So You’re Making Me a Bartender…?
A few weeks ago, I was told I was moving up from server to bartender. For anyone who hasn’t worked in the restaurant industry, this might seem like a lateral move involving more alcohol (but is that really a lateral move?). However, it’s actually a promotion. Hungry people are irritable, and demand constant attention. People who want to get drunk are desperate to please the tap gods so they may once again have their cup refilled before the last buzz wears off. They sidle up to the bar and hold their money out at you (we’ve all done it), and look longingly until you give them their alcoholic nectar. And then you don’t have to deal with them. Need ketchup? Not for your beer! I’ve given you a small cocktail napkin for any spills; now be on your way. The only real reservation I have with being a bartender is my inability to make engaging small-talk. I’ve already mentioned how bad my first impressions can be. Sometimes, I just can’t seem to rein in my internal filter to produce engaging and witty banter. Or simply normal conversation. “Thank you for sharing tonight with me” is not an appropriate post-meal goodbye to your customers. In fact, it’s downright creepy. But it happened.
However, most things about being a bartender can be learned. The way that you interact with your customers is totally different than waiting tables, and the more you practice the easier it gets. I have flashcards with all of the signature house cocktails, obscure brunch mimosas, and beer notes. I know how to change the kegs and start a tab, and am starting to know most of the regulars by name. I’m starting to break less glass-wear (the first day of training I broke 13 glasses total-14 if you count the one I shattered on purpose because 13 broken glasses is just bad juju. Tonight I only broke two). But I can’t open champagne bottles. I just can’t. I tend to make a total mess and the cork usually shoots into a direction I wasn’t even pointing the bottle in. Case in point:
I was waiting tables out on the patio on a particularly beautiful day in March. The entire patio was packed and everyone was drinking. I had a group of three people, seated at the table closest to the wrought-iron fence that encompasses our patio, who had asked for a bottle of Chimay Blue. For anyone not familiar with this beer, it is essentially packaged like a champagne bottle, as most Belgian-style beers tend to be. The bottle is about the same size and the cork is mushroomed shaped, producing a loud POP when you open it, as the carbonation escapes its entrapment and you pour a lovely beer with an attractive 1.5 inch head of foam. Actually, if you do it right, it should be a smooth pull with a small “puff” if you will, but I’ve never been able to manage that. I hate opening these bottles. You’re supposed to wiggle the cork a bit with your thumbs to loosen it (AWAY from people, just in case), and then pull the cork out of the bottle. Simple, right? I presented the bottle to my table and began attempting to wiggle the cork. As I mentioned, the patio is completely packed and I barely had room to stand, much less point the cork at some unfilled space. I couldn’t get the cork to budge with delicate wiggles, and finally I just pushed the whole thing forward with my thumb, using as much force as I could muster in my carny-sized hands. The cork flew out of the bottle, rocket-launching about 20 feet into the middle of the Chinatown intersection with a loud POP that startled even me. Beer sprayed everywhere, which I anticipated, and had brought a towel to clean up the table. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was the homeless man sitting underneath the patio against the fence. Hearing the POP and seeing something fly over his head, he immediately began to freak out. I’m not talking a startled yell. This was an “oh-my-God-the-Mayans-were-right” apocalyptic meltdown. “WHOAAAAAAA OHHHHH WAAHHHHH AHHHHHHHHH” for about 15 straight minutes. I assume he thought he was being shot at, or something of the like, and remained under the fence, running a 10 foot radius back and forth, completely flipping out. I felt awful for scaring this poor man and tried everything in my power to get him to calm down. After a few minutes and a handful of impatient tables trying to flag me down, I had to give up and pretend like I hadn’t just catapulted a cork into the middle of the road and sent a homeless man into shock. “Would you like…” “BAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!” “…dressing on the side..?” “WAHHHHHHHHHHH!!” It was either terrifying, or hilarious for all parties involved. Even after management heard the whole debacle and finally subdued the homeless man with a free meal, they still decided to make me a bartender. I’d like to think it’s because of my good looks and charm, but in reality they probably just want to contain me and my “skills” to a small section of the restaurant, behind a bar I’m not allowed to leave. Tomato, tomahto.
Image from http://www.utendbar.com/