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.

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: III. Always appear pleasant and obliging

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.

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III. Always appear pleasant and obliging under all circumstances.

As you probably know, there are a bunch of relatively unrelated skills which bunch up under the title, “Bartender”. Making drinks, keeping track of money, serving food, taking orders, etc.

Probably the most important talent is the knack appear a “pleasant and obliging” host to your guests.

Some times it’s easy, some times it hard. Depends on your mood and the guest you are serving. But ideally, the guest shouldn’t know either way.

I guess that is Boothby’s point of using the phrase, “Always appear pleasant and obliging,” rather than, “always be pleasant and obliging”.

I’ve had a sucky day, I’m broke, my car broke down, my wife just yelled at me for staying out late the night before, the bar back called in sick, and a party of 20 just walked in the door.  I’m about to go down in flames.

As a bartender, those are my problems.  It’s part of the job to leave my problems at the door and do my best to facilitate my guests’ pleasant evenings, no matter the circumstances.  That can be hard.

It can also be challenging to figure out exactly how best to serve your guests.

Some want to be left alone.  Some come in to talk.  Some come in to flirt.  Some come in to make out with their date.  Some come in to get hammered.

It is not my job to judge.

But it is my job to serve them all.

Personally, I have the hardest time with figuring out exactly how and when it is appropriate to break the ice when I can see a guest has some interest in communication beyond ordering their drinks and food.  Most of my coworkers have a quiver full of handy jokes, anecdotes, and trivia to deploy in exactly these sorts of situations.  I’m still working on it.

And the fact of the matter is, there are some people I get along with and some people I don’t.  In normal life, I usually get to avoid hanging out with the people I don’t get along with.  In the service professions, I gotta get past that and “appear pleasant and obliging” to folks I wouldn’t normally be caught dead chatting with.

But, like I said, I’m working on it, because, really I never know.  Sometimes the people I think I’m going to hate serving turn out to be the highlight of the evening.  And, on the other hand, the ones I thought were going to be a pleasure, sometimes turn out to be the biggest pain in the ass of the night.

Not that any of you are really a pain.  You’re all wonderful and fascinating specimens of this human race.  I love you all equally.

Hm.  Getting around to that, one thing that I do think is really important to the job, is the ability to find the glorious, diverse splendor of the human race interesting.  I would think it would be pretty tough to even appear pleasant and obliging, if you didn’t at least have an active interest and curiosity about your fellow man.

Boothby’s Ten Commandments: II. See that your finger nails are always clean

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.

Fingernails.

II. See that your finger nails are always clean and your person presents a tidy appearance.

While you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover, I’m afraid it is inevitably the first thing it is judged by.

You’ll usually find me dressed in Levi’s Denim, Woolrich flannel, and work boots. I am nowhere the stylish dresser that many Bartenders are. No diamond pins, stylish hats, or pointed shoes typically adorn my twig-like frame.

However, for Savoy Cocktail Book night at Alembic, I usually wear a vest, a nice white shirt, and one of my father’s old silk ties. Semi-ironic, I suppose. But I like to think of the ties as somewhat totemic.

My father was a Funeral Director in the Midwest. His uniform was the dark suit, tie, and wing tips just about every day of his life. He was so much the better “people person” than I am, that I like to think some of his skills might carry over when I am wearing his ties. As if, somehow, the clothes might make the man. Or at least, I might be more cognizant of the sort of “people person” I can or should be, by wearing his ties.

Funny, eh?

I spent most of my youth wearing ripped jeans and untucked flannel shirts, irritating the hell out of my ex-Marine, Funeral Director Father, now here I am ironing shirts and wearing his ties.

It is interesting that Boothby uses some military-like terms in his commandments and.  Classic bartending does often seem to involve the sort of neatness and precision associated with close order drills.

Is it any wonder quality cocktails didn’t get along with the loosey goosey, let it all hang out, keep on truckin’, 1970s?

But to get back to the “finger nails”, my boss at Heaven’s Dog, Erik Adkins, always says, “My hands are my tools,” and, indeed, that is very true. We use them to squeeze twists, handle fruit, measure booze. Grungy fingernails and unkempt hands are as unappealing in a barkeep as they are in a doctor.

This is another 19th Century Commandment still valid for the 21st Century.

Boothby’s Ten Commandments

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

(Cocktail) Boothby’s Ten Commandments.

I. Always be on time to relieve the other watch. It is a good plan to make a practice of arriving a few minutes early so as to arrange your toilet and step to your station on time.

II. See that your finger nails are always clean and your person presents a tidy appearance.

III. Always appear pleasant and obliging under all circumstances.

IV. Avoid conversations of a religious or political nature.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

From “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“, recently reprinted by Anchor Distilling from a first edition, 1891 edition, at the California Historical Society.

Just Like STARTing Over

Big Feet.

We recently added a new member to our household, Mr. Monty Wooley. We adopted him from Wonder Dog Rescue without much information beyond him being somewhere around 6 months old.  We suspect he is some sort of Dachshund-Terrier mix, given his shape and how fond he is of sniffing just about everything in the world.

Michele and I have been talking about getting a dog for almost as long as we have been together, but it is still a pretty big adjustment to our (and our cats’) lives to be responsible for the health and happiness of this tiny terror.

The amusing part is that when you walk a little dog, you get to meet tons of people who normally wouldn’t even give you a second look.  We like to say we’ve met more people in our neighborhood in the last 3 months than we had in the previous 8 years of living in Bernal Heights.

So it’s pretty weird, as an anti-social curmudgeon who generally hates making small talk, to find myself chatting away with strangers about dogs, the weather, and what is going on in our neighborhood.

Likewise, working behind the bar has been stretching who I think I am in oddly similar ways to owning a dog.  Making small talk with strangers about both esoteric and pedestrian topics.

It really is sometimes strange where the coincidences and situations in life take you.

Currently, I find myself in a bit of new phase in my life.

The budget woes at the University of California have caused the administration to require that all employees take a certain number of unpaid furlough days a month.  In my case it would have been a bit more than two days a month.

I’ve been working as a bartender for what has amounted to a day or two a week since we opened Heaven’s Dog in January, so this time off isn’t really a huge crisis.  In fact, it will be kind of nice to only work 5 days a week!  I know, I’m an underachiever.

But when I was thinking about what to do with two free days a month, it occurred to me that it would be easier with the bar scheduling to take the same day off every week.

Luckily, the University also has another program to save itself payroll money, which allows employees to voluntarily take a certain percentage off of their jobs.  Starting a couple weeks ago, I reduced my University job to 4 days a week and at the same time convinced the bar manager at Heaven’s Dog to give me a regular shift at the bar.

Here’s to strange new adventures, dogs, and small talk!

MxMo XXXVI: Hard Drinks for Hard Times

mxmologo

Matt Rowley over at Rowley’s Whiskey Forge is hosting this month’s MxMo and his theme is Hard Drinks for Hard Times:

If your 401(k) has taken a beating, or if you or a spouse or friend have been laid off, or if you’re simply hanging on to your wallet for dear life, you’ve probably given some thought to how the economy is affecting your basic expenditures—such as those you make for booze. Here’s a chance to share how you’re drinking during the downturn; whether it’s affordable booze, ways you’re cutting corners, or things you’ve figured out how to mix or make on the cheap, we need to hear it.

Uh, so this is almost a week late.  Sorry Matt, I’ve had it mostly written in my notebook for over a week, but haven’t gotten a chance to get it turn it into a blog post until now.

Onward…

As you may have noticed, I have a small problem with compulsively purchasing spirits.

This is not really a new thing, just sort of a different expression of my spendthrift ways.

When I was a kid, I spent what little money I made from my paper route and selling coke at football games on collecting comic books.  When I got a bit older, I started purchasing records.  After I reached drinking age, I went through a period of wine obsession.  As time flew on, I moved to CDs.  Then for a period I was completely obsessed with computer games.

I am a compulsive collector of sorts and our house is cluttered with the paraphernalia of my various and sundry obsessions.

Which also means, I have never really been good at prioritizing budgets, keeping track of my spending, or coming up with real career plans for myself.  In fact, after moving to California and failing to find a well paying job, I was probably on the fast track towards accumulating a very nasty credit card debt.  Were it not for some success at finding decently paying jobs in technology, I am not really sure where I would be today.

But after a couple of the tech companies I worked for failed, I took a job with a local University.  Taking a significant pay cut in exchange for what I hoped would be job security and decent benefits.  The job security thing didn’t initially turn out to be quite the case I was hoping for, but I am still working for the same University, albeit in another job.

Since starting at the University, I’ve made enough to cover the bills and been quite religious about not accumulating more debt that I can cover on a monthly basis.

But the spirits purchases related to the Savoy project have always put a pretty big dent in my monthly income.  And, for something like 4 out of the last 7 years I have worked for the University, we have had pay freezes or limits on increases in compensation.  When we have gotten raises, they haven’t even been at a rate commensurate with inflation.  Really, the only way to get a decent raise at the University is to switch jobs.  But now, with most departments having hiring freezes due to the California state budget situation…

One thing I’ve tried to do, from time to time, is to parlay my areas of intense interest into sources of income.

For example, during my intense period of interest in food, I worked as a cook in restaurants.  As an avid computer game player, I managed to get a job as a game tester for a video game company.  While at the same company, I became interested in Information Technology and moved to the tech support department.  I even tried to get a job in a record store when I was totally obsessed with jazz and made enough money to pay for our moving van to California by selling some of my old comic books.

Mrs. Flannestad calls me a “conniver”.  I may not have had a career plan in mind at any point in my life, but somehow things do happen from time to time, which from the perspective of hindsight, look like some sort of twisted and rocky path.

Since becoming interested in cocktails, I’ve been trying to figure out some way to actually bring in some cash with whatever meager expertise I have accumulated in the field.

A number of folks have suggested that I write a book about the Savoy adventure.  Unfortunately, whenever I talk to friends who have actually written books, they tell me writing a book, is not, in fact, a very good way to make money.

From what I can tell, most blogs don’t really make money either.  Oh, a few, with tremendous readership may make their authors enough cash to get by.  Some “celebrity bloggers” may actually be rewarded well.  But really, is a geeky drink blog like mine going to have enough appeal to generate much ad revenue?  I suppose I could go for a sponsorship deal: “The Savoy Stomp, brought to you by Beefeater’s Gin”.  But then I would have to kowtow to some superior force instead of using whatever spirits I want.  No fun.

I could, I suppose, work in a liquor store.  But I already have a full time job during the hours that most liquor stores are open.  Besides, in my experience, retail doesn’t really pay that well for most employees.

Bartender, though?

There are a few things that appeal.  Being on the front lines of cocktail evangelism.  Doing something with my hands.  It’s a culinary profession.  It’s in food service, which I enjoyed previously.

Why not?  Most shifts are even at different times from my University job!

So here I am, working two jobs and trying to make my dream of supporting the Savoy blog and its expenses by working in a bar reality.

Is it fun?  Yes.  Is it rewarding?  Hell, yeah.

Is it hard?  Well, a bit. But it’s the only way I can think to get the experience.

How’s the Bartending Going?

As the most common question I’ve been getting lately is, “How’s the Bartending Going?”, I should probably post about it.

The first week at Heaven’s Dog was kind of crazy.  I worked a party, a practice service, and a regular shift in addition to my other job.

The party was for Press and some other folks.  Not super busy.  Someone asked me early on if I was having fun, and I was kind of like, “It’s OK.”  I was really nervous and hadn’t known the drinks until I got there that evening.  But about two thirds of the way through the evening we had a nice rush, with people three deep from the bar.  I said, “Now we’re having fun!” and the person I had been talking to replied, “I know you’re being sarcastic…”  But, I wasn’t being sarcastic at all.  I totally love the point in working where you shift from having to think about everything to muscle memory and instinct.

The practice service was harder, as I had to learn the Point of Sale system to take food and drink orders for customers.  My boss remarked, “Saturday we’ll have you on the well, mostly making drinks for the dining room.  It will be similar to when you worked at Flora.  But tonight’s going to be sink or swim.”  Plus, we had a surprise new item on the menu: “Freedom From Choice!  Pick a Spirit and a Modifier and our talented bartenders will choose a drink for you!”  Fortunately, for most of the night I had sympathetic bartenders in front of my well, who ordered interesting drinks and were aware of the difficulties of opening a new restaurant and bar.  On the whole I’d say, while I didn’t break any Olympic records for the butterfly or Australian crawl, I didn’t sink either.

Heaven’s Dog opened for real on Friday and I worked my first shift in the newly opened restaurant Saturday night.  The restaurant was fully booked for the evening and I worked the service well, where you make the drinks for the dining room.

To be honest, I was amazed I was able to stand, talk, and make drinks all at the same time.  Between my other job and Heaven’s Dog, I’d worked a 14 hour day for the party and another 14 hour day for the practice service.  I was now about to work my sixth day in a row.

But by now, I knew the drinks, was familiar with my coworkers, the service staff, and slightly familiar with the POS system.