You Too Can Be a Terrible Bartender

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Photo by Mr. T in DC/FlickrCC


Lately I've seen much advice on how to become a better bartender, with even some of bartending's top brass weighing in, but who's going to speak up for the worst among us—the lazy, indolent, and average bartenders. The ones who roll their eyes when you ask for a cocktail, and use their fingers to extract the fruit fly from your syrupy Cosmo. With all of these swizzling, shaking showmen taking the stage and reviving the craft of bartending, how will the next generation know that we once had a dark age with sour blue pucker drinks, a time when you were lucky to get a Manhattan with bitters?

Just put it in the glass and give the customer a stirrer while mindlessly parroting "Enjoy."

Well, readers, rest assured I won't let that happen. So I'm here to give you advice on how to become a terrible bartender—nope, how to be the worst. Take these five simple steps and you will pull the proverbial thread of craft bartending, unraveling the progress of bartending by decades. Remember: it takes practice to suck this bad. So get your head down, dump your bartending tools, and get to it.

1. Giving the customers what they want is overrated. Forget about it. They don't mean it, they don't want it, and you don't want to make it anyway, so why perpetuate the façade. If they ask for a gin martini with vermouth at a ratio of three to one, clearly they mean splash a drop of vermouth in the glass, swirl it around, then dump it before adding a few shots of warm gin. Feel free to comment or smirk that "that's a lot of vermouth," or "nobody order gin martinis anymore." Nothing says first class like treating the customer second class.

2. Get 'em drunk—that's what they're after anyway. People don't enjoy the taste of alcohol and don't care about a well-made drink. They're out to get sloshed—as they once did in college, so they do now. I've always said there are only two kinds of bartenders: those who have faith in humanity and those who pour rail rum when the customer asks for a premium brand while insisting that he "will never notice." Maybe he won't, big guy—so good for you.

3. Sit at the end of the bar and avert your eyes from the throngs of thirsty guests. Forget about the customers waving dollars bills and vying for your attention, thirsting like hyenas in a Saharan drought. Surely discussing the latest gossip with other staff members is better use of your talents. Besides—you're an actor, musician, or struggling artist. Getting drinks is beneath you. You work hard and you've earned a break. Lean like you mean it.

4. Measuring, stirring, shaking, and swizzling are just a pointless show. To properly mix a drink just pour the desired ingredients in a tin, extend your arm ever so slightly from your waist, as though you were mid-draw, and make a slow circular motion for 15 seconds or less. Spoons? What a joke. Better yet, just put it in the glass and give the customer a stirrer while mindlessly parroting "Enjoy," or, better yet, say nothing. (To get bonus points here, complain about the dollar tip he leaves in response.)

5. Don't take a genuine interest in your guests. Make some drinks, get them to pay, and ignore them for the rest of the night. Who cares if they just got laid off or are heartbroken or new to town. They are likely to interrupt your free time at work. Wait for them to flag you down and then only if you mistakenly make eye contact (see rule #3). I hate it when that happens.

I'll throw in one more tip—don't learn what's behind your bar and just make it up. When someone asks why the bottle of Benedictine says D.O.M. on it, say either "No one drinks that anyway" or "Dominican Order of Monks" (Benedictine Dominican Monks, eh?). Good luck and if you should fail at your task, don't count on me to serve you a drink in consolation. I've got better things to do.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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