Good god, y’all, I know it’s been a while. This broad’s been working like a dog at the old day job. Work is the curse of the drinking classes, as Oscar Wilde said. Actually, like a lot of famous quotes, this one’s provenance is not verifiable. The quote does not appear in any of Wilde’s writings; rather, it was attributed to him by his friend and biographer Frank Harris in Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions. It was allegedly uttered in the context of Wilde’s snarky comment about the acting profession over dinner at the Savoy in the 1890s:
It seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet. “Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.”
» Project Savoy. Speaking of the Savoy, I recently got word from fellow blogger Erik Ellestad that he is but 50 recipes away from mixing all 750 cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, published by the hotel in 1930. I reported on the beginning of this quest back in ’07. What fun to go back and read that post, as it records when I first became aware of Josey Packard, one of Boston’s best bartenders. (Fun fact: my shout-out in that post to Josey, who lived in San Francisco at the time, resulted in an email from her very shortly thereafter. A year later, she was working at Drink in Boston.) Erik, I do hope you’re planning a wrap party when you finally hit the finish line!
» Boston barkeeps on TV. OK, leave it to a Bostonian to put books before TV, but here’s some big news: not just one, but two Boston bartenders are, right this moment, in Los Angeles taping the third season of On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender. Trina Sturm of Trina’s Starlite Lounge and Bill Codman of Woodward Tavern are competing against six other bartenders from around the country for the “top bartender” title and a grand prize of $100,000. Yowza! OK, so it’s a bit of a cheesy reality show sponsored by Absolut Vodka, but how can you not root for our hometown talent?
I spoke to Trina before she boarded a plane for the West Coast to see how she felt about the whole thing. She was both nervous and confident. “I’m sure of my bartending abilities, but what about when cameras are on me? The caliber of the bartenders is good this year. I don’t know how I’ll stack up against them. I know there are people better in certain aspects [of bartending], but the whole package? That’s me.” Episode 1 airs October 30 after Saturday Night Live … but not in Boston, unfortunately. So, fans of Trina and Bill will have to gather ’round the computer monitor and watch it on the web. Here’s a big, Beantown best-of-luck to both!
»”Tiki” sculpture. Hey, are you looking for a really, really special gift for the tiki enthusiast in your life or for someone who appreciates useful sculpture? Then check out these expressive, one-of-a-kind, glazed-clay vessels that are kind of a cross between tiki mugs and “grotesques” carved into medieval cathedrals. The artist is Jim McDonough of North Carolina, who, perhaps not surprisingly, is a plastic surgeon who has performed many facial-reconstruction surgeries. He also happens to be the father of Boston poet and sometime Russell House bartender Jill McDonough. The sculptures/mugs are for sale at the Boston Shaker.
Well, I’m off for a little vacation in France. Stay tuned for a post on Chartreuse and other Gallic liquid delights.
“I’m thinking of becoming a bartender. Where do I start?” is a question I get asked regularly. It generally comes from people fired up about the rise of craft mixology, the notion of bartending as a “real” career, and the infectious passion and knowledge displayed by many of today’s serious bartenders. People fed up with their day jobs, or just out of college and considering career choices, dream of hoisting a Boston shaker and making the world happy with good drinks and banter like Ted Lange on the Love Boat.
These are all fine reasons to want the job. Oh, the money can be good, too. But unless you own the bar or are very close to the person who does, you’re probably not going to find yourself behind the slab if you don’t have experience. OK, so how do you get there? Here’s some advice that comes from conversations I’ve had with career bartenders. By the way, this isn’t a step-by-step process; it’s a multi-pronged strategy.
You don’t need a license or a bartending-school diploma. There’s no such thing as a bartending license. (However, many bartenders must take the TIPS course on avoiding overserving or serving to minors.) Most bartenders don’t recommend bartending school; very few of the professionals I know have attended one. They say that while it won’t hurt your chances of getting a job, it doesn’t really prepare you for working in a real bar, and that your money and time are better spent on some of the following.
Learn all you can on your own. Get some basic bar equipment, some recommended books (Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology and Dale DeGroff’s Craft of the Cocktail are good places to start) and some booze, watch a few videos by bar/mixology experts, and start mixing drinks at home. (Also, consider taking a short, basic mixology class at the Boston Shaker in Somerville.) This will give you a certain comfort level with pouring, measuring and shaking/stirring. Your friends and neighbors will serve as your first customers.
Take a lot of field trips. Again, this is where your bartending-school money is probably better spent — at actual bars. Go to a top-notch cocktail bar, park yourself on a stool and observe, observe, observe. Watch the bartenders’ drink-making technique, see how they multi-task and interact with guests, notice the types of spirits they use, witness them card or shut off a customer (hopefully not you).
Talk to your bartender. It should go without saying that you only do this during lulls in service. And don’t ask, “How do I do what you do?” Rather, think of specific questions like, “Why do you shake some drinks and stir others?” or “Could you tell me about the bitters you used in my drink?” or “What do you do to prep the bar for a shift?” or “How did you start tending bar?” Note: being a good-tipping regular will greatly facilitate these interactions. See: How to treat a bartender.
Get experience any way, anywhere you can. Even it it’s unpaid at first. Got an acquaintance who works for a catering company or does events where drinks are served? Offer to go along and cut limes, fetch ice, etc. Find a bar that has sleepy daytime shifts and offer to work other positions that need filling in exchange for getting a shot at a bar shift. Put feelers out to all those bartenders you’ve been getting to know as a customer. See if a bar is willing to try you out for a couple of uncompensated bar-back shifts.
Be realistic. The bartenders who are truly adept at what they do have usually been at it for several years. They have the personalities, talent and toughness it takes to stick with a job that demands long hours without a break, is physically and psychically stressful, generally offers no benefits of any kind, and involves the various hazards of late-night shenanigans. You will probably know very quickly whether you are cut out for this. That said, I don’t mean to discourage you. Give it a try. A good bartender is always in demand.
A friendly reminder that this coming tax-free weekend doesn’t just apply to TVs, leather armchairs and solid-wood shellcases for your iPad. It also applies to booze. Have your eye on a bottle of green Chartreuse VEP ($130)? Strathisla 1967 Speyside scotch whisky ($175)? Remy Martin Cognac Louis XIII Grande ($1700)? Well, grab your shopping cart and boogie down the aisle of one of these fine establishments.
» Boston wins. Damned if Boston didn’t hit it out of the park during Tales of the Cocktail in July. First of all, more Boston bar industry folk represented our city at New Orleans’ annual drinks convention than ever before. Second of all, Drink won the Grand Marnier-sponsored Barroom Brawl, besting five other top-notch cocktail bars from around the U.S. and earning the title Best Bar in America. Third of all, Drink’s Misty Kalkofen won the Pisco Sour Pentathalon and will in the near future enjoy her prize: a trip to Peru to see how desert-grown grapes turn into white brandy. Congrats to all! Liza Weisstuch offers a vivid snapshot of the competition and, more generally, the Boston slant on Tales in today’s Phoenix. Good stuff.
» Remixology. Speaking of contests, there’s a new bar celeb in town: John Mayer of Cambridge’s Craigie on Main. A relatively new member of the staff there, he wowed everyone at the Appleton Estate Rum Remixology contest earlier this week with his mixing skills, sense of humor and ability to explain how a favorite song inspired a new cocktail. His presentation involved Frankie Valli’s “Sherry Baby,” a powder-blue brocade blazer, three mixing glasses spinning on a turntable, a small disco ball, a history lesson on Jamaica’s first prime minister — Alexander Bustamante — and the year 1962. He will compete in the national finals of the competition in NYC on August 30. Go, John! Here are recipes for the Bustamante and the other semi-finalists’ tasty drinks.
» Literature. Geoff “Psycho-Gourmet” Nicholson’s fantastic essay, Drink What You Know, appeared in the New York Times’ Book Review recently. He starts by comparing the advice writers dispense about drinking to the way they depict drinking in their literature, and arrives at his thesis:
“When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.”
» History. I was putting off going to Plymouth to learn about Pilgrims until my retirement years, but now I have a reason to go earlier. Pilgrim Hall Museum (“America’s museum of Pilgrim possessions”) is running an exhibition called “Plymouth History in a Glass: The Artifacts and Culture of Beverages and Drinking” until December 31. Silver tankards. Ceramic punch bowls. Glass tumblers. Ooh, I’m getting hot flashes. Not only that, there are two related lectures: one on historic Plymouth-area taverns on August 25 and one on September 29 called “The Design of Drinking: from the Jazz Age to the Space Age.” Far out.
» Name that bar. What would you call a bar frequented by venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and hardworking graduate students from all over the world who converge on the high-tech cluster that is Kendall Square, Cambridge? The people behind the in-the-works “Venture Cafe” are seeking a more clever name than the working title for their “place-based social networking” project. They have partnered with restaurateur Gary Strack from Central Kitchen and the Enormous Room and are scouting Kendall Square locations for a 2011 opening. With any luck the place will liven up the woefully nightlife-less neighborhood. Got a suggestion for what to call the place? Chime in on their Facebook page.
Trina Sturm is a cross between a sexy stew in a Mad Men episode, a kindhearted biker-gang chick, and a diner waitress who calls you “hon” and magically appears whenever your coffee needs a warm-up. It’s a formidable combination that has won loyal fans all over the city.
Trina is the namesake of Trina’s Starlite Lounge, the bar that she and her husband Beau dreamed of owning over the many years they spent working the stick in others’ establishments. At nightclubs like CityBar, Trina learned the all-important skills of speed and diplomacy. At the Beehive she was among an all-star cast of ‘tenders who graced the opening of that artsy jazz club, and at Silvertone she meshed with owner Josh Childs’ laid-back hospitality — meshed with it so well, in fact, that they are now business partners.
As Trina sees it, she has got it made. “I work with the biggest workaholics. I consider myself smart — I just come in and bartend.” And that’s a very good thing for anyone who occupies a stool at the Starlite, especially on the parlor side, where Trina particularly shines. With efficiency and perfect posture, she exerts a den mother’s control over the chaos, at the same time taking a moment to banter with guests. She’s not a mixologist, but rather a bartender who can mix a good drink — whether it’s an Old Overholt Manhattan with a twist or a candy cane-infused brandy. And as professional as she appears, you just know there’s going to be dancing on the bartop after hours.
Past bartending jobs
CityBar, Silvertone, Beehive.
Favorite bar in greater Boston other than your own
Favorite bar in or near your neighborhood
If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be…
The drink you’d like to serve more of
The drink you’d like to serve less of
Ramos Gin Fizz.
A famous person you’ve served
A famous person you’d love to see walk into your bar
Garrett Dutton III, better known as G. Love.
A bartender’s best friend is…
The best thing about drinking in Boston is...
Being served by friends.
The worst thing about drinking in Boston is…
Beings over-served by friends.
Boston bar professionals, think of a song that really grabs you — one that makes you want to jump up on a table and sing into an empty beer bottle, or slow-ride in a convertible down Mass Ave., or grab a dark-haired stranger in a Buenos Aires cafe and do the tango. Translate that song into a cocktail with Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum. Submit your recipe and the tale of its musical inspiration by July 26. Why? You could win a trip to Jamaica — and global renown.
There are cocktail contests that are about chops and style, and there are cocktail contests that are about mixology and heritage. Then there’s Remixology. The brainchild of former Boston bartender Willy Shine and his consulting company, Contemporary Cocktails, Remixology mashes both traditions together — to the tune of your favorite song and featuring a quality rum. Here’s how it goes:
Five of the 15 will be selected to compete in August at Drink. This will involve “performing” your cocktail to the tune that inspired it, as well as mixing a second cocktail that is locally inspired (“No Charles River ice,” warns Willy.) Yes, you can sing and dance — but you don’t have to. Get creative. We’re not talking Tom Cruise or Coyote Ugly — you’re cooler than that.
The top Boston finisher moves on to the finals in Manhattan August 30-31 to show bartenders from the other competing cities — NYC, Miami and San Francisco — who’s boss.
The winner of the finals wins a red-carpet, all-expenses-paid trip to Jamaica in October to participate in the Global Showcase with bartenders from nine other countries.