The following is a bit of a rant and a rave I had recently in my "Ardent Spirits for Professionals Only" column. It's directed at one or two bartenders out there. You'll catch the drift.
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On with the rant . . .
"I'm as Mad as Hell and I'm Not Gonna Take it Any More"
Thus spake Peter Finch in the 1977 movie, Network. And I was about to take the same stance till I realized that getting upset is pretty fruitless, so I'll take another tack, instead. I've been hearing rumblings of some un-bartender-like behavior of late, and I'd like to share my thoughts on a couple of issues that are confronting us as we try to come to terms with the perceived new status of bartenders in the 21st century. Okay with you guys? Here goes, then.
From tales I've been told, and some things I've actually witnessed, it seems as though there might be a few bartenders out there who are beginning to believe their own press. These guys are by far in the minority, and most of the bartenders with whom I have contact have their feet planted very firmly on terra firma, but I'm beginning to see signs of grandiosity behind the stick, and I think it's about time that we gave this sort of behavior some thought.
Let's first take a look at the issue of brotherhood among bartenders--and, yes, I'm including our sister bartenders under that umbrella-term, too. Time was when all bartenders were brothers, and to a large extent that's still true, but some people are starting to undermine the brotherhood by taking cheap digs at others who work behind the stick.
"Yeah, but would you call him a real bartender?" one guy asked me recently. This because the person in question now spends most of his time consulting. And consulting is one of the jobs that some bartenders are currently trying their hand at in order to make a career out tending bar. Three or four shifts a week doesn't always pay the rent, right? I've watched the guy in question working behind the bar, and I know for sure that he has everything it takes to be called a bartender. He's a very caring guy who truly gives a damn about each and every one of his customers. Just because he might not have a steady gig behind the stick right now doesn't take that away from him.
"We don't go to that bar any more," another bartender told me. "We have an issue with the head bartender." When we have issues with fellow bartenders we might tend to stay away from them, though it's often far better to try to discuss the matter with the person in question in a reasonable manner. I personally find it unforgivable, though, when bartenders gossip about each other. That sort of thing tells me lots more about the person doing the gossiping than it tells me about the person at which the comment is directed.
Putting other people down is merely a roundabout way of putting yourself in an elevated position. When someone tells me that they have an issue with someone else, what I hear is "I'm better than he is." Well, guys, as far as I'm concerned nobody on God's green earth is better than anyone else. I'm no better than you, and you're no better than I am. We're all equals here. Okay?
And please, please, please don't write to say that you have an issue with someone but "he started it." If he started it, then it's up to you to end it by letting it flow right past you. No response at all is, I believe, the only way to go. If you're able to do that then, in my eyes at least, you're head and shoulders above the pack. And the "he" who started it might just pay attention, too. If he meant to upset you and discovers that you let it wash right over you he might just think twice about doing that again. Instead of getting upset I'd like to suggest that you think about taking all that energy and put it into spreading a little love around the planet. You'll be rewarded a hundredfold in heaven. And in your tip cup, of course . . .
And what's this I hear about secret recipes? "I'm keeping my recipe a secret because if someone else makes the drink and doesn't do it exactly the way I do it then it won't be as good and I'm just not going to have anyone do that to my creation." Okay, I never heard that quote verbatim, but I've heard similar. The people saying these kind of things are not bartenders. In my opinion they are mere mixologists; pretenders to the bartender position, a position that's deserving of far more respect than that of the mixologist. I know lots of people who can mix and marry flavors beautifully, and lots of them wouldn't stand a chance behind the bar. True bartenders share their recipes. Recipes aren't rocket science, you know. It's a darned good job that Jerry Thomas, Harry Johnson, Harry Craddock, David Embury (okay, I know he wasn't a bartender, but . . . ), Dick Bradsell and Dale DeGroff never thought the way these guys are thinking.
Let me try to sum up my feelings so I don't have every last one of you going away pissed at me: The stuff that prompted me to write this piece came from a very small minority. And I believe that it's not too late to save the few misguided souls who are taking themselves a little too seriously, so do me a favor, go spread some love the way bartenders are supposed to do, say nice things about people you admire, and keep your mouth shut if someone gets your goat. I rant and I rave only because I love you guys. You've taken the craft of mixology to new heights. Now's perhaps the right time to concentrate on the rest of the skills it takes to be a real bartender. Now will someone fix me a Manhattan, please . . .
P.S. I'm gonna suggest a new bartender's creed in this issue of ASPROF (I'm using the word "creed" in the context of a "guiding principle" as defined by Merriam-Webster)
I am Here to be of Service*
*Yes, I stole it from Richard Gere.