Straight From the Spout
Since the ripe old age of 18, when I first dove behind a bar along the murky shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, I have been slinging drinks, procuring inhibition and quenching the general public’s thirst. This liquid trade has...
Since the ripe old age of 18, when I first dove behind a bar along the murky shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, I have been slinging drinks, procuring inhibition and quenching the general public’s thirst. This liquid trade has led me down a wandering river that I’ve navigated as it cut through my life from the Northwest to New York City.
From smashing out myriads of mojitos and Caribbean cocktails at a Cuban restaurant to popping endless bottles of Italian wine to managing a hip tavern and bistro in Portland, Oregon, I have recently landed behind an unruly bar in Manhattan where the woodwork crawls with characters that span a spectrum from sane and civil to surly and psychotic. Tending bar has allowed me to move around the country as I please, meet a lot of solid people and maintain a steady flow of free booze for my friends and I. At the end of the day though, almost a decade of pouring drinks, dealing with the consequences and reaping the benefits has given me some serious philosophies about the trade and where it fits into our schizophrenic society.
One beautiful aspect of bartending is that it is a recession-proof job, since no matter how low the economy slumps, people will always need a stiff drink to relax and ease the omnipresent pressures of life. This gives the seasoned barkeep a leg up on the competition if they secure the right venue to mix and pour in. Establishing a solid position at a watering hole with a loyal following will generally pay the bills, as well as offer a strong sense of job security, something that has become tragically rare these days.
Another facet is the unique social environment that a bartender must navigate and exist in. There is the old philosophy that a bartender is a sort of therapist for strangers to lay their problems and long-winded stories on. I have found this to be true, and when you are literally trapped behind a bar and are forced to lend an open ear, you do feel like an underpaid shrink with the power to prescribe alcohol. The bartender must play the role of an unlicensed doctor as well as a socialite whether they like it or not. Personally, I have found that to pour a stiff drink and sit back and listen is one of the best ways to soak up some damn fine story material from complete strangers.
Aside from the medicinal powers that the barkeep possesses, it goes without saying that pouring is a great way to meet an array of interesting people. It is a given that to be successful in the bar profession one must be friendly and be a socializing machine, a conversationalist and an entertainer at the same time. When your income depends heavily on tips, and the correlation of how nice and genuine people think you are, you’ve got to be convincing, whether you actually care about their shitty day at the office or not.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg of the wealth of information that I have soaked up over my years wading behind bars, and sitting at them across the country. There will be much more liquid wisdom to follow, and it will flow Straight From the Spout.