Life in the Service Industry

Server A: “I finally got my best friend to send me my albums.”

You mean vinyl albums or CDs.

Server A: “Yeah, vinyl albums. I have a bunch more at home, but she sent about 40. It was surprisingly cheap to send them as media mail.”

Cool!

Server A: “Yeah, I don’t buy CDs any more. If I can’t find it on torrent, I’ll maybe buy it from apple, but I haven’t bought a CD in a long time. Plus, when you buy vinyl, they usually give you the digital version for free.”

Nice! Yeah, I got a turntable for Michele for Christmas. I have a really excellent turntable I’ve had since college, but it’s belt drive, so you have to track down new belts every couple years. It’s just gotten harder to find the belts over the years.

Server B: “I buy vinyl and have a Crosley turntable, but I don’t really use it too much. I just mostly listen to digital.”

What’s Up, Winter 2011

I guess you might have noticed that the Savoy Stomp has been slightly stalled of late.

The long and short of it is I have been a bit too busy to find much time for leisurely making, photographing, and writing about drinks.

Full time job, Bartending shifts at Heaven’s Dog, Holidays, Travel. They’ve all contributed to a slight stagnation of content creation for the blog.

And to be honest, I don’t imagine there will be much else happening until 2012.

On the plus side, there really are very few Savoy drinks left to make. A couple more Fixes, Juleps, Smashes, Punches, and Cups and we’re DONE. Kaputt. Outta here.

What happens after that, with the Savoy Project and the blog, I really don’t know.

We’ll just have to see what develops.

As far as Savoy Cocktails go, you can always get your real world Savoy fix at Alembic Bar the last Sunday of the Month, when we hold Savoy Cocktail book Night.

Though, do note, as the last Sunday falls on December 25 this month, we’ll be holding it a week early, on Sunday, December 18.

And if Savoy Cocktails aren’t your thing, you can find me at Heaven’s Dog on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, when I can make cocktails with ingredients which weren’t included in the Savoy Cocktail Book.

Hope to see you around!

What’s in Your Bartender Bag?

If you are working as a bartender, getting to work and discovering there aren’t enough mixing tins, strainers, or spoons sucks.

Thus, many people invest in their own tools.

Following the example of the lovely folks at Ford Mixology Lab, I will show you what I take to work when I am bartending:

1 Small Cutting Board
Cocktail Recipe Book
Paring Knife
Wine Key
(I should have a pen)
2 Bar spoons
1 Disk Style Bar Spoon
1 Pug Muddler
1 Small Sieve
3 AG Hawthorne Strainers
4 18 oz Naranja Tins
4 28 oz Naranja Tins
2 Yarai Mixing Glasses
(We usually have plenty of measuring jiggers where I currently work, so I don’t bother to bring them. If I was working a catering gig or somewhere I wasn’t familiar, I would bring a set of measuring jiggers.)

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: X.

Boothby

As I mentioned before, Anchor Distilling recently reprinted the 1891 edition of “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“.

As someone who is somewhat involved in the bartender trade, I always enjoy going through old books and reading the advice that appears. Usually, I am amazed at how little has changed. How valid pieces of advice contained in a book from 1891 can be 118 years later.

So I thought I would go through Boothby’s “Ten Commandments” for bartenders one by one and see which ones still make sense for the 21st Century.

X. After a party has finished drinking, remove the glassware from the bar as soon as possible, and dry and polish the bar top immediately, never allowing a particle of moisture to remain. This is a very important rule.

I know it is unappealing to customers to see a used place setting or drink before they sit down, but this quote reminded me of a passage that Philip Duff recently wrote on Joerg Meyer’s blog:

Philip Duff left DOOR 74 in Amsterdam

7. It Is Cool To Be A Waiter
I have defined myself as a bartender for twenty years.I am perhaps the world’s worst waiter, and would have to be serving alongside Stevie Wonder to be come anywhere but last in a Waiting League Table. In my athletic and carefree youth, I recoiled from the idea of waitering with as much shock and horror as a Pope would when, unwrapping his Christmas presents in front of the prelates, it turns out that prankster Richard Dawkins has sent him a dual-speed Sybian machine and a tub of Vaseline. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a fundamentalist. “Once a waiter, never a bartender!” we used to snigger back in the day. But in the course of hosting and waitering in my bar, I learned to love it. It is a different set-up to bartending: as a bartender, you just stand there and guests come to you. It fascinated me to be able to welcome people, seat them, serve them and look after them. It was so much easier to make them happy, I discovered. I still suck mightily at the technique of waitering, you understand – mere mention of my tray skills is enough to give the remaining door 74 staff the haunted look of Vietnam veterans hearing the whop-whop-whop of helicopter rotors – but I love taking care of people in a way that goes beyond drinks.

As someone who only ever worked back of house in restaurants, it’s a bit of a trip for me to actually have to talk to people about the food and wine we serve in our restaurant. I mean not only talk to people but act as a (pathetically bad) waiter. Under the right circumstances I can geek out about cocktails and spirits until the cows come home, but to actually get the whole gestalt of a bar/restaurant thing is a challenge. Answer questions like, “What wine is the best choice with this dish?” or, “What dishes would you recommend?”

I read Michael Procopio’s Food for the Thoughtless and Vanessa Vachit-Vadakian’s blog good things come to those who wait.  I try to parse the lessons from those resources and others to improve my hospitality skills.

Some nights at the bar, I feel like I learn more from the wait staff about service, than about cocktails.

I was talking to a friend about it and he had the exactly right insight.

No matter how important a lot of people want to try to make bartending seem, star bartenders and all that bullshit, at the most basic, it is a minimum wage service job.  Period.

If you can’t hang with that, or if you don’t get any satisfaction out of SERVING customers, well, maybe this is the wrong career for you.

Serious.

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: IX.

Boothby

As I mentioned before, Anchor Distilling recently reprinted the 1891 edition of “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“.

As someone who is somewhat involved in the bartender trade, I always enjoy going through old books and reading the advice that appears. Usually, I am amazed at how little has changed. How valid pieces of advice contained in a book from 1891 can be 118 years later.

So I thought I would go through Boothby’s “Ten Commandments” for bartenders one by one and see which ones still make sense for the 21st Century.

IX. After using a bottle or tool always replace it before doing anything else. Make this a rule that should never be broken; and, when you are rushed with business, you will never be compelled to hunt for this or that, but you will always know just where it is.

If there is any one thing, especially, that previously working as a line cook helped me with as a bartender, it is exactly this.

The idea of getting your station set up exactly the same every night, everything in reach, supplies topped up, and keeping it clean and in order for the length of your shift.

Fancy cooks use the French term “mise en place” or just “mise” for this, which means, more or less, “everything in its place”.

Ideally, you’d be able to close your eyes and make the drinks without much of a problem.

Look, as a bartender, you have to juggle a lot of things in your head. The drink orders from the dining room, the people standing in front of you, customers’ money, customers’ drinks, customers’ food orders, the last thing the wait staff asked you for. All that stuff you have to keep straight.

If you can take one thing out of your head, so you don’t have to think about it, don’t have to look for that bottle during a busy shift, you should do it. Setting up your station adequately and keeping it organized is the best way to do that.

Andrew Bohrer explained this much more “poetically” in his post, Get Your Fucking Mise in Order.

House Manhattan (Well Shaken!)

If you know me at all, you know my favorite cocktails are Manhattans and variations thereupon.

Generally, the Manhattan is the first drink I ask for from a bartender I don’t know.  If they can manage to get something tasty in a glass involving bitters, whiskey, and a decent portion of fresh sweet vermouth I feel like maybe I can trust their judgement.

I also take great pride in the beautiful, clear, cold Manhattans I make for customers.  I think they are as good a Manhattan as you will get, anywhere in the world.

I even bring my personal Yarai mixing glasses to work and chill them in our glass freezers, for a little extra silkiness in stirred drinks like Manhattans and Martinis.

I was working the service well the other night and an order came back, “2 House Manhattan, Well Shaken”.

I flagged down the server and asked, “Really? Are you sure they don’t mean well stirred?” She said, “No, they said they wanted them Well Shaken.”

OK then.  I loaded the Manhattans up in two of my tins and shook the living hell out of them.

Poured the frothy, cloudy, monstrosities into cocktail glasses, garnished them with a lemon twist, and sent them out.

About a half an hour later, another ticket came back, “2 House Manhattans, Well Shaken”.

Again loaded up two of my tins and shook the living hell out of them.

I smiled and mentioned to the server, “You know, every time I do this, I die a little inside.” She laughed, nervously, unclear if I was joking.

A half an hour later, another ticket came back, “2 House Manhattans, Well Shaken”.

“I’m just trying to keep you in shape,” the server remarked.  I said, “Just as long as it is two at a time, I do need to practice shaking two drinks at once.”

I know some bartenders would have gotten all upset about making shaken Manhattans, maybe refused to do it, or tried to talk the customers out of it.  Unfortunately, it was for a table in the dining room, so I had no chance to interact with them.  But even if it was at the bar, look, we sold three rounds of House Manhattans to paying, happy customers.  If they’d been at the bar and I tried to get all up in their faces about shaken Manhattans not being “proper”, they might have ordered one drink and walked out.

If you first earn the customers trust, you have a chance of changing their mind as the evening progresses.  In my experience, if you first force your ideas onto them, they will have one drink, pretend to like it, pay, and leave.

I know some bars and tenders have the luxury of choosing who they want to serve.  They have lines of eager cocktail enthusiasts and trendy scenesters waiting behind a velvet rope, hanging on their every pronouncement and genius cocktail.

Lucky for them, I guess.

For me, I work in a restaurant, where just about anyone can get a reservation, walk in, and order a drink.  We don’t check your cocktailian references before serving you.

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: VIII. Keep the floor behind the bar as dry as possible.

Boothby

As I mentioned before, Anchor Distilling recently reprinted the 1891 edition of “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“.

As someone who is somewhat involved in the bartender trade, I always enjoy going through old books and reading the advice that appears. Usually, I am amazed at how little has changed. How valid pieces of advice contained in a book from 1891 can be 118 years later.

So I thought I would go through Boothby’s “Ten Commandments” for bartenders one by one and see which ones still make sense for the 21st Century.

VIII. Keep the floor behind the bar as dry as possible. It not only looks better, but you will find your health greatly improved by following this rule. Many bartenders contract rheumatism, neuralgia and many other serious complaints through carelessness in this report.

I don’t know if it is recent world disasters, or the topic, but I’ve been having a very hard time getting inspired to write about bar floors.

Keeping the floor dry is certainly a sensible thing to do, above all for safety reasons.

Most bars I’ve worked in either use a wood slat lattice over the floor or the kitchen mats pictured above.

Both help, to a certain extent, to prevent slips and help with fatigue. They also allow one to be less concerned about the inevitable spills.

I can’t speak to whether these cushions help prevent “rheumatism,” “neuralgia,” or “other serious complaints”. I really haven’t been bartending long, or serious, enough to develop any “serious complaints” as a result. I mean, I do have my shares of aches and pains, but most are related to back, shoulders, elbow, and wrists. Back from a lifting injury in High School. Shoulders from 10 years as a line cook. Elbow from a bike accident a few years ago. Wrists from 15 years in Information Technology.

Personally, I find a daily regimen of stretching and exercise does the most to keep these “complaints” from becoming more “serious”.

And Michele says donating to Partners in Health is a good way to help.

Stand With Haiti

Stand With Haiti

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: VII. Wear a comfortable shoe with a heavy sole.

Boothby

As I mentioned before, Anchor Distilling recently reprinted the 1891 edition of “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“.

As someone who is somewhat involved in the bartender trade, I always enjoy going through old books and reading the advice that appears. Usually, I am amazed at how little has changed. How valid pieces of advice contained in a book from 1891 can be 118 years later.

So I thought I would go through Boothby’s “Ten Commandments” for bartenders one by one and see which ones still make sense for the 21st Century.

boots.

VII. If you are troubled with sore feet, bathe them regularly. Avoid patched or ragged hosiery, and wear a comfortable shoe with a heavy sole. Light soles, low cut shoes or slippers should never be worn behind a bar.

First let me stress one thing: Bartenders, like cooks and waitstaff, stand for almost the entire duration of their work day/night.  If you’re lucky, you might get to lean against a post out back for a while, or, maybe, if you’re especially fortunate, sit down for long enough to scarf some food.

You will be bending over grabbing bottles, lifting buckets of ice, carrying cases of liquor, kegs of beer, or reaching up to grab bottles from the back bar.

All of this is especially tough on your back, especially lower back.

One of the most important things you can do to help yourself, and your back’s future, is to invest in quality footwear.

Different bartenders seem to have different philosophies of footwear. Almost all service requirements say they should be black. Beyond that, important features include a no slip sole and some decent amount of arch support. Waterproof is also not a horrible idea, as you’ll probably spill some liquids on them during the course of the evening.

Some people wear clogs, some people athletic type shoes.  Others low work shoes.  I, thankfully, have never seen a bartender wearing Batali inspired Crocs. I would probably have to slap them upside the head.

Personally, I go with the Red Wing Gentleman Traveler Boot. Red Wing boots are well made and durable. If you keep them cleaned and oiled, they should last you more than a few years, if not decades.  As they don’t have the most super arch support, I have added some cushiony insoles I got from an athletic shoe store.

Not sure about the whole “hosiery” thing, but thick, black, cotton blend work socks from WigWam are my choice.

Savoy Anniversary

Wow! Who would have thunk it? A year of Savoy Nights at Alembic Bar have come and gone.

Not to mention, a year of bartending on a semi-regular basis.

As Danny Louie put it a few Sundays ago, “I bet you’ve learned a lot!”

Gah!  Sometimes I think I’ve learned so much I don’t remember a thing.  Recipes, service standards, names, drink preferences, POS operation, etc. have claimed a big section of my brain.

The major things that have defined this year have been bartending and Michele and I adopting our dog.

Beyond that, much has been business as usual.

Since my birthday, in October, I have been struggling a bit, cough, as a “man of a certain age”, wondering where this is all going, and what I was hoping to accomplish. Getting myself in a bit of a lather, thinking about what I’m actually getting out of any of this cocktail junk and what I “deserve”. I need to let go of that way of thinking, as it is nothing but destructive.

I think I’ve gotten past that in the last few days, and am back to my typically midwestern way of looking at life, “things could be worse.”

I’m pleased with the direction the photos have taken on the blog and want to get more involved with photography in general. It was something I had put on a back burner in my life a while ago. Put a bookmark in that part of my life. I’m enjoying re-examining the photos I take with a more critical eye, instead of just taking snap shots of cocktails.

Maybe I’ll even bring the camera to the next Savoy Night at Alembic!

Oh, speaking of, the next Savoy Night at Alembic will be December 20th. We’re still ironing out exact details on what cool things we’re going to make, but hopefully we’ll have a couple punches and maybe some hot drinks.

Stop by, say hi, and order some cocktails from guys in goofy suits.

033Cropped

Forward Into the Past!

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: V. Dry and polish all the glassware and tools which you have used on your watch

Boothby

As I mentioned before, Anchor Distilling recently reprinted the 1891 edition of “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“.

As someone who is somewhat involved in the bartender trade, I always enjoy going through old books and reading the advice that appears. Usually, I am amazed at how little has changed. How valid pieces of advice contained in a book from 1891 can be 118 years later.

So I thought I would go through Boothby’s “Ten Commandments” for bartenders one by one and see which ones still make sense for the 21st Century.

Packed and RTG

V. When going off watch always dry and polish all the glassware and tools which you have used on your watch, and see that everything is in its proper place, so that your relief can work to advantage as soon as he arrives at his post.

You’ve had a killer shift and are dead tired. Just shooed the last of the hangers on out the door. Rousing yourself to do the closing cleaning tasks, well, can be a challenge.

But if you don’t your replacement, or the next day’s opener, is going to be in a world of pain, spending the first portion of shift cleaning sticky bottles and running around looking for supplies.

It’s professional courtesy, pure and simple, to do your best to make sure that your station, and the bar, is clean and in decent shape to do business after you have left.

Rouse yourself and remember that kindness given is usually returned.