Last night, Susannah and I rolled up our sleeves and kicked off our heels to guest-bartend at San Francisco's Jardiniere restaurant. While we were only mixing one drink, the YumSugar Special (a riff on the classic Whiskey Sour — recipe to come!), I learned a lot from the experience. It's not easy being behind a bar with thirsty customers waiting for a drink, and after doing it, I have a newfound respect for the precise, fast, and friendly bartenders in my life. To see what the world looks like from the inside of a bar, keep reading.
- Cocktails take a long time to make. If you've ever complained about a bartender taking forever to make a drink, consider the method. We had to measure multiple ingredients and juice lemons. The drink involved egg whites, so it had to be shaken not once, but twice. It took me six to 10 minutes to make one cocktail, and even as the night wore on, I didn't get any faster.
- There's a lot to remember. When was the last time you saw a bartender look at a recipe? Never, right? Good bartenders have hundreds of recipes memorized, and this involves correct proportions and measurements. They also have to remember which drink goes where, the cost of cocktails, and who's closing out their card versus who's opening a tab. Each time I made a drink, I thought about the recipe, and more than once, I forgot the garnish!
- There are a lot of distractions. Bar-goers asking for beer menus, wondering where the bathroom is, and just wanting to say hi all distract you from the main job of making cocktails. On top of that, a bartender must pay attention to his fellow tenders and servers and not get in their way as they make drinks. To be a great bartender, you must remain focused.
- Egg whites are difficult to work with. When measuring egg whites, I accidentally poured too much and ended up spilling egg whites all over the place! It was messy and wasteful.
- It's a really tough job! Bartending is hard. You get alcohol spilled on your clothes. Your arms hurt from squeezing citrus and shaking cocktail tins. Your hands hurt from banging open cocktail tins. Your legs and back hurt from being on your feet all night. Thus, the next time you're in a crowded hot spot angry at the bartender for not noticing you, remember this story and cut him or her some slack!
Have you tended bar? Share your stories with us below!