I had already put my two weeks’ notice in, in fact I had given them a month’s. But by the time they hired him I only had two weeks left. But two weeks can be an eternity in some businesses.
He didn’t come highly recommended. In fact, he didn’t come recommended at all. He was from another city in another state. But necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing necessitates an invention like the lack of employees. It was true way back then, and it is even truer now.
Looking the part is half the battle. It was the early 1990’s, so his gelled hair, bracelets and single earring fit the bill. Yesterday’s hipsters are todays, well I don’t know what they are, but I will certainly tell you when someone tells me.
But looking the part and acting the part, are two entirely different things. Let’s examine the common cinematographic trope, where an investigator shows a bartender a picture. “Have you seen this person?” 32 years behind bars and that has never happened to me once. Not only that, but I have never heard of it happening to anyone else. And trust me, in those 32 years it should have, because there are quite a few pictures I would, and still could, recognize. Just saying.
I had shown him around the restaurant and he hadn’t asked many questions. But I have found that the best bartenders don’t ask questions before they get started. Afterwards, there are always a lot.
“Can I get an amen?” I asked the cocktail server. She rolled her eyes and walked away. I suspected then, and have confirmed since, that cocktails servers might be the same everywhere too.
“It’s time to make your first drink,” I told him.
He seemed a little reluctant, possibly even resistant, recalcitrant one might say, if one were a wordsmith.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s just like doing it where you came from.”
The drink printer tapped out its message back when printers still clacked and clucked, long before “lasers” and “ink jets” silenced them.
It was a Manhattan. Which seems perfectly ordinary now, but back then it was wildly new. Or new again? Because the Manhattan is almost 150 years old. Invented at the Manhattan Club in New York in 1874, it was created for a banquet honoring Samuel J. Tilden, then the governor of New York. Prohibition did it’s best to kill it off – not succeeded – but putting the hurt on its main ingredient: rye whiskey. In fact, Prohibition wiped out all but one rye whiskey distillery, good ole Old Overholt. It would be another 80 years before rye mounted its comeback, but that would still be 15 years in the future from that moment then.
He looked like a deer in the headlights.
“Use the well bourbon,” I said giving him a gentle prod.
“The one in the speed rack,” I said, when he didn’t move.
“That one there,” I said pointing.
He picked the bottle up awkwardly and poured out a full shot. He then stared at the bottles.
“The vermouths over there,” I said, noticing that Ms. Rolly Eyes was now less than patiently waiting for her drink.
“The sweet vermouth,” I said.
“Just a splash,” I said when he hesitated.
He shook it because that is what you did with Manhattans then. And then strained it into a chilled cocktail glass, before confidently garnishing it with a cherry.
“This one wants a twist,” I said pointing out the modification.
“You’ve never bartended before,” I said.
It wasn’t a question but rather a statement of obvious fact.
“Well, uh, I, uh…” he stammered.
“Look, I don’t care, I am leaving. But if you are honest with me, I will do everything I can to teach you everything you need to know in the next two weeks.”
He looked at me for a long while.
“I haven’t,” he said.
Over the next two weeks we became friends of a sort. So much so that I looked up some people he knew where I was going, and I introduced him to some people I knew, where he was staying.
Years later we crossed paths at another bar. Ironically, he was the senior bartender.
“I never forgot that,” he said.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” once commented Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
–Rest assured kiddos, what you think is super cool now, won’t be in 20 years, but will be again in 35. Pray you are around for both.
-Re: last weeks’ column. Joe Walsh actually sang: “Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed” which has a whole different meaning.
-Anyone can be a mixologist, but not everyone can tend a bar. Just saying.