workout every time you step behind the bar. I’m convinced that nobody sticks to volume cocktail bartending unless they truly love it. I tell everybody when I interview them that the only way they will last is if they are passionate about it. Hospitality is not for everybody, but it is definitely for me. I try to build a relationship with all of my guests, and I value them. I hope that every one of them comes back to visit. Even Claire.

Jack of All Trades

For me, dynamic in life is not optional. One of the most rewarding facets of running a bar is the ability to take on so many different roles and perform a sea of jobs. You’re the administrator- answering emails, paying bills, taking inventory. You’re an event planner- coordinating events, providing entertainment, booking parties. You dabble in accounting. Payroll. Scheduling. You’re always mediating, creating solutions, leading a team, trying to set the best example. You’re obviously a bartender- hospitality, service, product, quality. And sometimes you get to be a chef- cooking, creating, experimenting.

Where I work, we not only have a menu of original cocktails, but we also have an extensive program of house made ingredients. Some stay forever, some rotate per season. We enjoy variety, we work hard to always provide it, and don’t believe that repurposing bottles from your back bar is the only way. We’ve realized from our time spent in the kitchen that you can create an ingredient that rivals any syrup or cordial that you could simply buy from the store.

Here’s a simple recipe that leads to a complex drink.

Coquette Pucker
Ingredients Required:
1 Liter of Vodka (I use Monopolowa, an Austrian potato vodka that carries flavor well due to its texture)
.75 Ounces Crushed Coriander (Only buy whole and crush with a coffee grinder or any other paraphernalia of the grinding variety)
¼ Pound Fresh Tarragon (Picked from the stem)
2 Cups Freshly Squeezed Carrot Juice
1 Cup Turbinado Syrup (I use a rich ratio of 2 parts sugar, 1 part water)
.25 Ounces Citric Acid Powder (It’s the “pucker”. Buy it on amazon, it’s cheap. It’s also a fun ingredient to experiment with)
Cheese Cloth

Per Liter of Vodka:
Infuse .75 ounces coriander with 1 liter of vodka for 3 days, taste every day
Leave coriander and add ¼ pound fresh tarragon leaves for 4 hours, taste every hour
Strain through cheese cloth multiple times
Add 2 cups freshly squeezed carrot juice, stir, taste
Add 1 cup turbinado syrup, stir, taste
Add .25oz citric acid powder, stir, taste
Add 11 ounces of vodka to your final mixture
Mixture does not require refrigeration

The result is a high proof, complex cordial that is sweet and tangy.
Here’s the cocktail recipe I used. For bartenders, it is quick build in a high volume environment while still producing a thoughtful and unique cocktail.

Bells & Whistles
2.0 Ounces Coquette Pucker
1.0 Ounce Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
Shake with ice and serve. Garnish if you want to (I candied grapefruit peels using this recipe from Bon Appetit http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/candied-grapefruit-peel).


Let’s just call him Carson. Carson is sloshy and has already been denied his first drink upon opening at 4pm.  I scan the bar and see him also getting denied a conversation with each woman sitting down. My colleague politely gives Carson a pint of water. Carson mosies on over to my well and in less than 5 minutes, I’m already the 5th woman he’s approached with a slew of compliments. I’m an awkward compliment-taker.

“Oh, you like my hair? Thank you, it’s covered in sugar syrup and egg whites.”

“I have a nice smile? That’s relieving, it felt like there was something in my teeth.”

Anyway, the compliments quickly turn into uncomfortable innuendos. Then he asks for my number. *Yay, I’m number 5!*

I’m usually much more graceful with my replies but I slip up. “Please stop targeting all of the women here. You should go talk to your friends.”

So he puts his sunglasses on and starts dancing, raising his eyebrows and extending his arms towards me saying, “Ya dig it?” I ask him to dance somewhere else. He continues. I ignore him for a while, thinking maybe he’ll just go away, but he keeps going.

“That’s creeping me out. Will you please go back to your table?”

Annoyed that I won’t acquiesce, he turns to my colleague and asks (inarticulately), “Does her confidence intimidate you?”

I obviously don’t know Carson well, but I know enough based on our exchange. We come across a handful of people like him in our trade: excessively drunk men who need liquid courage to approach women. I am lucky enough to work at the type of place you go to enjoy a nice cocktail and good company, not to harass the staff.  But alas, even “Carsons” want to hang out somewhere nice.

I’m not here to write about the men who have hit on me, or to act as a feminist in a predominantly male industry. I’m writing because I am deeply fascinated by the renaissance of elevated social drinking and very much enjoy high-volume, high-end cocktail bartending.

The Carsons of the city do not see a reason to respect the ambiance of quality establishments, but it will be alright. I feel privileged to be able to learn and share during a time when not everyone has caught on yet to the idea that bars don’t have to be just a place to get hammered. If being professional in a place where fun experiences are sold makes me seem self-assured, then Carson has gotten it right…  I’m confident as fuck.