Why can’t mixologist be more like bartenders?

Welcome to MyMixologist.com’s first official Blog post! I have big plans to blog about events, post recipes, and let you in on some trade secrets. I’d also like to hear your thoughts and ideas about this blog or anything on you mind related to the industry. I appreciate the opportunity to share my experiences or learn something new everyday.

WHY CAN’T MIXOLOGISTS BE MORE LIKE BARTENDERS?

Not that I have anything against mixologist. Some of my best friends are mixologists. The problem is that in my experience, the amount of professional arrogance in the industry is staggering. It’s not enough to be a talented, passionate know-it-all anymore.  Todays consumer has choices when it comes to craft cocktail lounges.  It wasn’t long ago that my friend, mixologist James Menite, and I went into a well established local cocktail lounge here in NYC (no, not that one) and sat at the bar. We were happily chatting away while we waited the obligatory 15 minutes to get our perfectly made craft cocktails when a young lady stepped up to the bar and ordered a Cosmopolitan. James and I winced as we braced ourselves for the response. Then our mixologist said “If you want a Cosmo, I suggest you go out the front door, make a left, go to the end of the block until you see a dive bar on the corner. Maybe they’ll serve you a Cosmo”.

Direct quote.  I swear on my bottle of KNOCKANDO (or No-Can-Do as the case may be).  Sadly, though I should have been floored by this response, I’d heard it before. Sometimes the admonishment is directed toward Vodka, grenadine or a blue cocktail, but the message always comes across loud and clear: ‘WE DON’T SERVE YOUR KIND HERE!’

It seemed obvious to me that guest simply didn’t know what she wanted, but what if she did?  Not only was she a paying guest, she is a human being.  The whole incident reminded me of the pompous chef who refuses to do substitutions for no other reason than his guests “just don’t get the vision”.  It suddenly occurred to me that a lot of talented mixologists could learn a thing or two from a good bartender.
[figure class=”alignright”][/figure]Take Tommy Rowles for example. Tommy has been a bartender at the Carlyle Hotel for over 53 years. If you ask him his favorite cocktail to make, he’ll tell you straight out: a Heineken. The man doesn’t know from mixology, but he knows how to make his guests happy. The only time Tommy grunts at a cocktail request is if you order a Mojito and that’s only because he has arthritis and it hurts to muddle that mint properly. Everybody’s has their own story on why they got into the customer service industry, I just think that if your going to be in this business one of your priorities should be, hmmm, I don’t know… customer service?

The really sad part is that everyone I know in this business has a similar story and yet no one is ever guilty of having done it themselves. In the three years I worked at PER SE I only had three guests request a Long Island Ice Tea. These diners were about to embark on the most memorable (if not expensive) meal of their lives and yet they ordered a cocktail famous for its amnesiac qualities. It never occurred to me to roll my eyes, or whisper in hushed tones to my fellow bar mates.  Instead I did what a bartender/mixologist is supposed to do, I made their drinks, without judgement.  I didn’t make them overtly strong, I didn’t rip them off. I used premium spirits, fresh ingredients and balanced the acids and sugars. It was the “best tasting L.I.T. they’d ever tasted” hence the second round. Chef Thomas Keller once said, “We (in the service industry) are in the business of creating memories”. Bartenders more than most.

So the next time a customer leans over the bar and orders that ‘Mudslide with extra cherries’ tap into your inner bartender.  Consider it a personal challenge and make them the best damn Mudslide they’ve ever had, even if your blender is still broken!

(COMMENTS?  FEEDBACK?  SHARE YOUR OWN STORY?  I want to hear from you… send all comments to: Brian@MyMixologist.com)

9 Replies

  • I’ve often wondered the same thing myself, working at a bartending school that constantly upgrades our training curriculum to account for high end Mixology while still training traditional high volume bartenders to make LIT, Irish Trash Cans and the like.

    I have a theory that, in any rapidly growing field (Wine in California springs to mind), there’s an outpouring of ego, exuberance, and growth that’s later tempered once commercial success begins to occur.

    In Philadelphia, we had a bar called the Apothecary, later shortened to APO, which was our first “real” Mixology (no food, only pretzels were served), and it failed. When Mixologists introduced arrogance and a carefully cultivated air of approachable exclusivity, they seemed to do much better, and now that recognition is so widespread (there’s never been a better time to go into a Williams Sonoma for the home bartender), there’s a sense of balance, restraint, and fun in bars here that wasn’t there before.

    When I went to Israel, I was dismayed that the Mixologists there got the wrong stuff right (secret entrances from the artisanal hot dog place next door, berets), and the right stuff wrong (Old fashioned with excessive soda, drinks layered with cheap fruit nectar, forgetting my brother’s drink), but we’re working very hard to train bartenders alongside Mixologists when we get new students.

    I feel that the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, TOTC etc. can only do so much. Watering the leaves is not the same as watering the roots. When more and more beginning bartenders are taught the right way to approach the craft, the distinctions will diminish and respect for the customer will grow.

    Lastly, congratulations on your first post and good luck on your venture.

  • Love it….well articulated blog, keep it up, please. Essayist with interesting syntax are rarer as the days go bye.

    I bartended for many years at the Windows on the World up to the 1993 attack. Joe Baum (Four Seasons, Rainbow Room, etc.) used to say”‘, I don’t care if someone orders a monkey s**t martini. Give it to them with a show and a smile.” If you didn’t know or know of Mr. Baum he was considered the PT Barnum (or was it Cecil B. deMille) of restaurateurs.

    Some bartenders are bartenders in name only. Certainly they can do a little bar chemistry and come up with some interesting concoctions.
    However, they have forgotten the bar adage “, people don’t go to bars they go to bartenders.”” Though today it might not be as prevalent in manhattan as it used to be (may be not as many dynamic bartenders) , but it sure is evident elsewhere in the city and country wide.

    Thanks, keep up the good work,
    Carl

  • Great post!! I’ve been a proud bartender for almost 20 years and the things I hear “Mixologists” say to people still blows me away. Yes, I have some drink requests that I would rather not deal with, but at the end of the day, we are in the people business and these people are paying us to provide them with a memorable experience…..let’s give it to them!

    Thanks for the post, I’m glad somebody is really talking about it. Great work, my friend.

    Best,
    Doug Compton
    Seattle, Wa..

    • DO NOT make this drink this way.2 parts amaretto, 1 part liouqr 43 (or another vanilla liouqr)2 shots of lemon juice, 1/2 1 shot of gomme (depends how sweet/sour you want it)Shake thoroughly, strain over an old fashioned glass full of crushed ice. Top up with more crushed ice, add sip straws and garnish with lemon. Can add angastura bitters also if you want for a nice touch.Always make using fresh ingrediants.

    • nope, you are wrong. Lemons and limes are more expensive when they are out of seaosn. During the winter the prices go up, sometimes up to 3 times the spring/summer price. If you find cheap ones during that period, that means that they have preservatives and chemicals you can’t even imagine. Truth is that sour mixes most definitely have more in them then the actual lemons.

  • I think the new craft cocktail practitioners of today and in say the last 10 years, have created a niche for themselves as a creative reason to be behind the bar, aside from being just another slinger of the basic drinks, beer and wine. Though I see that as a good thing for the industry, I’ve also heard many stories or mentions about some of them being too caught up in issues reflecting cocktail snobbery – they won’t make this, they don’t do that, etc. And if cocktailian bar owners condone it, then customer service will take a hit in these cocktail bar-type establishments, of which there are about 30-40 of them here in L.A. now.

    But they’re not without the same problems that any other type of venue has. For recent example, look at The Tar Pit. I don’t think it was even open for two years before it closed. A few others have failed or changed their direction along the way as well. To me, it’s just the period in bar history that they’re in the middle of, many of them in their late 20’s to late 30’s, coming into the field from wherever. It’s a big popular trend, and may keep going for awhile before it starts to fade and cool itself off a little bit. And if another trend comes along, they may find themselves in the rear view quicker than they expected. But for right now, they’re riding the wave of the moment. It’s not a surprise to me that many are using whatever title that can gain more exposure for them.

    However, in my opinion, it’s the beverage industry magazines that promote and highlight those kind of titles like “Mixologist”, when I also know some within their tribe that don’t want to be connected to the mixologist title at all, the ones who get past their tripping egos. I see it here in town, anyway. I can’t speak for how it goes anywhere else. Yet, when they get to the 15, 20 and 25-year mark of working behind the bar, the current winners of the popularity contest will no longer be. And they’ll feel it! It happens to all of us sooner or later, because in this business there’s nowhere else to go, up or down. Many of us would love to call this position a career, but how can you when there’s no security or stability in place? It’s a false vision that we only wish could be true.

    It’s the root cause of why we’ve seen bartenders, and even non-bartenders who’ve made a name in the field somehow, riding on the backs of people who stick with the work, the practice, to become brand ambassadors and total sellouts to brands in other ways, avoiding the real work. There’s no shame with some people! And they found the right pocket to expose, because we as true professionals don’t guard it. With no defense mechanisms, it’s left wide open for abuse, disrespectful of the profession and everyone who works in it. And the brands don’t give a shit! They use whoever, whenever, for whatever, and there’s always someone stepping up instead of stepping down. We have ambassador awards now – how cute and adorable is that, anyway?

    This leads me to two ideas to consider creating for the future.

    1) Create a Hospitality Hub where all bartenders across the country can feel more connected as one, instead of this continued mass disconnect where everyone becomes out for themselves. I’ll elaborate on the vision of The Hub if requested.

    2) After The Hub is created and operating, it will then be time for us bartenders to create the first-ever Beverage Channel or Beverage Network of a huge variety of liquid shows, of which I have about 30-40 ideas and concepts already down. Much like the Food Channel, we would have our own thing going with so many more bartenders able to participate their goods than just the same old winners of the popularity contest getting all the perks in this industry. I’m tired of them, and I’m sure they’re tired of themselves now too!

    These are big challenges, no doubt, yet if we’re not capable of coming together to help create more of a “Career” for us, then we’re going to end up remaining where we’re at with little movement until we’re old and gray. The powers of the industry don’t want us to expand with more long-term success for ourselves, as that will give them the illusion that we’ve all the sudden gained some stature of power, when that isn’t our primary motivation at all. It is simply to do something on a grand scale that creates more security and stability in our positions behind the bar for ourselves and for future bartenders, strengthening the position as a viable, professional career move.

    After 30 years as a bartender, I don’t look up or down to any bartenders. We need to learn to support each other’s endeavors. We all have our own unique creative and artistic qualities to share. I’m just ready to roll with playing a part in a big industry-changing project that would benefit all. Cheers! KB

    • You want a kick ass cocktail that is good all year round? Here you go!~~~~ Cosmolini~~~~~ In a mtirani shaker mix,-1 part white cranberry juice-1 part white peach juice-1/2 part Triple sec ( I like cointreau personally)-2 parts Absolut Citron-1/2 of a fresh squeezed lemonShake rigorously then strain into a chilled mtirani glass.Finally finish with a float of Moet Chandon on top.Garnish with a lemon twist.If you guys want others hit me up, I have a lot!-Jeffrey

  • Bullshit I work in one of the 2 best hotels in my town we alawys use fresh ingredience. There is no problem at all in showing up 10-15 mins before your shift starts, which you have to do anyway to set up the bar and squeezing fresh lime and lemon juice into 2 separate bottles that you can use during the shift and make sure you top it up every 2 days or so.

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