I am sure there was a simpler time in an era long forgotten where even the most fantastic bartender had to simply pour from a bottle with a smile and be lauded by their guests. Today’s modern professional bartender needs a very diverse repertoire of skills at their disposal to be at the top of the current bar game. A complete bartender should be able to mix drinks like a seasoned cocktail bartender, engage guests in witty banter like the guy behind the stick at your local, balance the till like an accountant, work with the speed of a nightclub bartender and present themselves like a celebrity in court on DUI charges. However too often these days a young bartender will land his or her first job making cocktails in a decent venue, fall in love with it and reject working in any other facet of the hospitality industry.
Just a decade ago there were only a small handful of great cocktail bars around the globe. These bars would attract professional bartenders that had worked their way up the ranks to be confident enough and considered experienced enough to take a position in such a venue. Starting off in a café learning dispense bartending, coffee making, table service, to a restaurant learning how to work within an environment involving a strict hierarchy, chefs and food service etiquette, to a functions job seeing how to do things on a large scale and very efficiently, to a banging nightclub and finding that sixth gear to bust out as many drinks as humanly possible eight hours straight, five nights a week.
Today we have so many high end venues opening that the number of great staff seem to be spread quite thinly. This has created an opportunity for young bartenders to obtain their first position in some of the country’s and world’s best establishments. I don’t think there is any harm in learning how to make a Manhattan before learning how to run a section but from my experience in top end cocktail venues when the shit hits the fan you can easily look down the bar and tell which bartender has worked in a club before. When approaching a table to discuss whisky you can tell a bartender that feels like a fish out of water with no mahogany in front of them, and when setting up for larger events you can see the thought process of the bartender that’s been there before and knows how to make life easy for themselves during service.
I think more bartenders should look at where they want to be in the next five years and not just next week. Sure just making cocktails to a bar that is three deep is super fun but learn the art of being a great dispense bartender, don’t just learn about spirits and cocktails, explore wine and beer, work in events. Take a year to work in a wine bar, do a summer in a high paced nightclub in Spain, you will find the right diversification for yourself but most importantly challenge yourself to become a well rounded hospitality worker and you will see the difference with the experience you can offer your guest and the asset you will become to your employer.