Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
We live in the midst of archetypes, even in the world of drink-slinging. Plato’s Third Realm holds true: things simply exist—sometimes for no sensible reason—and are separate from the internal world of our own intellectual machinations. The fact of the matter is they simply “are,” even if objective examination challenges the reasoning behind their presence in our reality. When applied to The Biz, this is all just a fancy way of saying there is no logical reason things are the way they are—they just are. Bartender archetypes often have no rhyme or reason, but they are present in the OC booze scene. Here are just a few:
The Well-Meaning But Useless Mixologist
This is the person who is standing there, squeezing fresh lime or talking about their extensive selection of amaros…while the bar is piling up with people…with a pack of angry waiters grumbling at the service well. It’s not their fault; they were just trained wrong. Turning the bar and making drinks for the floor is just as important as crafting that perfect libation. Sacrificing the fiscal integrity of the shop in order to prove how much better you can do it is just silly. Pour. The. Drinks. By the way, this person probably feels they are too good to wash their own glassware. In my shop, that would get someone demoted to bar back until they figured out their priorities.
The Donut-Hole Bartender
These are the peeps behind the bar in downtown HB who can barely figure out which end of a tap handle to pull. You’ll likely recognize the ladies by an obnoxious boob job and level of plastic surgery that make them look like they were blown out of the side of a Humvee by an IED and spent a year having reconstructive surgery at Walter Reed. They’re also looking for the next Mister Goodbar to spring for their upcoming collagen treatment. On the gents’ side, a classic example is the 20-something aspiring actor/MMA fighter/clothing designer looking for a cougar with deep pockets (who probably just migrated from the now-defunct Foxfire) who’s gonna give them a car and a place to crash while they pursue their dream. In both cases, they are using their jobs to support their lifestyle — and I’m not talking about the tips they bring home.
The Hardass Bartender
This is the person that is over you, your friends, all the stupid shooters you order and, for sure, they could most assuredly not give two fucks whether or not it’s your birthday. They just want to make their money with no bullshit and no nonsense. Believe me, I can empathize – but just a bit. San Francisco’s epic Buena Vista Cafe is a mecca for this kind of barkeep and it seems like they have radiated outward from there. Just try ordering food at the bar and you’ll see what I mean. Their concept of fine customer service has been negated by years of dealing with rookies, jerks and drunkasses, and you’ll be lucky to get a grunted hello when you walk in the door, much less a smile. If you don’t have high expectations of these folks, you’ll be just fine.
The Dive Bartender
There is nothing wrong with a dive bar—I’m a big, big fan. I love getting a beer and three-finger deep shot of Jameson in a rocks glass for six bucks instead of getting gouged for a short pour Ketel soda for 12 at Zipangu back in the day. That’s highway robbery. Working these seedy joints has got to be a challenge, though. Slaving away in a salt mine of sad sacks and washed-up drunks can’t be easy, and the dive bartender has to be equal parts therapist, janitor and WWE wrestler. The blue hairs, bad cover bands, (and even the tweakers) that frequent these taverns can be charming, but working in that element for a living isn’t my idea of fun. Properly working at an edgy watering hole is a singular skill set, though, and deserves as much legitimate respect as any blue-blood barkeep pouring drinks at a country club. Word to the wise: Don’t get these poor souls started about the sporadic fistfights and bathroom blowjobs, unless you want an earful.
The Up In Da Club Bartender
This is a one-of-a-kind bar tending methodology. Testing how fast one can pour Fireball into plastic cups or pop a bottle of champagne with strobe lights in it has to be a real treat. The “bottle service with a sparkler in it” factor takes this skill set to a new level. Factor in the crowd, who is probably so high they don’t even know what they want to drink (much less where they are) and you’re talking about a true art. The good news for these bartenders is the shifts can be short and the money great. The bad news? If they want to make that cash, they’ll just have to swallow any bartending integrity they have and knuckle under to the fact that pouring liquid cocaine shots is their new reality. But these guys will be your best friend as long as you keep it short at the bar and tip big.
The Burnout Bartender
This person is like a US Marine who has seen too much combat. You see them working day shifts at dingy watering holes or mom-and-pop joints. Their tired souls are revealed through their blank stares and general aura of despair. ‘Ol Clint Eastwood said it best—”A man’s got to know his limitations”—and bartenders need to know theirs, too. A word to my fellow barkeeps: at some point (whether we like it or not,) we in The Biz are not going to be able to handle the physical or mental challenges of bartending and we better have slammed a few bucks into a Roth IRA. After years of under-the=table income, that Social Security check will be next-to-nothing, if anything at all. Having a cushy part time retirement job slinging drinks is perfectly fine, but it should be a situation where we are doing it because we enjoy it, not because it’s keeping us from spending our golden years living out of the car.
The Overly-Enthusiastic Newbie
This is the kid that is super-excited and way too thrilled about their new gig bar tending at TGIFridays. Sure, it can be refreshing, but this is the person who is really, really super excited about their new chocolate sundae martini, super-frozen Bahama Mama, toasted hazelnut toffee Irish Coffee or whatever other abomination they are slinging. Youthful vim and vigor has its place, but these types of barkeeps can be hard to handle, with their use of over-the-top verbiage and gesticulation as they describe the 16 different syrupy-sweet daiquiris they serve or how just-oh-so-fantastic the hot wings or fried zucchini is. Good and bad news is, after a few years of getting kicked in the teeth, they’re gonna come back down to earth and have realistic expectations of not only what they do but the realities of dealing with the public. Enter the Hardass.
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Chef, writer, bartender, photographer and overall bearer of mirth.