Ten Myths You’ve Probably Heard in Bars

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The world of booze can be mystifying to people that don’t work in bars or around alcohol all the time. I hear a lot of assumptions about the industry I’m in that are — much like 90% of what you hear in bars — completely false. Here are a few you’ve probably heard yourself.

1. Amaretto is almond liqueur.

I’ve been hearing this one a lot lately. One never really thought much about amaretto ten years ago, but now it’s all over the place. I suspect this is not so much because amaretto is a wonderful liqueur as much as those ads (“DiSaronno on the rocks…“) are:

  • on all the time.
  • horrible.

Sure, okay, it tastes like almonds, but did you know that amaretto is actually made from apricot pits? It’s true.

Disaronno Originale is from the town of Saronno, Italy and is most likely the original amaretto liqueur, dating back to 1525. It is made from apricot pits steeped in either brandy or neutral spirits, with the addition of herb flavors and sweeteners. So the next time you hear someone refer to amaretto as almond liqueur, set them straight.

And DiSaronno, please do something about your ads.

2. Gin and vodka are completely different liquors.

There’s a real myth about gin, that it’s alcohol made from juniper berries. While this is partly true, gin and vodka start life pretty much the same way: as grain-based neutral spirits. The difference with gin is that it undergoes a final distillation — or sometimes just an infusion — that flavors the spirit with juniper, cinnamon, lemon peel, cardamom and other exotic flavors.

Sadly, gin often gets a bad rap from neophytes who only drink vodka. However, if you’re one of those considering a leap past flavorless grain alcohol, think of gin as a form of infused vodka and you will begin to explore the beauty, sophistication and exotic flavor of a truly wonderful spirit.

3. Any drink served in a cocktail glass is a martini.

A Martini is a drink made with gin or vodka, vermouth, and olives or a lemon twist. That’s it. (More Here)

A Martini does not involve:

  • apple schnapps
  • raspberry liqueur
  • lemongrass-infused ginger vodka
  • fresh lime juice
  • grenadine

A Martini is not:

  • “shaken to perfection”
  • served with a graham-cracker rim

There is no cream in a Martini. A Martini does not have jalapeños in it. There is also no such thing as a “chocolate martini”.

A Martini is a drink made with gin or vodka, vermouth, and olives or a lemon twist. That’s it.

Although the name of the glass we serve Martinis in has slowly been bastardized into martini glass, its true name is the cocktail glass, and anything served in it is a form of cocktail. Even the, uh, Martini.

So the next time you’re in a bar and they offer you their “Martini Menu” full of wonderful syrupy-sweet concoctions with names like the Sour Apple Martini, the Espresso Martini and the ubiquitous Pomegranate Martini, smile quietly and remember that you know better.

4. Women that go to bars alone are looking for sex.

In one way, women are no different than men: sometimes they just want to get out of the house and have a drink.

Maybe she’s single and tired of studying for exams, maybe she’s a stay-at-home mother that was offered an hour of relief from her husband and wants to enjoy a quiet glass of wine by herself. For whatever the reason a woman is sitting at the end of the bar, it’s probably none of your business. Have some class. If you do decide to approach her and she doesn’t appear to want your company, show some respect and leave her alone.

At my bar, we take very special care to dispel this myth, and as a result our establishment is a very comfortable place for women to patronize, alone or in groups. It’s something we’re proud of, and we’re more than happy to kick you out for harassing someone that doesn’t want your company.

5. People that work in bars are uneducated.

Maybe it’s just because I work and live in a college town, but some of the most highly-educated people I know work in bars. My co-bartender is a former sports journalist. The bartender at the pub I have a drink in after work has a law degree. Myself? I have a degree in architecture. And there’s one question we just love hearing night after night.

“So why are you still just a bartender?”

Well, we’re still just bartenders for many reasons.

  • We like the hours.
  • We like meeting new people every day.
  • We’re passionate about mixology.
  • We’re lousy at sitting in an office all day (we’ve tried.)
  • We actually enjoy bartending.

So before you judge that woman behind the bar, just remember: she could have a PhD in botany and be bartending so that she has time to work on her book about South American agricultural anthropology. Seriously.

6. Male bartenders go home with a different woman every night.

When I got my first job bartending at a tender young age, I had visions of Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail: hotel room keys sliding across the bar as I coolly sipped a spiked coffee, standing with one foot on the brass rail and gazing across the emptying room at the end of a long night while I decided which young vixen to go home with.

The real truth hits me every other Friday night, as I lie on my stomach in an inch of standing water, trying to fish a whole lime out of my floor drain with a steak knife in a vain attempt to keep the entire bar from flooding. The truth of the matter is, bartending is a job like any other, but with eight more hours of standing and a wild pack of drunks to tend to every night. At the end of that night, there’s an hour’s worth of cleanup to do, and the sad truth is that by the time most of us are done,
most people are sound asleep.

Sorry to break it to you, young bartenders, but I think you should know this before you become disillusioned and bitter.

Like me.

7. Bartenders that measure ingredients don’t know what they’re doing.

I’ve been bartending for over ten years now, but I still measure a lot of what I pour. Why? Well, sometimes it’s because I don’t have a pour spout in that bottle of 12-dollar-a-shot single-malt scotch. Sometimes it’s because I’m making the perfect Mai Tai and I know there’s no way I can measure out an exact half-ounce of simple syrup from the plastic jug. Sometimes it’s because I want to make sure you get every drop of the liquor you ordered and not short you – or my bosses.

In these days of “flair bartending” (juggling), with dollars worth of booze literally spilling out all over the floor every night, I find it refreshing when I sit at a bar and see a bartender who cares enough about me, and his/her job, to measure out a perfect shot of alcohol.

After all, being a great bartender is about having a deep respect for alcohol, and there’s nothing respectful about the floor behind most bars. Trust me.

8. Bartenders are walking databases of every drink ever created.

I swear to you that the following story is true. A couple of years ago, a group of people came in to my bar, and they all wanted this drink called a Woodpecker. I, like you, had never heard of this drink before in my life, so the first step I took was to look in the Big Book of Dumb Drinks that we keep behind the bar. Nada. Then I did what you would have done in a situation like this: I asked them what went in it. Nobody knew.

“Um, it was like, kind of a greenish color, but with some red in it, like a woodpecker.”

Hmmm… probably something with Midori in it. This drink is off to a very bad start. A green woodpecker? I asked them if it tasted like melon.

“No, it kind of had a coconut flavor, but with lemon in it. Like a coconut cream pie.”

Ouch. Malibu Rum. I can’t believe there’s a bar in town serving this crap. Maybe I know the bartender and I can actually find out how to make it sometime. I asked them where they had this drink.

“At our friend Dave’s house last night. He invented it!”

I was nonplussed to say the least. These otherwise intelligent, professional people were actually asking me if I knew how to make a drink that their friend made up — and named — at his house the night before.

Remember, kids: if it’s foreign to you, it might be foreign to your bartender. Tread lightly and don’t be disappointed if you don’t get what you’re looking for.

9. The real fun begins after we close.

The idea that we’re having a big party without you once the bar closes is absurd. We’re tired, we’re cranky, and we’ve still got an hour and a half of work ahead of us. I actually told you all this a half hour ago, so why are you still here? Ah, yes, the after-party. Let me tell you something, bub: it ain’t here.

One thing I’ve never understood about bars was the expectation, night after night, that we should let people sit around after we’ve closed and feed them free alcohol. Are there people hanging out at Wal-Mart around closing time trying to get the cashiers to give them free DVDs? I seriously doubt it. So why do some people insist on doing the same in bars?

Sure, there’s probably a bar in town where people are sitting and drinking for free at four in the morning. However, I can guarantee you that not one of those people was invited in for overstaying a welcome. If the lights are up and the music is off, the party’s over.

Go home.

10. Mixing alcohols will result in a hangover.

All drinkable alcohol is ethyl alcohol mixed with water and flavorings. Sure, some alcohols are made with things you might be allergic to, like wheat or the cogeners and sulfites found in grapes, but for the most part, it’s all the same: beer, wine, gin, tequila, it’s all ethyl alcohol and flavor.

I’m going to put this as clearly as I can: the reason you had a hangover last Saturday was because you had three beers, a glass of red wine, two shots of tequila, a martini, and four gins and tonic.

Simply put: it’s not the variety of different drinks you had: you simply drank too much.

147 Replies to “Ten Myths You’ve Probably Heard in Bars”

  • Beez says:

    Jeff I agree with most of what you say but,..

    Plenty women do go to bars to meet/pick up/socialize and sometimes go home with bartenders/men. In my short years as bartending before marriage ( I met my wife bartending you know, 14 years ago and still going strong ) I did pretty well with the ladies and turned down plenty as well. The key is, whatever side of the bar your on is, don’t look for it. If a women what you to talk with her she’ll send a signal.

    While I’ve always enjoyed your style, let’s not get too snobby when somebody comes in and orders ( no matter how disgusting ) an apple “martini” etc.. A good bartender can relate and make a wide variety of people comfortable on their night out, regardless of their lack of culture, and knowledge of the finer things in life.

    Otherwise I really enjoy your dedication to your craft and your sense of humor. At the end of the day, when I/we go out to our favorite establishment, I/we just want a quality beverage w/o the attitude of a I’m better than you bartender. – Cheers Bud!

  • Dan B says:

    I have to second Lauren’s question about the Espresso Martini, especially since I just noticed it on the menu at Pepe Le Moko. Is that a bit of a tongue-in-cheek naming (on the theme of the rest of the menu), or has your attitude shifted regarding the “martini” label.

    Certainly no judgement on my part—I can’t wait to order one (though not until after I’ve tried that famed Amaretto Sour)!

    -D

  • Mattzilla says:

    Great read, I hope this enlightens some people.

  • Leozilla says:

    One very late reply to your postm but i’ve just dicovered your site.

    The original Amaretto was made with apricot AND peaches pits. Amaretto is a Northern Italy liqueur and in northern Italy the climate is suche that growing almonds would be nearly impossible. Almond trees in Italy are widely spead in the souther regions (Sicily,Apulia etc..) but the almonds there (sweet almonds) are mainly used to make wonderful pastries and a sweet and refreshing drink called “latte di mandorle” (nowadays the mass produtcs are made with water,sugar and artifical aromas).
    My grandmother used to made a good Amaretto at home using apricot pits and peaches pits (non all the peaches anyway,only those which had a bitter taste) because she said that the peaches gave it a different flavour.

    Great post anyway (and a great blog too)

  • MrH2 says:

    InRe: #8
    Back in the 60’s, I was tending in Georgia. A young customer, yes – I carded him, came in and asked if I knew how to mix a Harvey Wallbanger. Is said no, but I’ll bet that if you know what’s in it, I can get it. When he told me, I said “OH”! I’ve been mixing those for years, but they were called Italian screwdrivers. They were never popular with the younger crowd until they became “wallbangers”. Its all in the name.

  • morgansjc says:

    My favorite part was the after work parties. I’ve never worked as a bartender, but did two and a half years armed security at an Asian nightclub. While it could be very exciting when the alcohol got flowing and the house band rocking, what made it truly hot and spicy was when the folks from the biker bar across the parking lot came to play. Guns, knives, bottles and police were a regular theme, with one adventurer attempting to drive a Volkswagen through the double front doors. That would have been terrible as he might have damaged our metal detector. We would have been reduced to using the hand units to check for weapons!
    When the night was over, we all had a meal together and a drink at the bar. We were allowed one glass of the good stuff, and a couple of anything else. An icy beer never tasted so good. We were always sweaty and tired at the end of the night, often bruised and sometimes cut. Two of us once pushed a dumpster down an alley with weapons hot at 2 guys pointing pistols at us from behind their car doors. Exciting stuff. The only thing we wanted to see of the customers at the end of the night was their waving hands as they walked away. While we did our best to turn a blind eye to some activities, breaking a bottle across a 21 year old girls face and cutting her up, or strongarm robbing another customer got you a ride to the gray bar hotel. Civil to all, friendly to none was our unwritten rule. Getting too friendly might send the wrong signal to someone you might have to take to the beer soaked floor and hook up.
    A great article that brought back a lot of memories as well as teaching me the correct recipe and terminology for a martini. Thanks!

  • PeterP says:

    Glad to see this website is still getting readership and comments! I enjoyed this post, I wrote a blog post a few years ago about the level of education in most bars and restaurants. I just found this site and your book last summer, from a good friend and bar manager of an Italian spot in SE.

    It’s crazy to see these posts from 2007! 2007-2009 I tended bar in the Pearl district and I would have loved to have had this knowledge back then. I never understood why my buddy Chino was so into mixing his crazy drinks and winning mixology competitions while I was busy double shaking mojitos and trying my hardest (with no luck) to be an awesome flair bartender (twenty years too late. LOL). Come to think of it, I would have been one of the dumbasses laughing at you for measuring out the ingredients.

    Now, after finally completing my BA and while applying for MFA programs, I have more time to dedicate to becoming a better, more knowledgeable and creative bartender. I’ve finally accepted the fact that it’s not just a temporary job. Thank you for the knowledge, advice and recipes. Your The Bar Book is permanently placed on my current bar in San Francisco. It’s changed my mentality about bartending and made me a lightyears better professional. Thank you, my man! It’s not all in vain. 😉

    I’ll definitely be coming in for a drink and a bite at CC next trip up to Ptown. In fact, I just found out my blood brother and favorite lit nerd works with you. If you read this, Please tell Nico that Pedro said hi. 😉

    Cheer brotha, keep it coming!

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