Passing the Bar

I am writing this from my couch at 6 pm on a Sunday night while watching Football. Admittedly that is not something that seems so impressive as that seems like what any healthy (or maybe not so healthy) American would be doing on a Sunday.

But my Sunday nights have been different. For the last 5 years of my life I have bartended on Sunday nights. So instead of sitting on my couch like the world's most stagnant man, I was pouring drinks for strangers watching the TVs behind me.

Super Bowls, Oscars, etc. I bartended through all of it. Dressed like a drink Ninja and standing on my feet for 6 hours is how I passed nearly every single Sunday since April of 2005. It had become part of my regular workweek. Five days in the office, one day behind the bar.

But I quit 3 weeks ago and I can’t tell you how amazing it feels.

For a long time people had told me I would make a good bartender. I don’t know what that actually means. Like I looked trustworthy enough to pour drinks for people I don’t know? I might be really good at handling glassware? I look good in black? (It just so happens that I do.)

Whatever it was that those people saw bubbling beneath the surface exploded after I watched the movie Cocktail. For those of you who have never seen it, it watches like a loveletter to all things bar related. Tom Cruise is looking to land a job in business but can’t, and thus ends up living the wild exotic life of a bartender.

I tell you, that Tom Cruise certainly can sell a lifestyle. Wild nights, gorgeous women, and more cash than he could handle! I mean, granted the end of the movie where his Bartending mentor kills himself wasn’t exactly appealing, but ya know, all the money and the women kind of pushed that visual out of my mind. It was decided, I would become a bartender!

I had a big problem though. I had no idea how to make a drink. A vodka tonic was easy enough, and I had opened beers before obviously. But things like cosmos and tinis and shots I didn’t have a clue. I was halfway through my 21st year on the planet and only 1 year removed from the time I had my first drink. I drank beers and simple drinks. I wasn’t walking into bars asking for a Harvey Wallbanger… mainly because I didn’t want to get punched in the face.

It was winter break of my senior year of college. So I looked online for bartending schools. There were many. Very expensive, very cheap, online only, etc. But getting a bartending certification online seemed kind of like passing a road test over the phone. I needed the experience, I needed practice pouring and mixing, holding the tools, and perhaps, flipping them in the air.

So I found a place in Arizona. Two weeks, 5 nights a week for 4 hours a night. It cost 400 dollars. It was a big chunk of change, but I was pretty sure I would be able to make it back pretty quickly if I got a gig. So I did it. The ABC Bartending School or something. It is there that I learned a whole crapload of things that I can no longer remember.

I finished the class in the beginning of February and set about looking for a spot to bartend at. But bartending in a college town is a competitive gig and the only person I ended up pouring drinks for was myself.

So after the semester I came home to NY where I got a day job at a summer camp sharing my life advice with a gang of 7 year olds and of course, driving a school bus.

And yes, it is in fact a short bus. Please, no comments.

But I wasn’t about to let my hard earned bartending knowledge (and 400 bucks) go to waste. I started looking around my town for a bartending job. I drove my sailboat (1990 Crown Victoria) from bar, to hotel, to restaurant looking for an employer looking to hire a bartender with no experience but a hell of a certificate.

It was incredibly unrewarding. Here I was, a worldly individual nearly done with my degree which I was getting on full scholarship 2,500 miles away from home, and I couldn’t convince people I was qualified enough to pour rum AND coke into the same glass.

Managers would look at my resume and the job app I was filling out and kind of make a face or tell me they only hired from within. I would smile back and say thanks for letting me know but I really wanted to say “YOU TURDWAGON, I TRAVELLED THROUGH 9 COUNTRIES IN 30 DAYS BY MYSELF, I CAN FIX A COUPLE FRIGGING DRINKS!”

But of course, that is not appropriate bartending application etiquette.

I finally got some luck at a second rate country club that I should have known was going to be an awful experience. But I wasn’t sure it would come through so I kept driving around, eventually spending an hour at chain hotel to fill out an application. I left there and was on my way home when my mom gave me a call on the cell.

There’s a new pizza place that opened in Garden City. It says its looking for a bartender. Why don’t you go check it out?

So I did. I walked into Grimaldi’s. And even though it was technically the second bartending job I had been hired for, It’s really where it all began.

To Be Continued...