5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Bartenders

Bartenders are an underrated part of our society. A few months ago I wrote about the threat of booze slinging robots to the traditional bartender (Booze Slinging Bots: The End of the Bartender?), so obviously I hold bartenders near and dear to my lush heart. They teach you valuable life lessons, after all.

Who you are is irrelevant so long as you respect yourself and others.

Bartenders don’t care what you’re wearing, who you’re with, what you do for a living, what your name is… just that you have money to pay for your drink. I frequent dive bars often and clientele there can range from 70 year old biker men, slightly homeless people, sorority chicks, yuppies, to hipsters… its a mixed array and I love it. Bartenders have the benefit(?) of mixing and mingling with all walks of life. They don’t discriminate, they just want your tips and money. Whether you work at Goldman Sachs or are an artist at the New School is completely irrelevant, your barkeep will love you just the same, so long as there’s respect in the bartender, bar-frequenter relationship. I was once in a bar in SoHo being served by a no-bullshit, kickass bartender. I like to think that we could probably have been best friends despite the fact that she was probably twenty years older than me – she had a foul mouth and called it like it was. Also in the bar was a dude who was a regular who started bitching and moaning that the bartender was charging him the “regular” prices rather than his preferential treatment prices. As the night went on he kept getting assholier and assholier, eventually being extremely rude to the bartender and other patrons. The respect wasn’t there anymore. She took off her bartender pants and put on her big-girl-you-betta-respect-me-or-get-hit pants and threw the guy out. What was baffling to me was that this guy had been a regular at the bar for years, and after relationship was broken, respect gone, BAM, it was all irrelevant. Lesson learned: RESPECT, man. Respect is necessary in any relationship, especially in the relationship with your bartender. Tip well, be polite, be appreciative, and don’t take things for granted.

It’s not called “enabling” its called embracing.

This Summer I’m pretty sure my parents seriously questioned whether they were enabling me when they forked out an extra $10 at our 9am breakfasts at our hotel in Maui so I could have an unlimited mimosa to accompany my breakfasts. I don’t believe in the word “enabling”. Instead, I prefer “embracing”. Our waiter at the hotel was not enabling me when he brings over a full glass of champagne and proceeds to ask, “Do you want orange juice with your champagne?“. I think about it, say yes, and he brings out a coffee creamer cup with some orange juice. He was not enabling me. He was embracing the fact that as a patron and guest, I wanted to fully take advantage of my vacation. Bartenders are hardly enablers. They want to see you have a good time. There is no such thing as enabling. Lesson learned: It’s all a matter of perspective. Right?

Sometimes you have to just go for it.

Drinking during the week is a big commitment and I’m not talking about drinks after work. One time, my friend and I went to a local bar on a Wednesday night and it was pretty dead. I’m not sure if he wanted the company or if he could tell we were strapped for cash, but he let whiskey shots flow for free. “But it’s a WEDNESDAY” I remember saying. It made no difference to him. All he cared about was living life ferociously and intensely. I surely couldn’t keep up with his lifestyle as I had to run outside in fear I would puke after a few shots (but instead ended up belching in a passerby’s face… oops). I came back inside after my false alarm to another shot poured. Who cares if its in the middle of the week? Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to take life by the horns and just go for it, regardless. IMG_3737

Do not bite the hand that feeds you.

My friend once dated a bartender. Which was convenient because he worked at the place right across the street from her apartment. Convenience here was key: location, free drinks etc. and I stress the free drinks part… it was a big deal. It was an ideal situation, until she blew him off and they stopped seeing each other. No more free drinks. No more perks. No more. Everytime we went into his bar we were essentially ignored. It was more than just the cold shoulder. Even the bar back in training shunned us. I’m not sure what the greater lesson here was, because there’s many – don’t date a bartender, just because they’re beautiful doesn’t mean they’re datable, or more importantly don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Either way, we got schooled.

Other people might know whats best for you.

One time I ran into a guy that worked behind the bar at a restaurant I frequented with a guy I was dating at the time. After we recognized each other, he asked, “Are you still dating so-and-so?” I told him yes which was countered by a frown and a shaking head. I was puzzled. But then, weeks later after I stopped seeing so-and-so, it all made sense. The guy who worked behind the bar had seen me and so-and-so together many times, and as an outside perspective, could tell we weren’t compatible. Bartenders are extremely observational, and he knew what was best for me. In another instance, when I was feeling particularly adventurous yet extraordinarily skeptical trying a pickleback shot. I’m fine with whiskey, but I don’t even like pickles, let alone pickle juice. With the urging of my friend and the bartender I tried my first pickleback and fell in love. Beforehand though, I was 99% sure the bartender was full of sh*%, “You’ll love it. I promise. Do you like spicy things?” I grimaced and nodded. “Great. First one’s on me”. He proceeded to pour me a shot of whiskey next to a shot of spicy pickle juice. It sounded absolutely disgusting and I had to look away when he poured the pickle juice out from a squeeze bottle that looked like it could be used for ketchup or mustard. Trust me. I trusted him. And I was so glad I did. It was the most genius combination in my mouth and I was amazed by it. Needless to say, we stayed in that bar for awhile, if I can remember correctly. If you’re ever unsure of what to order at a bar or what cocktail to try at a restaurant or lounge, DEFINITELY trust the bartender, let them know what you typically go for and they’ll show you a whole new world. Lesson here: sometimes bartender knows best. Especially when they’re cutting you off (NOTE: I’ve never been cut off before. I’ve seen people get cut off, but have never personally been cut off. Just thought I should clarify).

So here’s to you, bartenders all over who have taught us all the greatest, most invaluable lessons we could learn from the person who pours our drinks, laughs at our jokes, sees us at our best and worst. This is dedicated to all of you fantastic motherf***ers who we remember, and even moreso, to you bartenders we’ve forgotten in our hazy nights. Thanks for the drinks. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the lessons. RESPECT. 


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