“In My Experience” is drawn from conversations with veteran bartenders across the country, covering matters of significance to those pursuing a long-term career behind the bar. These industry veterans are sharing their experiences on practical issues such as money and how to save it; health, and how to keep fit both mentally and physically; how to find a good balance between the bartending life and spouses, partners and family; and how to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol.
Gaz (formerly Gary) Regan has been one of the most visible and outspoken practitioners of the mixological arts in the U.S. for more than 20 years. The author of books including The Bartender’s Bible, The Book of Bourbon and The Joy of Mixology, Regan has written about drinks for many publications and pens a regular column for the San Francisco Chronicle. When he’s not buying drinks for Dave Wondrich, Regan heads the BarSmarts Graduate Program for Pernod-Ricard USA, and travels the world attending bar conferences and competitions. Find out more about Gaz and subscribe to his daily newsletter at gazregan.com.
First bartending gig: Prince Rupert Pub; Bolton, Lancashire, England; 1965-66 (age: 14)
In your experience as a bartender, what have you learned about:
Money—having, saving and spending it
I've always gone through money quickly. Still do. Buying drinks for Dave Wondrich keeps me in the poorhouse.
I never kept in shape until I got sick in 2003. Tongue cancer. After a 17 1/2 hour operation and six weeks of radiation I went from 205 lbs down to 150 lbs. I saw the opportunity to get fit, started going to the gym, and I've never looked back since.
Dealing with the intensity of working behind the bar
I never really managed to leave the bar behind after my shift. Even though I had my share of crappy jobs, when I took a job I usually put myself into it 100 percent, and that involves taking work home with you, thinking about how to improve things, and going in on your day off to get things accomplished.
When I first got to New York, and was intimidated by New Yorkers, to prepare mentally for a shift I indulged in a form of meditation, though I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time. I'd sit quietly for an hour or so, having a staff meal before a shift, I never let anyone join me, and I just centered myself before I got behind the bar.
As for keeping the job fresh, that's unavoidable--as a bartender you're interacting with lots of different people all the time, and people are interesting, no matter how you look at them.
Developing an appropriate relationship with alcohol
I'm still a pretty big drinker, but I'm in complete control of it, and that wasn't always the case. I really overdid it in the early 80s, and I went on the wagon for around 10 years.
As for sanity, I'm a big believer in shrinks and counselors, and I've used them on and off throughout my life.
Maintaining a balance between work, relationships and family
I'm in the middle of a divorce from a woman I married over 30 years ago. Does that answer your question?
Back when you started your first shift, is there anything you wish you’d known that you know now, that would have made your life and career a little bit easier?
Not a thing. I'm one of the happiest people you know, so to change one iota of my life would be a big mistake, I think.
Any advice for younger bartenders looking to follow a similar path?
Know that you are entering a life of service, and it's your job to intuit the needs of your guests, and try to make their lives just a little better.
Read more from In My Experience.