Barflies Lament

Darcy O'Neil :: January 11, 2009 9:35 PM

History has a tendency of repeating itself, and the world of bartending is not immune to the cycles of time. Perusing through old newspaper articles and finding an article from 1885 (Boston Daily Globe) that could have been written today, and been completely relevant, only reinforces these historical oscillations. The article seems to be a long lament of an indulgent imbiber, who lost a rare type of bartender. Today, the majority of people rarely come across a bartender who actually cares about what they are doing, but we seem to be heading into a period of renewed professionalism behind the bar, which is always a welcomed change. Read on for the article.

The Perfect Bartender

He Does Not Spoil Your Best Story or Forget Your Favorite Poison

A gentleman whose nose had the ruddy hue which is sometimes ascribed to the lavish absorption of spirits leaned familiarly over the bar of an up-town cafe as he said:

"Perfect bartenders are rare. It takes as much genius to run a bar satisfactorily as it does to becomes a lawyer. Of course I do not say what kind of lawyer, but I will say a fairly good lawyer. This is a busy age we live in, and men do not like to take unnecessary trouble. I have often noticed a crowd of men who walked into a bar-room chatting agreeably, and who have been utterly broken up and knocked endwise by the questions of a stupid bartender. Right in the midst of a good story, or just as the point of some good anecdote has been arrived at, the stupid bartender gets the orders mixed up and has to ask everybody over again, or forgets what you ordered. He interrupts you without the slightest compunction of conscience and the whole of your story is knocked in the head. He never remembers the sort of drink you like, forgets your name, gives you Vichy instead of seltzer to mix with your liquor, and makes you feel under a certain restraint while you are near him. He is almost as bad as the very flippant bartender, who places his knuckles on the bar, leans forward, smiles sweetly, and says "What's your pleasure, gentlemen." before you have had time to draw your breath of come full stop.

"I tell you a good bartender is a jewel. The best one I ever knew retired from business with an independent fortune. He has gone over to Europe to see the country, and will keep his eyes peeled, and if any large opportunity is floating around loose there he can be depended upon to gather it. There are a great many men who consider drinking worthy of culture and intelligent study, just as a great many epicures cease eating oysters and take to eating clams on the 1st of June, they drop whiskey cocktails on the 1st of June and take to whiskey punches. This perfect bartender whom I speak had heard me remark about Christmas time--he was then keeping bar in a well-known up town hotel--that it was my custom to change my drinks on the 1st of June, just as it was other men's customer to go from oysters to clams; and when I walked in on the first of the month of roses, I was startled and pleased to have him put up a whiskey punch on the bar, instead of the hotter concoction. This was many years ago, but I knew then that that man would succeed. He was quiet, gentlemanly, and never forgot a name, and hung up drinks with such deference and respect that even pronounced beats made it a point to pay him. They did not humiliate bartenders in those days with any of those patent, bell-ringing, self-checking automatic detectors, and we all rejoice to see Billy start a place of his own before he had been in the business two years. Until he gave up the business, he always worked behind the bar. I don't think this is because he distrusted any of his bartenders, but because he thought so much of having his customers well served that he could not depend on anyone but himself.

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