Monday, December 1, 2008
In dog years, I've been behind the stick for 105 years
And some days it feels like it. 15 years ago today I was nervously getting ready to work my first shift as a real live bartender. It was a day shift at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus on Florin Road in Sacramento. I remember that the drink special of the day was a Madras, something which threw me and made me even more nervous. I didn't have a trainer that day because we were short staffed, so like many other restaurant positions (especially the kitchen), I got thrown right in. Black Angus had a soda gun to the left of the well, and a liquor gun (the only time that I have ever used one) to the right. The liquor gun was unmarked, just a big black gun with about 30 white buttons. If you wanted to make a margarita, you pushed one button and it dispensed tequila, sweet and sour and triple sec all into the glass for you. Long Island Iced Tea? Thats another button. Gin? Another and so on. Well, I didn't know the buttons and neither did my manager, so my first day kind of sucked as frantic servers kept returning drinks because they were "funny tasting". I remember a strawberry daiquiri coming back because I had filled it with whiskey, and my offering more options to the servers as I slowly figured out the buttons on the liquor gun ("They want what? I don't know where the scotch button is. Offer them a gin and tonic instead. Or anything with gin, I know where that button is"). Suffice to say, my first day was stressful, chaotic and just plain nuts. I still have days like that, the only difference is that now I know what goes into a Madras and I have the confidence in my abilities that only time behind the bar provides.
I like to joke about my time at the Black Angus. I'll make cracks about learning every variation of the Long Island there (I think I honestly did), but it was the first bar that I was ever behind and for that I will always be thankful. There was the kindly veteran bartender Rich who took me under his wing and patiently explained to me how to set up the bar. There was Reptile Boy, a compulsive gambler who oftentimes needed to make a certain amount of cash on a shift to cover his recent bets. More than once I had to cover a shift for him when he "suddenly" fell ill and left before his bookie showed up to collect. Once, we had a carnival set up shop in a mall parking lot not too terribly far away and for about a week the bar would fill up with carnies after the fair closed. Some of the carnies started flirting with a cocktail waitress and lo and behold, when the carnival left, she went with them. I never saw her again. It was a completely disfunctional place, I couldn't figure out why the manager always paid for beers with quarters when we all went out until I realized that he had a key for the pool tables and was draining them for beer money. There was the time I learned never to allow shot glasses to pile up in front of customers in case they start throwing them at you (by the way, it hurts like hell to get hit with a shot glass) and the first time I ever got robbed was there too (corporate wouldn't replace our tips that were stolen back then). Black Angus has been bought and sold numerous times since I last mopped out the leaky beer cooler in Sacramento, the last time I set foot in one the famous "Fun Bar" atmosphere was gone, no more Monday Night Football or DJs. Instead, they had basically reduced the bar to a service well. It wasn't the same but then things are never quite how you remember them. I look back with fond memories of my time there and the 15 years since. Its been quite a ride.
As it is, I don't have a lot of time left behind the bar. I've been lucky enough to catch the beginning of the craft bartending movement, which I see as a chance to restore my chosen profession to its Pre-Prohibition glory. That said I'm too old to see this through, it will be the next generation of bartenders, people like James Pierce over at Touche, Jacob Grier and others who will make this a reality.
So far, its been a great run and for those of you who I have served, I can truly say its been an honor and a pleasure to serve you. Best wishes to you all.