Anyone who mixes things together for a living can tell you, not all things go together

The couple had asked to move down to the other end of the bar. A feat which is often more difficult to do than people realize. Just like going to find someone in the lobby when a seat opens up, one must be in two spots at the same time: to both hold the seats, and to find the sitters. Because if someone manages to slither into an open barstool, telling them they have to then get up almost never goes well. The trick is keeping them from sitting down in the first place. The people who then sit in those stools often never realize that the bartender will still have to wait on the people who just had to move. And trust me, people have long memories when it comes to perceived injustice.

But this particular move was going to be even more difficult than normal.

“Are you sure you want to move there?” I asked. “You might really be more comfortable staying here.”

“But we want to sit there,” replied the woman pointing.

“OK. But remember moving there is your choice.”

“What does he mean by that?” asked the man of the woman.

Five minutes later, that man knew what was meant. Because the man he was now sitting next to was keeping a running verbal commentary on the sports game playing on the TV overhead. The commentator wasn’t necessarily rude, but if you weren’t desperately into watching that early season, relatively unimportant game, he was quite intrusive.

“Shoot! Shoot!” he loudly exhorted at the TV with every change of possession, and when games have 24 second shot clocks, that becomes quite a lot. But bars are there for people to have fun, and not all fun looks the same.

Ten minutes later that couple waved me over again.

“If our original seats open back up, we’d like to move back,” the woman asked while the man with her looked away sheepishly.

When those seats did open up, the couple moved, and a man with baseball hat sat down next to the commentator.

“How’s the game going?” asked the man in the hat.

“It’s tied with 3 minutes to go in the first half.”

And just like that, they were the best of friends.

People are often only aware of their own experience, of what is happening only to them. But in a busy bar, it is really about everyone’s experience. Yours is not better than theirs.

But as anyone who regularly mixes things together for their livelihood can tell you, not all things go together: oil and water being the best example.

Several years ago, I was on America’s Test Kitchen radio with Christopher Kimball and he referred to my book about bartending as “more about mixing people than mixing drinks.” 

Thirty plus years behind bars has taught me that the art of mixing people is a lot more difficult. Almost anybody can measure out three or four or even five liquid ingredients and mix a well-balanced drink. It ain’t rocket science. But being able to do so with 20 people directly in front of you blurting out orders, and with 10 servers behind you ringing in more orders, while all the while trying to maintain and project an aura of calm, is more art than science anyway.

And art is in the eye of the beholder. That loud talking game watching guy wasn’t better or worse than anyone else but recognizing that he might not be right for everyone (or they for him) takes more than knowing sweet/sour or bitter/sweet taste ratios.

Every time I see a staged new bar promo picture, with the clean new seats and polished chrome, and black marble, I always wonder to myself who’s going to be standing behind it?

And who is standing behind it directly influences who will ultimately be sitting in front of it. All the fancy brass and crystal in the world won’t change that.

Later on that evening, when the couple left, they thanked me for moving them.

Later on that same evening so did those two men.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Hollandaise, an emulsion (the combination of two “unmixables”) is one of the five “mother sauces” of French cooking. Other common emulsions are mayonnaise, vinaigrettes, and the crema on top of an espresso.

-Balance in a cocktail is subjective, balance on a tightrope is not.

-Your freedom to be you, shouldn’t impact another’s freedom to be free of you. Or just because you have the right to speak, doesn’t mean that someone else has to listen.

-Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there, but especially to that large, tangled, motley mix of people that makes up each and every bar scene. You are what makes it so interesting. And I give thanks for that.