A Dog’s Life

You may recall, in 2009, I started working behind the bar on a semi-regular basis. Guest bartending at Alembic Bar once a month for our Savoy Cocktail Book nights, and occasionally working at Heaven’s Dog, either as a fill in bartender or on Sunday nights.

As the end of 2011 approached, some regular bartending shifts at Heaven’s Dog opened up, and I talked to the bar manager about covering them.

I could either pass on the opportunity, or take a chance on finding out what it was like to work more nights a week as a bartender.

So, in November and December, in addition to my full time job at UCSF and Savoy Nights at Alembic, I started working three nights a week at Heaven’s Dog, going straight from one job to the other.

On one hand, this was a crazy amount to work, basically 9AM until Midnight 3 nights a week, but on the other, even Mrs. Flannestad noticed that I seemed to be “happier”, if tired-er. Well, not to mention, in the food service world, these aren’t even crazy hours; many of the cooks, barbacks, and dishwashers in the restaurant easily bested me for hours worked for those two months.

As December wore on, though, it was starting to get apparent that I couldn’t keep doing this indefinitely, and if I wasn’t careful, the hours were going to take a toll on my health and my relationship with Mrs. Flannestad.

In my head, I looked towards the UCSF Winter break as my finish line, and started mentioning to Mrs. Flannestad the idea of doing one thing or the other, but especially bartending.

I’ve done lots of different things in my life. I’ve worked as a line cook, I’ve delivered coffee, I worked as a janitor, worked as a dish washer, tested video games, maintained computers, etc. For over the last 15 years, I’ve worked in the Information Technology field, which is a long time for any job in my life. Maybe it was time to try something different. Find inspiration elsewhere.

I have always loved food and drink, maybe that was the way to go.

We came to a decision, and I gave notice at UCSF, my last day would be the last day before the Winter Break.

Visit family for the holiday, come back, maybe work part time for a month or two while I regroup and gather my thoughts, but hopefully make a living in restaurants once again.

Of course, nothing is quite that simple, when I gave notice at UCSF, they countered with an offer to stay on temporarily at half time in the New Year.

As I hadn’t yet organized full time hours as a bartender, it seemed like a safe bet to take.

That’s where I am now, I’ve completed my first month as a part time tech worker and part time bartender.

As far as I can tell, I’ve got a couple more months of this, feet in both worlds, before I absolutely have to start looking for new opportunities, but I’m excited. A new year, a new start, interesting new challenges.

As Mrs. Flannestad said to me, “This is the first time, in a long time, that I can remember you actually being excited about a job.”

Here’s to interesting times!

Life in the Service Industry

What do you think of my new black shirts? I kind of like them, but they’re a little odd in the yoke to iron.

“Iron? What is this IRON you speak of? I don’t iron my shirts, I just hang them in the bathroom while I take a shower.”

Huh, good idea, I’ll have to try that. It’s just I don’t like to tumble dry my cotton clothes. I find they wear longer if I line dry them after washing. Then they’re too wrinkly to not iron them.

“Laundry?! I hate doing laundry! I just drop my clothes off at Laundry Locker in the Lower Haight, it’s a dollar fifty a pound for wash and fold, a dollar a pound if you sign up for a laundry plan.”

Clearly, I have a lot to learn about life in the service industry.

Savoy Cocktail Book Night

This Sunday, November 27th, marks the third year of our monthly event at Alembic Bar, Savoy Cocktail Book Night.

I have a vague memory of being at Alembic Bar with my wife, mentioning to Daniel Hyatt that they should reinstate the discontinued Savoy Cocktail Book Nights. Having him tell me, if they did hold the Savoy Cocktail Book Nights again, I should be involved.

I remember thinking, maybe I shouldn’t sound too enthusiastic, maintain a bit of distance, so as not to scare him with my enthusiasm. One of my favorite bars, Savoy Cocktails… Is this the “Make a Wish Foundation”?

“Yeah, that might be OK, let me check my schedule.”

Here we are, three years later, I suppose I should have learned some lessons.

Man, it’s still hard. Of all the bartending things I do, the mental effort of looking up all those cocktails in a night is one of the hardest exercises I do. I always find myself way more tired on Monday morning than I really should be for being as busy (or not) as we were and only staying up until midnight or 1 the night before.

People pick weird cocktails, for the sake of being weird. That’s the only thing I can figure, as to why the Green Dragon or Snowball continue to be ordered month after month.

There are some really good cocktails in the book and I enjoy pointing people in their direction. The Dandy, The Elk’s Own, The Rattlesnake, the Imperial, Jabberwock etc. There are quite a few fairly obscure and unjustly ignored cocktails in the book, and it is just fun to turn people on to them.

Anyway, I am grateful every month for the time I get to spend with the fantastic staff at Alembic, and especially, for the chance Daniel Hyatt has given me to spread the gospel of these cocktails using his bar as a podium.

Stop by after 6 PM on Nov 27. Cool drinks, great bar, fantastic staff. And, yes, if you really want a Southern Exposure or Pisco Sour, we can make those too…

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.

What’s Up Double E, Spring 2010

Life continues apace, with plenty of craziness to go around.

First off, Imbibe Magazine printed my Nocino recipe in their last issue, which was pretty fun, especially since they included an original drink recipe with it. Funny story, I actually sent them two recipes. When I was working on some cocktail recipes for the Nocino, I came up with two, one that I liked better, and one that Mrs. Flannestad liked better. There was a deadline for the article, so I just sent both cocktail recipes in to the magazine unnamed. When the issue came out, I discovered that they had named the cocktail the “Matrimony Cocktail”! For the record, the recipe they printed in the magazine was Mrs. Flannestad’s favorite of the two.

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Bartenders in San Francisco have a crazy amount of events. It’s kind of silly, really, how many contests, gatherings, and industry shin digs happen in this town. Since I live a double life as a bartender and desk jockey, I don’t get out to a lot of these events. You know, usually they are during the day, or on a “school night”. The other month, though, I got word of an event sponsored by Absolut. Two things, piqued my interest. First, one of my cocktail writer heroes, David Wondrich, was going to speak, and second, Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea in Chicago, was designing the menu. Well, geez, how could I not go to something like that? Alinea is often bandied about as one of the top restaurants in the US, this would probably be as close as I would ever get to dining there! Near the beginning of the event they told us there would be a little contest. They asked us to identify, by smell alone, the contents of 8 opaque glasses. I did my best, nothing seemed that hard, but I so rarely win contests of any sort, I figured, eh, whatever. After the amazing, outstanding, and mind-blowing dinner, they announced the winners. I was one of the two people who got the most right! The Prize? Dinner at Alinea with Simon Ford and the other winners from New York and Washington, DC. Holy crap! I think I have just been playing the wrong contests all these years…

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In terms of work, well, it goes on.

I started working at Heaven’s Dog in January of 2009. From January through September, I worked full time at my day job and picked up shifts as I could at Heaven’s Dog. Starting in September, I dropped a day at my day job and started working regularly on Sunday nights at Heaven’s Dog. It was an interesting experiment, but it didn’t work out. I am not super great at money management. So, for the time being, I am keeping Sundays, but re-joining the legions of food service employees who work 6 days a week, hoping to get the finances back on an even keel. Mentioning that I was already kind of missing my two weekend days off with Mrs. Flannestad, Daniel Hyatt at Alembic said, “You just gotta make that one day count.”

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Speaking of Daniel Hyatt and Alembic, we’ve now been doing Sunday Savoy Nights for over a year. Crazy. I missed one Sunday when I was out of town, but they have developed into a nice little Sunday night event for Alembic. Alembic has also started a couple fun new programs, one around cask finished bottled beer and another around having a special punch every Sunday. The food is as good as ever. I know I am a bit suspect as a semi-employee, but the guys in the kitchen really are executing food as good as any well known restaurant you can name in San Francisco, and they are doing it in a tiny kitchen at the back of a cocktail bar. It’s really awesome. Since its opening, Alembic has been one of my favorite bars in San Francisco and I continue to be grateful and humbled that they let me come in and play one Sunday a month.

014

Mrs. Flannestad and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary with a trip to Spain and Portugal. Talk about crazy! Too much good food and drink to even list, but my two favorite meals were at Casa Marcelo in Santiago de Compostella and Pasadis del Pep in Barcelona.  Both were amazing.

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That’s about it, hope you continue to enjoy the site! There will be some surprises coming this year, and, if I’m lucky maybe I’ll even finish this pesky Savoy Cocktail Project. Or at least get to the “End of Cocktails”.  See you around!

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.

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: VI. Sell all the liquor you can, but use as little as possible yourself.

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.

Fernet.

VI. Sell all the liquor you can, but use as little as possible yourself.

Boy, this is a complicated one.

First, a few points.

As dealers in delicious alcoholic beverages, most bartenders, as a sort of career responsibility, do have a fine appreciation for booze.

From a management, loss prevention, perspective, the Boothby quote is entirely intuitive.

The more booze you sell, and the less your staff drinks, the better your bottom line.

On the other hand, there is a certain psychic toll to bartending.

Most people cannot maintain the appearance of liking everyone they talk to without a cost.

It isn’t possible. Different people handle it differently, but for many, a little alcoholic lubrication isn’t a bad idea.

Not to mention, as a manager, if you are too much of a stickler about booze consumption, your staff will just sneak and steal.

On the other hand, a drunk or surly bartender is never appealing to the guest.

Maybe there are some semi-psychic individuals who can appear perfectly sober, manage money, and the patrons in their venues while three sheets to the wind.  I’m not one of them, or, more accurately, not comfortable with going down that path.

Then there are the other personal issues.

Sadly, or happily, I am a light weight in several senses. First, I’m pretty darn skinny with almost no appreciable body fat, giving me a pathetic tolerance to almost any volume of alcoholic beverage.  Second, my body is not particularly fantastic at processing alcoholic beverages back into non-intoxicating substances.

What does all that mean?

While some of my compatriots may be able to imbibe while retaining their composure, I cannot. If I am to appear a professional of any sort, I cannot drink (much) while working.  Important to recognize your limitations, I think.