Monday, October 03, 2011

The most important bar tool? The bartender...

Came across this article, "Use The Force", over at and felt like it needed to be shared.  ShakeStir’s mission is to provide bartenders worldwide with an interactive online and offline platform to market their professional achievements, exchange ideas, and raise awareness about the cocktail industry both among bartenders and also the customers they interact with on a daily basis. ShakeStir is built exclusively for bartenders with the purpose of showcasing trends and techniques as they sweep through the spirits industry, while revealing the camaraderie among bartenders themselves.

Here's the article:

""This [the lightsaber] was the formal weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. More skill than simple sight was required for its use. An elegant weapon. It was a symbol as well. Anyone can use a blaster or a fusioncutter—but to use a lightsaber well, was a mark of someone a cut above the ordinary." - Obi-Wan Kenobi Recently we were asked to do a staff training only covering bar tools and their uses.  Exciting, but a bit nerve wracking to speak for four hours to a staff that is mildly to heavily hung over on their Saturday morning about only tools - we were sure they would rather have been eating spicy, greasy plates of eggs and swilling over roasted coffee with their sunglasses on.  But there we were.  No booze talk, just mechanics: why we stir, the many uses of a muddler, how to open a beer bottle with your tin, how the julep strainer is the perfect ice scoop in a catering situation when your icebox is a swamp, etc.  We step behind the bar, open our mouths, and then BAM!  The intro and first subject of the days training comes into focus.  The most important tool in the bartender’s toolbox is….The BARTENDER.
From there, the training fell like rain.  We are our most important tools behind the bar - yes we are aware we just called all bartenders tools - on with the show.  Your appearance, attitude, physical and mental well-being, presence, and confidence of space are all invaluable to making a night kick a*s.  Most bartenders have the luxury of not having to wake up at 8 am on a regular basis.  So, if you are coming to work exhausted, let’s hope it’s because you woke up early to a) hit the books and study up on your spirit knowledge, b) take care of / hang out with your kid - that says it all, or c) you have found a yoga class that somehow hits all the spots bartenders need to hit… and worked a double.  The obvious alternatives of why you are tired mean that you have no excuse.  When you walk through the door, you can shake it off and do what needs to get done.
We are not innocent to the overindulgence; late nights and lack of sleep are sometimes commonplace in a bartender’s world.  We just realize that it doesn't serve that moment when your bar is three deep and you need to keep your chin up and smile. 
We know speaking to a group that prides itself on the individuality of one’s dress and appearance is a dangerous plank to walk down.  We'll play this safe and say be clean, have clean clothes, clean breath and fingernails, and don't stink.  Dress as you are able given the place you work, and express yourself in whatever way makes you feel the most comfortable taking the stage behind the bar.  The stage…  We feel you have to accept it.  The bar is a stage wherein everyone watches you, whether you want them to or not, so posture matters.  Chin up, chest facing forward, eyes bright and active, smile easily.  We often find we are our nicest, most natural and personable selves when we are behind the bar.  Sometimes after a few busy nights, all we want is six hours of catch up on cable TV shows, some take out and very little conversation, if any.  But, when you are working, you gotta give it.  It's like an actor hitting the stage on a bad night. People paid for their tickets and want to see the show.  They could give a sh!t if the actor isn't “feeling it.” 
Presence is a powerful thing.  It’s innate in some people, but in others, it's something that is learned, nurtured and practiced.  It gets easier to "fake" when you’re feeling really beat up, and becomes more natural over time as the emotional epicenter of your bartender state.  With a strong presence, an unruly mob of people clamoring for a drink becomes something that can be controlled and guided into the night with the bartender at the reins.
Eyes, ears, nose, mouth.  For example, while we stir, we treat this as a time to take visual inventory of what needs doing once this delicate little all spirit bastard is done.  We make eye contact with guests.  We smile and nod with the universal, be there in a sec, face.  We catch the barbacks gaze and speak with our eyes.  We take a second to survey the general crowd and check in with the room.  Ears pick up where your eyes leave off.  Bartender ears are thieves.  They are fine tuned filters that can sort through the conversations of the room, take cues from the conversations of their guests, hear what is happening in the station down the bar, and what is happening behind them.  By acquiring this data, you can find your way out of any maze.  Now that you are seeing and hearing, smelling your way through the night keeps you on your game.  Are your tins clean?  Smell them.  If that glass is too clean (meaning the sanitizer is alive and well), the nose knows.  Has the cream turned, is that drink balanced, corked wine, skunked beer?  Of all things, your nose will be a last line of defense against preventing something bad from landing in front of a guest and soiling their experience.  Finally, the mouth.  Help us out.  Is this drink on or off?  On or off, balanced or imbalanced, too much bass or treble, you get the point.  Always trust your gut.  Your instincts will save you in all walks of life, and definitely will save you behind to bar.
Bartending is beautiful.  Or at least it can be.  It can also be clunky, sloppy and uncoordinated.  Move behind your bar as if you were born to.  Own the space. If temporarily blinded by lemon juice shot from a squeezer, know you can find your way out without looking like a blinded Frankenstein.  Move with purpose.  If you can do it in one move, do so.  We all know our local maestros of bar movement -  we love to see them in action and study the efficiency of their game.  They are captivating to watch. Whatever your style is, decide, and be that style.  A machine, a dancer, flair, a comic, whatever, just carve out your style.  Own your space!

With all these things considered, practiced, and then properly utilized, then reach into your briefcase full of vintage pre-Prohibition silver that we all love, and kick a*s with it. 
“Lightsaber skills, important they are. How to use as well as how not to use. When to move as well as when not to move.”- Master Yoda"