I’ve now been bartending for eight years. That’s eight years of late nights, getting people pissed and grinding it out. Doing my best to perfect what can best be described as my ‘trade’. You know what, i thought i was nearly there. After earning respect, and working in the best bar in my hometown Melbourne i moved to London to take up a position in one of the toughest and best bars in London. It took a lot to get used to the different ways things were done in comparison to back home.
After a year or so i felt at home at Milk & Honey London. After 18 months i had got myself to a level where i though would be hard to improve on my trade. Humility went out the window when i was given a shiny doorstop telling me i was U.K’s ‘best’ bartender last year. I kept telling myself to stay humble though and try to spur myself on to keep improving at tending bar and to look for new challenges. So i moved to New York…
Here we are now, four or five shifts into working at my new challenge of taking the knowledge and experience gained in Australia, France, and London and converting it the beast that is Milk & Honey New York. 6 booths, 4 seats at the bar, 34 capacity, 1 bar back, 1 host, 1 on the floor and me. 1 bartender. Sounds easy doesn’t it. However under the tutelage of five-year NY veterans Mickey and Sammy I have been made to feel like an absolute amateur.
‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ comes to mind when thinking of the London habits I need to break to conquer this bar. These are not necessarily right ways for every bar, but the right ways for this bar. I’m used to making certain drinks in certain ways, but there’s none of that here. This bar has developed it own ways to make these drinks, they have to be adhered to and made to the Milk & Honey New York way and spec.
To make things tougher, there’s no menu.
All drinks are recommended by the floor staff to suit the customers mood and tastes. Sammy and Mickey are cocktail historians, this coupled with the eccentricity and boozy-enthusiasm our boss, owner, and mentor -Sasha Petraske- emits means there’s a lot of cocktails being asked of me I’ve never heard of before. “Whats that? You want what?? A Dobbs, Trinity, Ched Baker, and Jui Jui???” I feel like Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’ when he’s doing his first shift at TGIF and everyone is asking him for ‘Ding-a-lings’ and ‘Cuba Libres’.
The bit where he is getting swamped, checks the recipe, and finally snaps at the customer by saying ‘A Cuba Libre!? WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST TELL ME IT WAS A RUM AND COKE!?’ is now something i can truly relate to.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you work is fun for me at the moment. Ive always enjoyed going into work and being personable, charming, and happy. That’s because i’ve generally always been really good at what i do.
This time is different. I’m finding it tough to get used to this bar, and get up to speed with the guys who have been here for five years. I want to be that good. I want to come into work, put on my braces and tie, open the doors and think ‘you know what? It doesn’t matter how many people come through that door tonite, Ive got it covered’.
I’m not there yet. I’m being humbled and having to shut the fuck up when waitresses are giving me shit. That’s bullshit. I’m not the sort of guy that lets smart ass comments from waitresses slide, i’m definitely not letting this bar or city conquer me. I know now what its like to work in the best and toughest bar in the world and i’m going to make it my bitch. I just need to do it before Friday.
I’m doing my first weekend and there will be no ‘eject’ button to push. No Sammy and Mickey to get me out of the weeds. Back to being the new guy, back to basics. Wish me luck..