At this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, Bacardi invited bartending legends to write a “Letter to a Young Bartender.” In these letters, the likes of Brother Cleve and Julio Cabrera shared the wisdom they wish they’d had when they were mere up-and-comers. Read on to find out what Gaz Regan would like to tell his younger self, as well as the new blood in the bartending industry.
Dear Young Bartender:
Never ask a woman when her baby’s due. Trust me on this.
Author/poet Maya Angelou probably wasn’t thinking about bartenders when she said this, but it sure as hell applies to us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
People will never forget how you made them feel.
If you’re going to survive behind the bar, you’ll have to learn how to make a decent drink, you must commit to long hours of hauling ice up from the basement, cutting lemon twists, squeezing fresh fruit for juices, and cleaning every inch of the bar before, during, and after every shift.
You’ll have to learn about carving ice and other such nonsenses in order to be in line with today’s standards, and you’ll need to know the flavor profiles of every single ingredient you use behind the bar.
And let’s face it, just about anyone can do all those things.
Not everyone can make their customers feel good, though. And if you make your customers feel good, they’ll never forget you. Your guests will never forget how you made them feel.
There is massive competition in today’s bartending community, and you’ll be tempted to join in the fray and going to outrageous lengths to bring attention to yourself.
You might invest in a dozen or more eye-catching tattoos, or perhaps, if you happen to be of the male persuasion, you’ll grow a long moustache that you braid and adorn with beads.
You can learn a few flair moves that are sure to make you the center of attention behind the bar, or you could, if you’re a woman, wear revealing tops, and drink shots of whiskey rather than sipping on so-called “girly drinks.” That’s sure to start people talking, right?
And no matter what gender you are, makeup can be a great tool if you want to draw attention to yourself, so if that is your wont, go for it. Don’t be shy. Go for it.
Perhaps, instead of going toward physical traits to get yourself noticed, you’ll delve into molecular mixolology, and get people talking about your ability to, say, create drinks that taste exactly like a great Bouillabaisse, or a Raspberry Pavlova. Or maybe you’ll be drawn toward the classic route, and make a name for yourself because your ability to achieve perfect balance are unparalleled in your geological area.
You’ll find, I believe, that tactics such as these will be rewarding, if you have the patience to work hard to achieve your goal. The cocktail community might herald your achievements, the media will, perhaps, feature you on television, or on the cover of magazines, and you could be sought out to make appearances at bartender conventions such as Tales of the Cocktail so that your adoring fans can fawn all over you and pay homage to your skills.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Believe me. But if you, for one second, start to believe that, because you’ve captured everyone’s attention you are, in some way, better than the homeless guy begging for quarters at the bus stop, you’ll be doing a dis-service to yourself, and to the bartending community at large.
Don’t take yourself too seriously, young bartender. You sling drinks for a living, for fuck’s sake. Big fuckin’ deal.
If you make your guests feel good, though, that is something in which you can take pride. You’re still no better than anyone else, but you can rest easy knowing that, in a small way, you’re changing the world.
Changing the world? Yes. You’re changing the world. Make one guest happier when he or she leaves your bar than they were when they walked in, and you’ve changed the world. It’s that simple. And if a million bartenders all over God’s green earth do the same thing on the same night, then the happy vibes will be palpable around the globe. Bartenders can change the world.
To paraphrase Ms Angelou, people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, and no matter how outrageously you dress, act, or appear, people will forget about that, too. But people will never forget how you made them feel.
I envy you the journey.
With Lots Love from,