Late into COVID, I took on two new jobs: bartending and parenting.
It takes a certain arrogance to take a job for which you have no qualifications.
Either that or ignorance.
Let’s say both.
I like that this could be a setup for a joke: “But which job is he talking about? Parent or bartender?”
Well, let’s say both.
I received an IG DM the other day from a friend and former coworker at the bar I used to work. It was a macro of a certain aquatic cartoon character who stands bleary-eyed and broken. The caption reads ‘home bartenders that got into cocktails during COVID and decided to become real bartenders.’
This is me. I am the quarantine cocktail enthusiast. I am the amateur turned pro. I am the disheveled Spongebob.
My bartending career was conceived with this former coworker. An afternoon of good conversation and, well, one thing led to another, and I found myself responsible for caring for a bar that had been closed since March 2020.
Let’s call a spade a spade: they were desperate, and I was a warm body that said ‘yes.’
I showed up ready to be A Bartender, that archetype that I’d patronized at cocktail bars for years. The expert in flavor profiles, in weird Amari, in matching a person with their 100% Perfect Drink.
I’d read *Liquid Intelligence*, I’d read Sasha Pertraske, I’d watched Sother Teague’s talk on the ideal bar experience. I knew the *Cocktail Codex*, the Martini family, and its variations. Same for the Daiquiri, the Sidecar, the Negroni. I’d done them all.
And you know what? It didn’t matter.
No one wants to argue with you that *technically* there’s orange bitters in a Martini. They want you to make the drink ticket that’s sitting on the printer and move on to the next million other fires that need tending to.
I wasn’t a bartender, and I was a know-it-all.
No one wants to work with the know-it-all because the know-it-all doesn’t tend bar; they just *claim to know things*. And as I stepped back and observed my new family of coworkers, I started to see what I knew all along, what every movie and sitcom has spoon-fed me for my whole life. That that bartender is a listener.
(As an aside, isn’t it crazy how far we’ve come? That the bartender was akin to a mental health expert. And we’ve now replaced the slinger-of-drinks with…actual mental health professionals. Great job, human race.)
I shut up, and I made the drink on the ticket.
I made it the way I was told.
And I learned to listen.
I pushed past frazzled Spongebob and started to grow into the listening bartender. Because, as we know, the COVID cocktail enthusiast isn’t a bartender. They’re *playing* bartender. (They’re a hobbyist drinker, let’s be honest.) They learn the technique and the recipe, but they don’t learn how to make 4 drinks at once, how to triage them, so they don’t over-dilute, or how to shake two drinks at once, all while holding a conversation with the customer sitting inches from their face.
The COVID cocktail enthusiast is a solo drinker.
The COVID cocktail enthusiast has no one to listen to.
And so, while it wasn’t what I had expected, it was something much more.
Yes, it was hard. (So hard!)
Oh, but the joys of giving yourself to it! Of being on an amazing team, yes. One that would let you make your mistakes during service.
One that would fucking put you on blast at the height of dinner but then share a shifty with you after close.
And so, gradually, all the things I wanted as a COVID cocktail enthusiast started to follow.
The whiskey and mezcal tastings. The drink experimentation. The nailing wash lines (thanks, Sasha).
Now, this is the part where I could go on about some ancient saying that to become an expert, you must first unlearn what you know or some lofty aphorism. But I think that undercuts something I believe in so deeply, something that’s taken me years to learn over and over, and that there is godliness in work. Not the work that Studs Terkel so perfectly refers to as a “Monday through Friday sort of dying” but the work of showing up, failing and learning, sitting in front of the blank page, and making something happen.
I showed up.
I failed. And failed.
My coworkers will have to fact check me here, but I feel as if I made it happen. I listened. I improved.
Or, at least, I wasn’t asked to leave.
Either way, I earned enough trust to get them to try a cocktail recipe I developed.
Now knowing that when you’re weeded on a Saturday night, you don’t want to have to make a drink with five ingredients, I pitched a variation on the three-ingredient classic, the Old Pal. My spin on it: some Campari rested on coffee beans.
Simple, easy, delicious.
We tweaked the recipe. Management agreed to put it on the menu.
I was beaming, the happy father of a, let’s be honest, weird riff on an esoteric cocktail.
I wasn’t there when they named the drink. I had put in my notice to prepare for a new chapter of work: raising my daughter. The ultimate in listening. The ultimate in showing up.
I got the text at the hospital after the drink went on the menu. They named it in my honor: ‘The Stay at Home Dad.’
The Stay at Home Dad
– 1.5 oz Tullamore Dew
– 0.75 oz Dry Vermouth
– 0.75 oz Coffee-infused Campari
– Dash of Black Walnut Bitters
Stir on ice. Serve in an old fashioned glass over a rock with an orange twist.
Cheers to all the parents out there. To all those putting in the work, the thankless work, the hardest job, to raise the next generation.
I see you.
I am you.
Spirit Wave Mix #2: End of a Long Day
by Brad Rose
Turn On The Sunlight – Back To The Sea (feat. Laraaji)
Kham Meslien – F comme
The Bird Calls – Still Life
more eaze – Gentle Pets
Surya Botofasina – Everyone’s Children (w/ Mia Doi Todd)
Taranoya – You’ll Be Found
Rosali – Waited All Day
marine eyes – cocoon
Diatom Deli – Massive Headships of Centering Tiles
Moon Bros. – Jitterbug Waltz II
SUSS – Needles, CA
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