Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Passing the Bar: At Johnny V's in San Jose, Kim Perrin rules the tap.
The Barman Speaks
Our resident bartender skewers the Top 10 myths about drinkmasters
By Ryan Osterbeck
Most people would sell their soul along with Grandma's house and their yarbels for the ability to roll into work at 9pm, pour drinks, drink said drinks, listen to music, dance, party and flirt. Such is the perceived life of a bartender. Sure, we socialize and basically have fun, but some facts need to separated from fiction.
Most bar patrons have severe misconceptions about the actual lives of bartenders—who we are, what we do and why we do it. Also, remember that the interaction between bartender and customer is a delicate one; it's both an economic and a social relationship that has stood the test of time. Most other relationships in life are fleeting but, if managed properly, the partnership between drinkers and their bartenders is sacred. Consider this a pocket-size operating manual for our mutual good times. And, if these points are taken to heart, we can continue to raise our collective glasses and toast to our long, drunken future together.
So forget all those third-person fluff pieces you've read everywhere else. Here it is: the plain truth about bartending, from someone who knows.
Myth 1: Bartenders have the best job.
Swing and a miss. Our job may or may not be more fun than yours, but take a moment to swallow down this shot: While all of you are drinking and having fun, we're working. It is, after all a job. If it was all fun and games, they'd call it something else. And, after you guys are sitting comfortably at My Burger, Denny's and the Mini G with your double cheeseburgers, grand slam breakfasts and Monte Cristos, I'm most likely wiping down bottles, cleaning floor grates and counting money with one eye.
Myth 2: Bartenders love their jobs.
We don't. We do it for money, plain and simple. Bartending gives us the freedom to do other things with our lives, like ... drink with other bartenders.
Myth 3: You can out-drink the bartender.
A more wrong statement has never been uttered; you can't, so don't even try. But, if you're buying, I'll certainly entertain the challenge. I don't care how much you think you can drink—any bartender anytime, anywhere can put you under the table, period. I once made a quick Benjamin by betting that my 110-pound hottie co-worker could down a Three Wise Men shot faster than this supposed "anchorman" drinker from some nameless frat could. Needless to say, the taunts of "You got beat by a chick" echoed loudly and relentlessly through the bar all night long.
Myth 4: Bartenders need to earn tips.
We don't—we need to earn good tips. Tipping a dollar per drink is your obligation by virtue of stepping through the door and walking up to the bar. Everybody should be prepared to do it. And that's dollar as in paper—coins scream cheap ass. If you say "Keep the change" and there happen to be coins involved, that's OK. If the coins in any way touch you, however, they're yours. We make minimum wage and rely on our tips to survive, I don't need the extra 15 minutes of parking. If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to drink in a bar.
Myth 5: Whistling to get a bartender's attention is appropriate.
Are you going to fill my food bowl and play fetch with me, too? Really, there's no better way to ensure that you won't get a drink. If you need to get my attention, make eye contact or raise your hand slightly. Believe me, we see you; we know who has gotten a drink and who hasn't. We also know the exact order in which patrons arrived at the bar. There's a line; get in it.
Myth 6: Bartenders will wait for you.
We won't. If you hesitate more than three seconds after I look at you, you really must not want a drink. If you're buying drinks for friends, give me the whole order at once. And for God's sake have your money ready; you know it's going to cost something, so be prepared. Never turn around and ask other people what they want while the bartender is standing there. Never ask what's on tap or what's good—the taps are usually right in front of you and we don't distill the liquor fresh every morning. If the bartender is slammed, we don't have time to get into a lengthy discussion about your personal tastes and preferences. And don't forget: you really don't need a half shaken, half stirred, super dry, slightly dirty premium martini with a twist, three olives and an onion to make yourself look good or feel better.
Myth 7: You're smarter than the bartender.
You're not. Probably 90 percent of bartenders have college degrees or master's degrees and can most likely whoop your ass at Jeopardy. Also, never argue your tab—you're drunk, we're sober. There is no malicious force putting unwarranted drinks on your tab; if it's on there, you drank it or bought it for somebody. It's a moot point whether or not you can remember it.
Myth 8: Bartenders remember everybody's name.
We don't. We remember drinks. If you say "Put it on my tab," then tell me your name. Also, if a bartender asks you what you want, don't say "another" unless you've been sitting at the bar and drinking the same thing for a while. If you haven't been at the bar for a while and lift an empty glass, I have no clue what once occupied it. If you say beer, please tell me what kind, and if you order a drink that can be served in different ways, tell me how you'd like it: salt or no salt, on the rocks or up, draft or bottle. If I was a mind reader, it's a sure bet I'd be in Vegas.
Myth 9: Bartenders are responsible for you.
Actually, this could go either way. If I know your name, I care about you, but ultimately you're responsible for your own actions. If you spill a drink, clean it up—and no, the bartender is not required to give you a new one, unless they actually spilled it. If you do get a new one for free, tip. In fact, you should always tip on free drinks. If you're drunk and need a cab, the bartender will get you one, but don't expect me to pay for it or give the cabbie directions. Once you're out the door, you're on your own. If you spill a drink on the floor or break a glass, alert a staff member and they'll clean it up. Never break a glass and just leave it on the bar; if I get cut and start bleeding like a sieve, everyone suffers.
Myth 10: Bartenders want your phone number.
Hey, if you come in regularly, tip well and don't cause a ruckus; of course the bartender will recognize you and probably float you a drink, but this in no way joins us at the hip. Which brings us to phone numbers. We'll take it ... but will we actually use it? I could wallpaper my house with all the phone numbers via cocktail napkins that I've gotten. Never ask for a bartender's phone number; we don't give them out. You already know where we work, and asking for a phone number or sending flowers to the bar is creepy. But you can sure as hell buy us a drink to get in our collective good graces. Guys, female bartenders do not want your number. They are not flirting with you because they like you; they are flirting because they are genuinely friendly or, if not that, because they like your money. Bartenders are not just looking for the next lay; that would be akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Nine times out of 10, bartenders are in a solid relationship; flirting is just part of the job. If you want someone else's phone number at the bar, the bartender will certainly help you, but keep in mind that I am neither Dr. Ruth nor Dr. Phil, and really don't care if you score or not.
Last Call: Bartenders are not rock stars, we all lead painfully normal lives and shouldn't be pigeonholed because of our jobs. Buy us a drink and we'll take care of you; treat us how you'd want to be treated and we'll do the same. But, treat us wrong and be prepared for a sober night of ridicule and shame. Yeah, we're in some way obligated to serve you, and believe it or not, how we serve you is entirely in your hands.
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