BARTENDING FOR THE FUN OF IT?

I received the following inquiry from a journalist in London and it started me thinking about the job that I have been doing most of my adult life. "Hi my name is Sebastian, I am from England and am writing an article on jobs with perks. One of the jobs I have chosen to describe is cocktail bartending, as I feel from personal experience that it is a job with many non monetary benefits, and will suit the main section of my article."

Sebastian sent a series of questions that were compelling. How would you answer?

1.) What do you consider to be the biggest perks of such a job? and why?

1. Bartending introduced me to my wife of 21 years as well as many of the people the people that are dearest to me.
2. Bartending is a study in how to have a good time …teach people how to have a good time …and create a good time.Joe Baum, my mentor and boss of many years and a legendary restaurant innovator once said to me "Dale; some people need to be taught how to have a good time…that is what I hired you for" I don't mean taught in a heavy-handed way but many people who end up at a bar don't have a clue and need help.
3. There are many different kinds of bartenders; you can be a shot and beer guy your whole career…and there is nothing wrong with that. I have favorite places that are just that. But it can be much more if you push a lot harder …it can be a profession. For me the job was a challenge and I approached it like a chef. Now I teach young bartenders a chef-like approach to bartending. I do promotional work for brands… TV, print etc and I am writing a cocktail recipe book …the job has led to much more than I originally anticipated. As John Lennon was fond of saying "life is what happens when your busy making plans"…just like I was busy in the early 70's when I thought I was going to be a hot shot actor… Life… fate, whatever had other plans.

2.) Where is the most interesting place you have ever worked and why?

The Hotel Bel Air in Bel Air California…and the Rainbow Room here in NYC. The Bel Air was the first of all a hotel bar and I love hotel bars. People get thrown together in hotels and it makes for a great mix at the bar. That aspect was multiplied by ten because it was the Hotel Bel Air and because of the neighborhood, perhaps one of the wealthiest in the world. That being said what made the Bel Air interesting was the mix of the very wealthy and powerful with some regular folks. The hotel was about 45 years old when I started working there in 1978. There were customers who had been visiting the hotel since before Alfonso Bel created the neighborhood Bel Air. Average people from all over the country enjoyed staying at the Hotel Bel Air. The Hotel became famous when neighborhood "folks" like Howard Hughes started using the Hotel an extra bedroom for they're out of town guests. The wonderful thing about the Hotel was they were true to those original guests whether they were farmers from Ohio celebrating their anniversary every year or movie stars. Of course if your name wasn't on that list from years ago you could drink at the bar but getting a room was by recommendation only. The rainbow room was one of those dream jobs that come along once in a lifetime. The Room was opened in 1934, and Joe Baum did a spectacular restoration/renovation and reopened in 1987 for an eleven year run that was sadly cut short by an unsuccessful negotiation for a new lease. The new operators went in a totally different direction. They did away with the nightly dining and dancing and tore out the bar. A fifty-four year tradition came to an end. In many ways the Rainbow Room had the same kind of excitement that hotel bars have. All sorts of people together in close quarters….which in my opinion is what the American cocktail experience is all about. Cocktails and cocktailing don't work in totalitarian countries they are very democratic traditions.

3.) How many cocktails can you remember off hand? 300 or 400 hundred

4.) Have you ever had an accident or known of someone who has while bartending? At flair bartending has proven somewhat dangerous. Flaring is juggling ..it is a lot of fun but it is not bartending. The biggest source of injury for bartenders is cuts from knives and broken glass…and of course in rowdier places, keeping the peace.

5.) What do you consider the downsides of the job and why? Long hours …prone to drink and smoke too much…hell on relationships.

6.) What are your favorite names for a cocktail? Between the Sheets, Bees Knee's, and Alabazam

7.) What qualities do you feel you have gained since working as a bartender? Listening ability, tolerance and insight into behavior.

8.) If you could change your job what would you change it too?
Drinker