Modern Bartender | Gary Regan
I’ve spent about 50 years in the bar business, and as you can imagine, I’ve seen lots of changes along the way, but when I was asked to write about “The Modern Bartender,” I must admit that I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. Fact is, you see, that there’s very little difference between the modern bartender of today, and the modern bartender of yesterday. Bartenders don’t change much, in my experience.
What’s expected of today’s modern bartenders, however, is far different from what was expected of me when I started work behind bars in Manhattan in the early 1970s. Back then, if you were honest, reliable, easy to work with, and not afraid of jumping in to help with all sorts of tasks, then you got hired. The drinks you made came second, if not third or fourth, down the list. Make a crap Whiskey Sour and someone would teach you how to make a decent version. Making drinks is pretty easy.
If you want to work in an American Irish Saloon, a British Pub, or a neighborhood joint almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll probably find that the management’s expectations of you are pretty similar to those described in the previous paragraph, but if you fancy your chances in a tony craft-cocktail bar anywhere in the world, you’ll have to step up your game.
Be prepared to learn all about ice and its nuances, how to use a roto-vap, what fat washing is all about, how to blow mesquite smoke through bourbon, and the best way to make caviar-like beads of myriad liqueurs, for a start. The you can get yourself to Mexico where you’ll volunteer to work at a tequila distillery so you’ll know what you’re talking about when you’re up-selling to a well-heeled guest.
On your way home, wherever that may be, why not stop in, oh, 10 to 35 big cities and see if you can get guest shifts at the hottest joints in town to see what you pick up from your Brother and Sister bartenders there?
You’ll need to develop your own style behind the stick, too, so think carefully, then choose tattoos you can live with till you’re in your 90s, get piercings in all the usual places, and think about some special makeup you can wear while you’re behind the bar, just to stand out from the crowd.
All these things, and many, many more, should be carefully considered by anyone who wants to become a Modern Bartender. And not one of them will make you a good bartender.
Good Modern Bartenders know that their role behind the bar is one of service. Being of good service to each and every one of your guests is vital if you want to be a Good Modern Bartender.
Listen to your guests. Interact with them. Communicate verbally—nodding just don’t cut it. React to their comments. LISTEN. DIGEST. REACT. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter why they stumbled into your joint. They didn’t come in for a drink, you know. They could get that at home.
Now you can make the choice, and if you’re willing, and passionate enough, to want to raise to the very top in your field, then learn all about ice, and molecular mixology, and the like. It’s geeks like you who have elevated our craft to the level of respectability it has today. Creative sorts such as your good self are hard to come by.
But don’t think for a minute that you’ll be a Good Modern Bartender unless you’re also willing to live a life of service. That’s what it’s really about. Bartenders don’t change much, in my experience.