The secret to being a “best bartender” might not be what you think

“Can you tell her this is the best martini I have ever had,” said the 25ish brunette with the bobbed hair, pointing at my coworker.

“Sure,” I said, continuing to do what I was doing.

“Can you do it now?” she asked when it was obvious that I was not going to drop everything I was doing and run right over and inform her of that.

Eventually I did wander over and gestured at the bob-haired woman. I didn’t exactly relay that message, but my co-worker nodded and smiled.

Later on, I asked her what kind of martini she had made that woman.

It was a very dirty vodka martini with no vermouth and two onions as a garnish. Which, in the world of martinis is not really a martini at all. It’s not the gin vs. vodka thing (just ask James Bond, not your bitter old uncle), and it’s not the no vermouth thing (just ask Winston Churchill), nor is it the dirty part (just ask Kim Cattrall’s Samantha, from “Sex and the City”). It’s the onions. And all of that other stuff too. Not only do onions make a martini a Gibson, but all three of those other things would disqualify it in one purist’s mind or another’s.

The bottom line is that a good martini these days is whatever you think it is. And so is a good bartender. Every bartender everywhere will at some point or another be called “the best bartender in the world” by someone somehow. They will probably also be called the worst too, but that is another story. You cannot be all things to all people all of the time. You can, however, be most of the things most of the time, to most of the people.

It is whether the bartender believes stuff like that that matters. Because once a bartender starts to believe his or her own hype, they start to forget about the customer. And it is really the customer that matters. It doesn’t matter at all if you think that the “best martini ever” isn’t really a martini at all, all that really matters is that the customer does.

I once had a couple come to my work after I had won some award or another specifically to challenge me. As if at 8:30 PM, in the middle of the dinner rush, on the busiest night of the week, I would want to be “challenged.” Would you? At your work? At the busiest moment on the busiest day? I doubt it.

But there they were. I took one look up and down the bar, a bar at which we had built up up a stalwart group of regular guests, a bar where people I have known for years will sometimes wait patiently for 20 minutes to sit (even with tables available), and then I went back to exactly what I had been doing. “Be like water” master martial artist Bruce Lee once said, and water always seeks the path of least resistance.

It’s an odd thing this transition from pandemic to endemic. People are out in force. It’s not the people I have been seeing over the past two years, it’s a lot of new people. And they want you to know they are there.

“We’ve never been here before,” people tell me these days routinely. Some of them mean that they aren’t really sure what to do, and others are saying something else. The first types are easy to deal with, the second not so much.

“He makes the best mojitos in the world,” one man’s date told me recently.

“What makes them so good?” I asked truly curious.

“I guess, because I make them,” he said.

Oftentimes the most honest thing said is said without thinking.

“Who made this martini?” asked a man in his mid-fifties, interrupting and bellying up to the bar, ironically he also had a bob haircut.

“She did,” I said pointing.

“Tell her this is the worst martini I have ever had.”

Sometimes being the best bartender in the world can last for a couple of days, and sometimes only for a few seconds.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Putting your self-esteem solely in the hands of others only puts it at extreme risk.

-The only race worth winning is the one you run against yourself.

 “Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet,” once said
H. L. Mencken. Which shows his brilliance to some, and his stupidity to others.

-The best bartender in the world should always be the one standing in front of you.

Trust me, if that bar or restaurant has managed to survive the last two years without your patronage, you aren’t now going to be the one to make or break them.

-Thank you Marin IJ readership. You know why.