Modern Bartender | Sven Almenning
To be a bartender today must be utterly exciting.
There are dedicated trade publications that help educate and inspire us, specialized drinks journalists who share our bars and drinks with a thirsty public, and perhaps most importantly educated consumers who truly care about well made and tasty drinks.
And then add to the fact that liquor companies such as Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi, Suntory, Campari etc, all are investing into education and competitions; small, big and huge; and you have the ingredients for an amazing time in history to be a bartender.
When I worked behind the bar, admittedly some time ago now, we had little to none of those things. The was no Bar Show in Australia, Bartender magazine, I believe, had only just launched, and the cool or good bars in town were mostly thought to be so based on their fit-out (venue design) or the customer base they managed to attract there.
Quality drinks? This was not something you really were recognized for – at least not in Sydney in the late 90’s.
Today – is a different story, and it’s hugely important for bartenders.
As bars increasingly become judged for the quality of their drinks and service, as customers become wowed by your ability to recommend whiskies, wines, beers and cocktails that suit both their mood and occasion, you have, as a bartender today, the opportunity to ‘make a name for yourself’ and to truly carve out a career beyond the bar.
The past decade or so has seen a boom in Ambassador jobs. These roles, which only 15 years ago were mostly unheard of, are now on offer by almost any brand in any country. Not that makes it any easier to land one of these ‘backstage passes to the world’ (as the job sometimes has been described), nor any less impressive when you do. There is more competition for these roles today, than there used to be.
What is awesome about these roles it that they truly open up the career opportunities for bartenders. Whereas only 20 years ago the career path was a limited and narrow one, today’s bartenders can see themselves moving from bar to brand quickly and soon find themselves working in sales or marketing for multi national firms.
This is fantastic, as it allows us to use our time as bartenders as the springboard for a new career; as the foundation for our future, rather than simply serving as the ‘fun times’ you had whilst looking for your true calling.
However, for the modern bartender, it doesn’t stop there, the scope is much larger, the opportunity bigger. For the past 10-15 years developing a ‘name for yourself’ has been something you primarily did within in the industry, however today, your name and your personal brand, can extend beyond the bar world. Like a chef, an architect, a designer, your personal brand can now live amongst consumers.
As both consumers and media start following bartenders who gain acclaim for their service, their skill and knowledge, and the high quality of products they serve, opportunities arise both in consultancy, and publishing, but this trend also paves the way for your opportunity to go from employee to employer.
The fact that consumers have changed from just looking for a quick fix and the chance to get lit, but instead are seeking out quality drinks and great service, is paving the way for smaller bartender owned and operated venues to succeed. Back when the focus was on design and ‘the cool crowd’ it was more difficult to set up a bar on a small budget. Today – this has changed. And it has changed all over the world.
Some of the greatest bars in the world, and some of the most prestigious bars in the world, are now small, opened on a shoe-string, no bells and whistles, no private booths or names-on-the-door operations, but owner operated and bartender owned bars.
And I think this is great!
When I established my first bar, Eau De Vie, in Sydney, we did it on a shoestring (which unfortunately turned out to be longer than expected). And whilst I am proud of the design, and how intimate and luxurious it can feel in there, I am way more proud of the fact that people have always come there for our drinks and our service. Not because we are cool, or trendy, or spent a fortune on chandeliers and designer furniture.
The Modern Bartender, I believe is a man or a woman, with opportunity ahead; and a great future should they want it. I am not saying that remaining a bar-keep for life is something that should be avoided – not at all – but I think regardless of your profession, most of us appreciate and are motivated by progression and by change. Whereas for most of us that might have meant leaving the industry all together, it now means that bartending can in fact be the catalyst for your career.
Personally – I pursued many of the above opportunities. Not because I wanted to leave the industry, but because I LOVE it, and wanted to progress within it, and to continuously learn and grow. I have written for trade magazines, and consumer publications. Had my own column in GQ. I published a cocktail book that was awarded the title of Best in the World at the Gourmand Book Awards. I’ve owned and run a consultancy agency called Behind Bars, and am currently the lucky owner of a small bar group in Australia. Currently, in addition to the bars, I am focusing on my new online training business Ananas, as well as my growing boutique spirits business: The Experimental Spirits Co.
I’m pretty proud of where bartending has taken me, and very optimistic about where it will continue to take me in the future.
For the Modern Bartender, I think, the future is bright.