What Happens When You Befriend a Bartender
This is the year to become a regular.
To those who have not taken the time to sit at a bar and chat up the bartender, I would like to suggest that this is the year to become a regular. I have been lucky in my bar-drinking years to have met some of the most humorous, sarcastic, brilliant, sardonic, generous, serious, entertaining, hard-working people on the planet—and my life is better for it; many have become dear friends. From several bartenders, however, I have heard stories about bar guests who, rather than being a friendly face, are downright arrogant and bossy jerks, which is baffling to me. So I went to a handful of the greatest bartenders in the country to hear from them the best ways to behave (and in some cases, not behave) at the bar. The stories that came back were a mix of appalling and dear, from marriages borne of a bar relationship to impolite ticks that won’t be forgotten. Here, some tips on how to befriend a bartender:
“I love it when regulars ask us what is new: cocktails, spirits, or otherwise. We work so hard to keep pushing our bars forward, and it’s great when we get to share things we are excited about with our guests.” —Bobby Heugel, The Pastry War, Houston
“When you fall to talking to someone very like-minded and your age, who comes in routinely, occasionally it just clicks. For me, it always begins with the intellect and a keen sense of humor. You play tennis, or go out fishing, pretty soon you're going out to other bars with that person. It happens; everything happens in a bar, if you wait long enough.” —Toby Cecchini, Long Island Bar, Brooklyn, NY
“When I greet you with 'Hey there, how are you?' the correct response is 'Fine, how are you?' not 'vodka tonic.' Even if it's really busy, there's no reason not to be civil.” —Jayce McConnell, Edmund’s Oast, Charleston, SC
“One guy correctly identified the fish I had tattooed on my back and said he knew that because he was a marine biologist. Then he introduced me to Shark Attacks, a cheesy Bourbon street drink that we are now obsessed with (check out #sharkonthetown on Instagram and Twitter). I saw in him an enthusiasm and unbridled joy for his job that I also possess. He respects my craft, and I respect his.” —Abigail Gullo, Compere Lapin, New Orleans
“Any bartender will tell you that we work very hard and want to make this a fun experience for you, because it’s a fun experience for us. But when you simply can’t be patient or when you’re waving your hands in a bartender’s face, you’ve officially turned the act of us helping you get a drink into an unpleasant business transaction.” —Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Pepe Le Moko/Clyde Common, Portland, Oregon
“One thing that irks me a bit is when a guest asks me to make original cocktails from other bars and is then unsatisfied when they don’t turn out well. I always explain that the house drink from whatever other bar probably won’t be as delicious in our bar because we aren’t prepared to make it with the same proficiency—because of unique ingredients the bartenders there may prepare themselves or because we may not know their recipe or which spirits they use. It’s one thing to recall an idiosyncratic classic, which I always love the challenge of recalling from memory; it’s another to ask for a drink I have absolutely no experience with. I always give it my best effort, but sometimes the guest is unhappy that the drink doesn’t taste the same. But even in this situation, I see the silver lining. I simply replace the cocktail with one of ours I think they will enjoy better, and I usually have done more to impress them at that point than they expected from the drink they requested.” —Bobby Heugel
“I don't know if this is just a prototypically American thing, in that we are categorically driven to waste, but it drives me crazy when guests are sitting at my bar in front of me, pawing absentmindedly at my work tools or grabbing at huge stacks of bevnaps to simply ball up and leave about. They'll pull out the little Japanese picks I keep for the olives and just absentmindedly break them into piles, as one might peel a beer label. Putting your booger hooks on my tools, whatever they be, is verboten. The extreme end of this is, of course, the rampant thievery. People will steal your shaking tins, your mixing glasses, stirring spoons, any signs or paintings in the place. One guy tried to steal our Julio Iglesias album, but was humiliatingly thwarted by a gumshoe waitress. For shame.” —Toby Cecchini
“I love honesty and sincerity in drinkers who aren't trying to leverage their drinking habits for some ulterior motive. They are out for a drink and good conversation, or to be left entirely alone with their aged rum (or Armagnac, Negroni, Old Fashioned…always simple). Then they usually have something to contribute: a traveling architect working on a project; a nurse who has had a really hard day; a contractor in search of salvaged lumber and so on. The real stories of the bar are the guests, so it’s fun to tap them for real-life stories, as opposed to chatter about rye whiskey. Bars aren't really about your taste for booze, they're about sociability. I like the customer who acts like a guest, because they set the stage to be received as one.” —Jay Kuehner, Seattle
“The classic thing now is asking if drinks are ‘good’ as if I could be tricked into saying, ‘No! They are terrible! I hate what I do!’ But I understand people are just looking for some direction and I ask some questions about their palate and mood to direct them to a drink they will like—not because it’s good, but because it’s good for them!"—Abigail Gullo
“One particularly obnoxious habit is boredom-induced destruction—menus, flowers, napkins, anything that can be torn into little shreds by listless hands. We now charge $2 for a single flower if found destroyed or stolen. Seriously.” —Cory Bonfiglio, Proletariat, NYC
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