Monday
Aug092010

A Man, A Plan, A Canal...

I've got good news, bad news, good news, and great news...

The good news is that two friends of mine have invited me to spend two months with them in Panama. My lease expires this week and my job allowed me the time off, so I couldn't say no. I leave on Monday, Aug 16th for Panama.

The bad news is that I won't be working  behind a bar for the next two months. As much as I'll miss slinging drinks and rocking it five deep, the good news is that I'll have two months to finally get to all of the stories, tips, and other things I've been wanting to share with you. I'm looking forward to having some uninterrupted time to spend working on putting out great content and building a much more involved website. Oooh, and I'll also have a whole new drinking culture to explore. I'm looking forward to exploring and discussing Panamanian rums, beers, drinks, and discos. Next week, start checking back regularly for more updates.

And finally, the great news: Over the past few months, I've had a number of readers ask me if I had an instructional DVD available. I don't. But I've got something I think will be better. I'm going to be launching a whole new site dedicated just to flair bartending videos. I'll still have some free tutorials available, but ultimately I'll be building a paid monthly subscription site. The concept is that instead of dropping $30-40 on any number of DVDs out there, you can spend about $15/month and get access to all of the instructional videos I have, with new ones being added regularly. I was working with a company to build the site that wanted me to charge at least $25/month, trying to convince me that the more people pay, the more value they perceive that they are getting. While I get their point, I'm doing it on my own, and though I haven't set the price yet, I'm going to make it affordable and try to give you more than your $$$ worth. And, of course, if you've been following ChrisTheBartender.com for a while, I'll have special deals for you.

After an entire summer of technical difficulties and terrible mishaps, I have finally completed filming about 4 hours worth of new tutorials. I was hoping to have even more, but what I didn't finish here, I'll get filmed in Panama. Do you guys care if the instructional flair videos are filmed in a bar or is a park or beach just fine? I tried so hard to get a professional look by filming as much as I could behind the bar, but I've had other readers tell me they don't care - they just want new tutorials. Tell me if it matters to you.

So, that's what's happening with me.

A quick plug for the people that I'll be staying with in Panama. They are an awesome couple that used to come into my bar regularly when I worked at the Comedy Club. They've been doing web design/development since the internet began and do amazing work. Be sure to check out their hotel reservation website HotelSpinner.com. Sure I'm biased, but I'll swear on your mother's grave that it's the best hotel booking site out there. Hotel Spinner compares dozens of other travel sites and finds you the best deal. Basically, they do the foot work for you. So if you travel at all, check them out. And it just goes to show: be good to your regulars. You never know how good they'll end up being to you.

 

Wednesday
Jul282010

Free Cocktail Shakers

I recently received an email from Steve at TrueFabrications who was wondering if I would be interested in giving away some cocktail shakers to any of my wonderful readers. It sounded too good to be true, but it turns out they just want to get their name out there a little bit and maybe bump up their SEO. No harm in that - especially if it means free cocktail shakers for you guys!

Check out the cocktail shaker that's up for grabs - it's a sexy little number. It's a three-piece shaker with a cap and strainer - more of a classic martini shaker than the weighted tins that we'd generally use for flairing, but it would make a great addition to any bar or home setup.

So what do you have to do to win one of the three that's up for grabs? Steve and I talked about hosting some kind of contest (submit your best bar toast, flair move, drink recipe, etc.) but for this first giveaway we're going to keep it real simple. All you have to do is send me an email with "Free Cocktail Shaker" in the subject line and the state you live in as the body of the email. Unfortunately, for now, True Fabrications can only ship in the US. Sorry global readers! But for you guys in the US, that's it. I'll randomly select three people on August 8th and notify you by email. I'm posting this message on July 28th, so you've got a few days.

If you get a chance, peek around their site a little bit. You'll find some pretty cool wine accessories; I'd never seen wine stoppers quite like this.

Tuesday
Jul132010

I May Have Drowned My Sorrows In Too Much Ketel One

With all the perks of bartending - beautiful women, cash tips, being able to sleep late - you'd think it couldn't get any better. And then along come distributors, brand reps, and sales managers to sweeten the deal. Occasionally these people like to throw goodies our way to say thanks for selling their products. Which I have no problem accepting.

A couple weeks ago, however, our Nolet Spirits sales manager Mike pulled out all the stops and invited a handful of my co-workers and I to watch the Minnesota Twins beat up the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Aside from just picking up the cost of the tickets, he actually rented a suite at the TGIFridays in left field complete with an open bar and food. Oh, to be wined and dined. We got to mingle with other bar owners and employees from other Madison and Milwaukee bars. And we definitely put more than a dent in their liquor supply while we watched the Brewers win their first game in what would ultimately be a three game sweep of my hometown Twins. The tickets, the drinks, and the food all seemed generous enough - I felt like asking him to rig the game might've been too much.

So, I want to say thanks to Mike and the folks at Ketel One for a great night out on the town. I don't know why it got so fuzzy towards the end, especially when I found out the next day that my friends had been buying me non-alcoholic beer. Must've been the two Harlem bombs we started the first inning with or possibly the handful of Ketel One Oranje and 7's that kept me company during the Twins loss. If you haven't had the new Ketel One Oranje yet, go get a bottle. It's easily the best orange vodka I've had - light and sweet, without being syrupy or candy-like. And if you haven't heard of their newest liqueur Harlem, check it out. It's an herbal liqueur that draws a most-likely comparison to Jagermeister. Now, I'm not a fan of Jagermeister at all, but I can comfortably say that a shot of Harlem dropped into Red Bull with a squeeze of orange was a tasty way to start that night's drinking rampage. Adding a hint of orange really helps perk up the Harlem shot. So much better than the Jagerbombs I pour every night for the dude-bro with the popped collar and cheesy pickup lines. And I haven't tried their Hup Holland Hup shot they suggest on the Harlem blog, but I'm sure I will tonight.

Wednesday
Jun232010

I Want His Job.

There's a great historic theater next to the bar I work in that occasionally hosts some really awesome shows. This past Saturday they played home to Zane Lamprey and his "Drinking Made Easy" tour for HDNet. Though he's done a lot of different projects, Zane is mostly famous for his TV show Three Sheets. It's a show where Zane and his friends travel the world and explore local drinking customs - basically, they go get piss-faced till sunrise in cool cities all over the planet. Apparently, they're on tour now with a comedy show that highlights them drinking all over the US. Word is they're filming 53 cities and are going to make 26 episodes for a new show. Here's to hoping Madison, WI made the cut.

I've got to be honest: I've never actually seen a whole episode of Three Sheets, but that's only because I don't have cable TV. My friend Drew has been telling me about it since day one and my co-worker Jamie has seen every episode and credits it for much of his knowledge of mixology (which is truly outstanding.) In fact, Jamie was about as excited as a 14 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert to hear that Zane and his crew were going to be stopping into our bar. Unfortunately, the guys came in for lunch before Jamie and I were there so we didn't get a chance to meet him or get him drunk. However, the day bartender George said he and his crew were all nice, stand-up guys.

Are you guys familiar with Zane Lamprey? Have you seen Three Sheets? What do you think? The good news is that I just I found out Hulu has posted all four seasons of his show. I'm looking forward to catching up on them. If you're outside of the US, I know you can't watch videos on Hulu. However, it looks like you can also watch some episodes on Mojo, the network that sponsored the show.

 

Monday
Jun072010

To The Graduating Class of 2010

A little while back I got an email from a reader named Dustianna. She had worked her way through college as a server and a bartender only to realize that she enjoyed those jobs more than the one she would likely find with her degree. She was curious if I had any advice for someone in her shoes. And, since I just witnessed a few of my friends graduate a couple weeks ago and find themselves in a similar situation, I wanted to share my advice to her and to anyone else in her shoes. I know I'm a far cry from Uta Hagen, the prestigious speaker we had at my commencement from the UW-Madison whose three minute speech basically amounted to "Life's a bitch, get a helmet." But I raise my glass to Dusty and I share my advice to her in the hopes that it may be helpful to any other like-minded folk who recently graduated. 
Dustianna,
Your situation reminds me a lot of my own history. I graduated in 2000 with my English degree and realized that I enjoyed my time behind the bar more than anything else that I had done or studied. So, having been in your shoes 10 years ago, do I have any advice for you now? Sure. I hope this doesn't sound like an insincere Hallmark card, but: follow your heart and work hard at what you enjoy. Listen kindly to your friends and family when they tell you what you should be doing with your life and your degree - as they undoubtedly will - but don't take it too seriously. I graduated college 10 years ago and my mom just recently stopped telling me I should move back home and take business classes at the U. Her heart was in the right place, but there was nothing I would've rather been doing than dominating a busy bar and entertaining customers. I have 3 older brothers: one with a PhD, one with a Master's, all of them with very professional jobs. But one of them calls me every week to live vicariously through me (humans weren't meant to be in cubicles all day.)

 

If you really enjoy the job of bartending and the life of a bartender, then do it and do it well. Spend the same kind of time and effort you did on your degree learning everything you can about the service industry, bartending, mixology, etc. Try new cocktails and give rockstar service. Network with other bar staff in your town so you can be fluid in where you work. As you get older, you'll want to work in different kinds of bars (college bars are less appealing at 25, nightclubs less appealing at 40); if you have a good network of friends in the industry and you've developed your skills, you should be able to easily move into the best job you want.  And take advantage of the fact that you're a woman. I've worked for a number of bosses (and been denied jobs from just as many) who were always looking to hire cute girls behind the bar. Make the most of that. But god help you if you rest on just that, cuz I will come to your bar, order mojitos one at a time, and stiff you. Attractive bartenders work in every bar in my town, but I can tell you the three of them that can run circles around me behind the bar, make a better Sidecar, and still have time to tell a dirty joke. And those girls rock. And 5 years from now, they'll still be making twice as much as the cute bartender down the block, who's been replaced by someone younger and cuter.

If you've never lived anywhere other than where you grew up or went to school, now's the best chance you'll have. And you have experience in the most versatile job - you can do it anywhere. My dream was to move to Las Vegas, which I finally did at 26. Turns out Vegas wasn't my kind of town after all, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in a heartbeat. Even if I did just finally finish paying it off. If you dig the city you live in, cool. If you're curious about other cities, there is no time like the present. Go for it.

All that being said, I will caution you of a few things. First off, don't get caught up in the party. A lot of people in our shoes didn't use their degrees because they were afraid to grow up and bartending was an easy escape that didn't challenge them. Don't be that girl. Don't get caught up in partying it up 5 nights a week because you work in a bar and can sleep past noon. It's easy to do, and I'm sure tons of fun, but you'll be worse for the wear down the road. You know how we make fun of the 40 year-old guy with the ponytail hitting on 22 year-old girls in the college bar? He didn't set out to be that guy; it crept up on him. Don't be that guy. Be deliberate with your life. 

Another thing to be aware of: friends and relationships. Your friends that got 9 to 5 day jobs out of college, you'll see less of them than you'd like. They'll come into your bar on Friday nights, but you don't really get to hang out with them, and when you're looking to have fun on a Tuesday night, they've got work in the morning. Most of my college friends are married by now and half of them have kids. Most of my bartender friends are single or bounce from relationship to relationship. Depending on your hours, it can be really tricky to maintain your friendships, let alone build a relationship with someone who doesn't share a similar schedule. I have at least one girl a week leave me her number at my bar (used to be more, I must be losing it), but when I ask them out for a Monday night, they don't get it. The weekend is my work week, my money shifts. If you can create a schedule that allows you flexibility, you'll be much happier down the road.

And a final word of warning: don't let yourself get burnt out. The weight of stressful nights where you're 6 deep for 4 hours, people barking at you, rude customers, inept coworkers, drunk assholes, fights, etc., combined with a late night schedule that doesn't leave time for your day job friends... that eventually starts to wear on you. I still enjoy what I do and I can't imagine what else I would be doing, but after 13 years behind the wood, I'd be lying if I said I still show up to work with the same spark of excitement that I did when I was 22. Truth is, that's why I started teaching. It's rekindled my excitement and it's more rewarding than anything else I do. Find your outlet, whatever it is, so that you don't take the stress home with you.

It's great that you want to move into management around 30. That's pretty common and pretty smart. Be cautious about setting hard timelines - your priorities may change and you'll only be disappointed if you didn't hit your timeline. But keep active and open in your search for new opportunities that may come your way. If you really want to get into bar/restaurant management, start now by asking your boss if you can help out with extra tasks. Learn to write the schedule. Ask how the liquor order works. Suggest ideas for the menu. Make friends with your distributors. Let your boss know. A good manager knows that you can teach just about everything we do to just about anybody, but somebody with passion who really cares about what they do is invaluable.

Bartending is an exciting career, unlike anything else, one that many, many people make a good living at. And whether you're bartending or in management, the hospitality industry is anything but boring. Ooh, and it keeps you young like nobody's business. One of the hippest people I admire most is a 52 year-old Director of Operations for a local restaurant chain, and she doesn't look (or act) a day over 30. I once asked her how she managed to be that way and she told me that having a bunch of twenty-somethings as her peer group, day in and day out, never let her grow up too much or grow old too fast.

 

My Best Wishes to the Graduating Class of 2010. Follow your passions and work hard at them. And if Uta Hagen, or anyone else, ever tells you that "life's a bitch, get a helmet", rest assured it can be. But a perfect martini is so much more useful than a helmet.