Sunday, October 25, 2009

When did bartending get so serious?

San Francisco has a unique cocktail culture. We have a rich history with our bars and cocktails. We are also currently considered to be one of the forefront cities when it comes to cocktail trends (right up there with New York). This is a blessing for some San Francisco bartenders. For others, this can also be a big pain in the ass.

Unfortunately being considered a forefront city for cocktail culture takes a lot of fun out of bartending for some of us bartenders. I admit, when I first started bartending, I didn't know the 25 classic cocktails according to BarSmarts. I didn't know whether to stir or shake my Martinis and Manhattans. There wasn't a bottle of bitters to be found at my bar. The freshest ingredients I used were the lemon and lime wedges cut fresh that night. That was also six years ago and when I lived/worked in San Jose.

Nowadays, I reside and work in San Francisco. I have been formally introduced to the mixology side of bartending and I love it. I am a fact nerd when it comes to things I am interested in. So it makes sense that I am always reading about the history of cocktails and bar culture, learning classic and new techniques for crafting cocktails and experimenting with all things alcohol. The quest for knowledge is fun and IF my customers are interested, I love sharing my knowledge with them as well.

This sort of thing stops being fun when customers feel like bartenders are too big-for-their-britches and shove their knowledge down their throat. People get it. San Francisco is really cool and cutting edge. Sometimes though, people just want what they want because they want it, not because an old cocktail recipe book or celebrity bartender told them so. There is nothing wrong with that. I respect bartenders/mixologists quest for knowledge and their desire to educate the masses, but in the end it really all comes down to the customer and making the customer happy. Some customers don't care about the science behind why there might be a taste difference between a stirred Manhattan and a shaken Manhattan. If that customer wants their Manhattan shaken, then the bartender should shake that Manhattan and serve it to the customer with a smile.

After all it is the customer who is leaving the tip and its the tips that constitute a bartender's living.


BB said...

I'd give up my rum and diet, kamikaze ordering college crowd for a more sophisicated --insert whichever drink sophisicated people drink since I know nothing of the sorts-- crowd any day.

Although, you're knowledge base is a lot more difficult to master than mine, making you're job much more difficult than mine.. I'd like to be able to give a drink to a customer that I feel proud of making. Don't get me wrong when my customers throw (and I mean literally toss) their shot cups down and commend me on the "awesome soco and limes" (like they are so hard to make) .. I feel something.. proud might not be the word though.

Cielo Gold said...

I think both types of bars have their pluses and minuses. I am proud of the drinks I create and serve for my customers. Overall, the crowd does seem better behaved than some of the bars I used to work in my earlier years, but my days of dancing on the bar are long behind me now.

Every now and then someone will order a round of Irish Car Bombs or Kamikazes and I'll reminisce.

I don't think it matters what kind of bar you work in. You can ALWAYS be proud of the drinks or shots your making and how fast you can make/serve them. said...

Very good point.

Indy said...

Been reading your blog, good stuff, wanted to invite you to the Indy Spirits Expo on 11/19 in SF, but can't seem to find an e-mail for you, so I'm inviting you via this comment. Hope you can make it -
my e-mail is