In New York, you’ve got to be flexible. Have a plan A, and a plan B. Being able to work at more than one job is a plus too. For example, my real job is data analyst. People who aren’t data geeks usually give me a look when I tell them this. It’s the kind of look I’d give someone who confided in me about having a bad case of toenail fungus: sympathetic, a bit detached, and without any indication that more details would be welcome. On the flip side, people who ARE data geeks light up like chandelier made of Duraflame logs, and we can chat about data for days on end.
However, data is not my only talent. I think everyone have at least two skills in case the job market goes south, and one of those skills should be bartending. That’s because I am a trained mixologist (bartender to you). At one time, it was my fulltime profession, and it’s a skill I like to keep current when I’m not crunching the data. For example, I’m the official bartender to a monthly quilting club. This involves making sure people get the heavy machinery part of quilting out of the way before they start drinking “crazy punch”. Let’s just say we’re the most popular quilting club in town. I also serve as a volunteer bartender for a museum ship docked in Tribeca.
In New York, there are as many ways to volunteer as there are get a job. Volunteering is a great way to try something new, to meet different people, to see something for the inside. You can volunteer for the arts, for social causes, for political causes, for education, for
children, for communities. You can join one-day coastal cleanup crews. Help out in the parks, libraries, schools, museums, and community centers. Me, I volunteer to tend bar at fund raisers and parties aboard the Lilac. It’s a low-impact way to help a worthy cause, and it doesn’t involve painting the deck in the hot sun (but you can do that, if you’d like). I help raise money, keep up my bartending chops, and get out of doing any actual physical labor.
So, for your next career, you too can be a mixologist. No need to pay for bartending school, just follow these lessons and you will learn.
Lesson One: You’ll always have a job. What about if the market collapses again? Or, in
the words of every cheesy docu-drama about the end of the world, “It’s not a question of ‘if’. It’s a question of ‘when’”. So, when the market collapses again and data analysts are building cardboard houses next to the train tracks, I’ll be ready with my fallback skill. All those broke bankers will need a drink. Even if cryo-feeze balls and expensive drinks that no one really likes are a thing of the past, beer has been around since the dawn of time. We’ll always have beer, and I can always pour it.
Lesson Two: You don’t need to take a drink to be a bartender. In fact, it helps a lot if you don’t.
Lesson Three: You’ll learn to take charge. When you’re the bartender, you’re in charge of what people want most. The huddled masses will be clamoring for more of what they came for, and what they came for is booze. But first, you’ve got to sort them out, make
them wait, remember who’s next, and remember who paid. You’ll once again learn the (second) most important lesson of bartending – the bartender needs to be sober (see lesson two). No drinkies for you! You’re the most important, most organized, busiest person in the room.
Lesson Four: Your Material is Killing it! It’s easy to talk to your customers. You will be chatting easily with people of all ages, stages, and backgrounds. That’s because they’re drunk, and you aren’t. Everything will seem funny to them if you act like what you’re saying is hilarious. No need to brush up on your material. “Hot enough for you?” followed by a friendly laugh and a boilermaker, will get the party started.
Lesson Five: You’re the Expert It’s nice to know your product, but close enough is good enough for bartending. No one can tell the difference between 25 year old cognac and lighter fluid if they are both mixed with coke. Neat single malt scotch is a bit different, but you can still wing it. When someone asks if the house scotch is “too light or too smoky”, you can immediate suggest that it’s “somewhere in the middle”. As a data analyst, I know that this statement will always be true, as long as you create the scale. In this case, you can use a one-to-ten rating, where one represents pure spring water, and ten represents a chandelier made of Duraflame logs. It won’t matter – they’ll always come back for more.
Lesson Six: Instant Sommelier! You will be expected to hold forth on almost any topic, as long as that topic is booze. Here’s an example. One of my recent patrons asked me to “characterize” the wine before pouring it for him. My first thought was to answer, “it’s
wine, it’s red, I’m guessing it cost $19.95 for the case, and you’re drinking it out of a plastic cup. What else did you want to know?” Fortunately, my mixology training kicked in, and I quickly changed my answer to “It’s a yeasty Merlot that’s light on the tongue”. That’s the best characterization I’ve come up with in a while. Thank goodness the patron didn’t ask to see the label, which clearly stated “Wine”, but with no other explanation.
Lesson Seven: You Learn How to Call for Backup No one can do everything alone. That’s why you’ll need Serge. Serge doesn’t speak a lot of English (or any other language), but
he’s big, he’s calm, and he knows what to do when things get a little rough. You probably won’t have to ask him to intervene, but it’s nice to know he’s there in a pinch. I once saw Serge pick a guy up by his collar and waistband and give him a light toss, like those people who fill sandbags before a big flood. Note: this particular guy needed tossing.
Congratulations! You’re a mixologist – now get creative. Every bartender has a signature drink. You can have one, too. It’s easy, and you don’t have to be too exact with the recipe, since no one ever had it before. My advice? Start with vodka. Add some other liquids, such as juice or liqueur (but not crème de menthe, or it will taste like toothpaste). Give it a clever name, and there you are. Here are some starter recipes.
Green-Eyed Monster Pour a bunch of vodka over ice in a tall glass. Add something green, like Cynar (slightly bitter) or Midori (very sweet). Lime juice would work, too. A few drops of green food color in the vodka also does the trick. Top with Mountain Dew if you’re south of the Mason/Dixon line, plain seltzer in New York, or Seven Up anywhere else.
Old Bitter Pro: Open a bottle of prosecco. “Prosecco” is another word for cheap champagne that you tell everyone is “prosecco”. Fill a tall champagne glass halfway with the “prosecco”. Add a shot of vodka. Add a few drops of bitters (I like anything from Urban Moonshine, but you can pick up something cheap at the Associated Supermarket, too). Make everyone drink them until the “prosecco” is gone, because it won’t keep.
Sex on the Mojito: In a short glass with ice, add 2 shots of white rum. If you ran out of that, you can use vodka. Fill it up with orange juice, add a slice of lime (tip: unripe lemons look the same as ripe limes), then a splash of peach schnapps (make your own with equal parts vodka, light corn syrup, and canned peach nectar) and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. If you’re fresh out of mint sprigs, try some parsley or a carrot.
The Black Death: Add 2 shots of Jagermeister to 2 shots of vodka in a frosty mug. Top with Guinness. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of dark molasses, using a black licorice vine instead of a spoon (or a whole licorice root, if you’re in Brooklyn). Substitute one Ricola dissolved in 2 shots of vodka if you can’t find the Jagermeister.
If you can drink that, you can drink anything.