Drinks … maybe as many as one-hundred-thousand and counting. “How do you do it?” a young coed asks as I frantically work behind the bar. “How do you remember all the drinks?” With the place packed and me struggling to keep my head above water, she asks about knowing drinks.
I guess for customers, remembering each drink is what bartending is all about–but it’s just not true especially when the joint starts hopping. A bartender has to handle everything at once. You give someone their change as you ask the next group what they want, the waitress calls out her order, the ice is low, you need more limes, and the guy at the end is swaying back and forth on his barstool. All of this happens in an instant.
Then there are the customers. Everyone talks about dealing with the general public, and what an effort it takes . . . but in a bar, the public has been drinking. Try adding that extra difficulty to any job. Imagine driving a city bus filled with giddy passengers who stand up on their seats, and sing, and cheer. Trust me, remembering how to make drinks is only the beginning.
Besides, it’s not as difficult as it seems. Drinks fall into categories, like the vodka and juice drinks. Fill a highball glass with ice, one house pour of vodka and a changing juice. All you have to remember is which juice goes with which name.
Screwdriver = orange juice
Cape Codder = cranberry juice
Madras = orange and cranberry juice
Seabreeze = grapefruit and cranberry juice
Hawaiian Seabreeze = pineapple and cranberry juice.
A Black Russian is vodka and Kahlua, while a White Russians adds milk or cream. What about the Whiskey Sours, Vodka Sours, Amaretto Sours? Make one sour and you know how to make them all.
There are always new drinks, something the bartender hasn’t heard of before. A few years ago at Johnny D’s, bartenders Eric Pierce and Felix Gailitis invented a drink that had dark rum and Captain Morgan’s, a little coconut rum and triple sec, shaken with pineapple juice and a splash of Grenadine. (I came up with the name … we called it a “Horny Pirate.”) One day a customer complained that she’d gone to another bar and they didn’t even know what a Horny Pirate was much less how to make it. Of course not, we’d just made it up.
Which brings me to the real reason behind this post, something I finally found online … a great scene about knowing/not knowing drinks in an episode of the TV series Cheers. Some of the regulars at Cheers decided to teach a new addition to the staff a lesson. He was always bragging about his prior experience and his knowledge of bartending–so the regulars came up with a phony drink and made-up ingredients. Woody, one of the other bartenders, was in on it with them.
One by one as they pretended to be new customers, they asked the guy for a Screaming Viking, a cocktail supposedly made with a whole cucumber. Of course the snooty bartender didn’t know it–there’s no such drink as a Screaming Viking (at least not at the time).
“Would you like your cucumber bruised first?” Woody stepped in to help one conspiring regular.
“Just slightly bruised,” Norm replied, and Woody gently tapped the cucumber on the bar rail. The pompous bartender walked out, pissed and humiliated.
It’s one of my favorite bar scenes. Click on the image below to watch.