Let's face it—bartending is as much about popularity as skill. When I was a lowly server, one of the things that made me want to work behind the stick most of all was the attention the bartender seemed to get. People were drawn to him. I watched in awe as people pushed by me and went straight to their man, who not only poured them drinks but also answered all of their questions with grace and aplomb. Me? They just ignored me as I tried in vain to communicate the night's specials, usually with a persistent interruption from one member of the group: I'm sorry, what was the chicken dish?
Surely their enthusiasm for the bartender had as much to do with him standing between them and the booze as his shining personality. In fact, classic bartending books even give tips on demeanor for the would-be "mixicologist":
Don't look fiercely at people, or talk loud and harshly, but cultivate a smiling countenance and quiet but firm tone of speech.
-C.F.Lawlor, The Mixicologist, 1895
So it's no surprise to me to see Cocktail Kingdom, a purveyor of classic bartending tomes and bartending equipment, have a vote for the bartending equivalent of prom king or queen. They urge you to consider the following:
• Who is making the best and most consistent cocktails? • Who is the best host?
• Who has the greatest cocktail knowledge, both historical and modern? • Who has a superior shake or a magic stirring style?
• Who is the master of the garnish?
• Who just has that special something that keeps you coming back?
These are good measures of a barman or woman, but master of the garnish? Now that does deserve its own category.
Despite its high school undertones, this list does highlight how the growing cadres of professional bartenders have become the celebrity chefs of the present, a.k.a. the cool kids. With an ever-consolidating empire of tops toques running rampant with coffee pairings at Starbucks and microwave meals, shouting "bam," and endorsing fried chicken or Tex-Mex crap, it's refreshing to see a new group vie for the culinary capital of national fame. Bartenders, good for you!
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm on the list of candidates. But I'd only urge you to vote if you've actually had a drink from me and not because I write a mean blog post, which I do. Some very notable names on the list include the ever-gregarious Jim Meehan, the legendary Tony Abou Gamin, liquid savant Todd Thrasher, and blogman Jeffrey Morgenthaler, but they've got plenty of votes already. I say pick out your hometown heroes or write them in.