We often are asked, “How did you get into bartending?” Thankfully at this point, we aren't often asked, “What else do you do?” As in, “Are you going to school to pursue a more valid career?” “What did you get your college degree in?” and “Do you have a day job?” How do any of us get into bartending? For years, we have talked at length about this subject, swapping stories of our first bartending jobs. In all of our conversations, we’ve been able to isolate three reoccurring themes. Before we share this simple three part algorithm, we would like to share a Mark Twain quote that we have been quoting and misquoting for some time now.
"In Nevada, for a time, the lawyer, the editor, the banker, the chief desperado, the chief gambler, and the saloon-keeper, occupied the same level in society, and it was the highest. The cheapest and easiest way to become an influential man and be looked up to by the community at large, was to stand behind a bar, wear a cluster-diamond pin, and sell whisky. I am not sure but that the saloon-keeper held a shade higher rank than any other member of society. His opinion had weight. It was his privilege to say how the elections should go. No great movement could succeed without the countenance and direction of the saloon-keepers. It was a high favor when the chief saloon-keeper consented to serve in the legislature or the board of aldermen. Youthful ambition hardly aspired so much to the honors of the law, or the army and navy as to the dignity of proprietorship in a saloon. To be a saloon-keeper and kill a man was to be illustrious. "
The call to a life behind the bar, speaks to three parts of our bartender souls. One - the Athlete. Two - the Intellectual. Three - the Moment.
One - The Athlete. Artful and joyful bartending starts with your physical presence and physical control of your space and your movements. Once you make a bar, "your bar," you can rip through drinks like a hot knife cutting through butter, and can move like a ninja born to “kung fu” cocktails into the world, you have found "One." The Shaolin monk in you wakes up to the sound of the reverberating gong (or inaudible ticket wheel). There are few things more pleasurable than that moment when you go "octopus," or feel like you actually have four arms and they are working together in perfectly choreographed harmony to make drinks that calm the thirsty, pulsing crowd on the other side of the bar. It evokes monikers like gunslinger, mad scientist, hit man, beast, or bad mofo. The massive endorphin rush and adrenaline surge is probably no different physiologically than what Jordan felt driving the lane and throwing down some nasty dunk. The bartender electric, and when you go there, often your coworkers go there with you and you become a team of bartending blur; kicking a*s and taking names. When it’s all over and the lights come up, the music turns off, the room is empty, you hear the sound of beer cans opening and money being counted, and there is a feeling of exhaustion and calm. You did your job and did it well - you won. This isn't a nightly occurrence, maybe for some of us, but when it happens often enough, "One" is in your bones and you can't escape it. It isn't enough to make you a lifer but the boat has left the dock.
Two - the Intellectual. There are some who argue that the history of the western world has been written by alcohol. You can dork out hard on all things booze for your entire life, and on your deathbed, you will smile and know you didn't learn it all. It’s a phenomenal amount of information that canvases such a variety of subjects. First, you have all the sensory learning that comes from smelling and tasting. That alone can become your life's work. Then you have the study of booze, which you can attack from a variety of disciplines - chemistry, physiology history, sociology, art, music, literature, and poetry, are the ones that immediately come to mind. It is a staggering amount of interdisciplinary learning to wrap your mind around. And when you drink it, you get a buzz, and its fun. We could have waxed poetic here but you get the point. If your classes in school were taught weaving this subject’s narrative through your day’s schedule, and your last class was a "tasting" or "drink mixing" class, we all would have probably gotten better grades and paid better attention. As all this sinks in and takes hold, "Two" becomes more charming by the day. It becomes a quest for knowledge that enriches your thoughts, conversations, and relationships. We love saying to one another, "Holy sh!t! Did you know that…. " As you read and commit flavors to memory and acquire information, bartending becomes more enjoyable. The boat is now in open water but it hasn't left the bay, nor passed the gate into the endless ocean.
Three - the Moment. "One," and "Two" are now in your bones, you own them, you are them. You show up to work and step behind the bar, your mind goes quiet, you address the first guest and make your first drink, and then the night is over. You submit to action and interaction, the rhythm of the room, and the music - you stand there at your station and you just be. It’s where this triumvirate call comes together that you know you are doing what you should be doing. It all becomes soft and easy and pleasant. You go to work and you laugh with people, you provide pleasure and smiles, you share knowledge, and you get some exercise. “The Moment” is a magic space. It gives purpose and meaning to “the Athlete” and “the Intellectual.” This is where we come full circle to Twain’s quote and see that our career has a societal value. We are aware this is the moment in this article where things get a little heavy handed and poetic, but let’s go there. This is a craft that holds a storied legacy in history and in people’s personal narratives. Bartending, to us, is one of a few careers that provide this experience to the practitioner.
The boat is now in the open ocean. It can take you any direction… and all are the right direction. These three points to your compass take us on a great many adventures. When next we are asked how we got into bartending, we will still probably answer, “We just fell into it.” But, we just never felt like getting out of it.
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