Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Look out, he's got a bar spoon!

For those cocktail geeks who aren't (or haven't been) in the industry, I imagine that an interest in being behind a for reals bar, whipping up beverages for strangers, begins to bubble up towards the conscience mind like swamp gas. That bubbling exploded in me many months ago, when I asked a friend of mine if he would be willing to let me stage with him at his bar. Like most of my random, great ideas that's about as far as it went. Until I got laid off in December. As I found myself sitting around my house sending out resumes to no avail, watching the Dow plunge to fear inducing levels, and slowly going insane, it seemed like as good a time as ever to bug my friend about it some more. Finally, he relented and got the consent from his boss to let me back behind the bar.

The fool!

There is a great difference between making drinks for yourself, and friends at your home bar. A good drink is a good drink, but there is so much more to being in a service position. It sounds trite, but when you are tending bar you are a host, and the customers are your guests. They may want drinks you despise, or they may be annoying to no end, but your job is to make them happy. There is also a particular procedure to being behind a bar that can flummox any non-industry folk who think they know everything. That was why I wanted to take a shot behind the bar.

I started with pouring beer, and discovered the fucked up intricacies of pouring beer from a tap. I can hear Rob screaming as he reads that, as he has
tried for many years to teach me the basics of pouring a beer, but in a bar each tap has its own life. A life that is full of gassy baggage, and when each mistake is a pour cost, one can get a little freaked out. as the day wore on I was finally called upon to make a cocktail. A Sazerac -- One of my favorite cocktails, and one that I thought I would slam dunk. Yet under pressure to make one for a random guy who had shuffled into the bar, I might as well have been asked to make a battleship from scratch. My stirring technique was criticized. My sloppy methodology of assembling all the components of the drink was pointed out to me. I was made to feel like I had no business behind a bar at all -- And it felt fantastic. There is a strange delight to learning that I had forgotten, and was glad to find again.

Just as my shift was ending, I began to feel the slightest hints of a groove. I was having fun interacting with customers. I had gotten the hang of pouring a good beer, and I even got show my shaker face to a lucky few folks.

I've got a lot more shifts ahead of me before I'm anywhere close to being a bartender, but I'm looking forward to it. The nervous feeling when I'm asked to make a drink. The fucking up, and feeling like an idiot. Making folks feel welcome at the bar, and seeing people leave after having a good time.

Bartending is a tough job, and one I might not be cut out for in the long run, but as a cocktail geek, I'm happy as a monkey in a peanut machine. Maybe I'll even let y'all know where I'm working someday, and you can come on by and I'll make you the best Old Fasioned in San Francisco.