Seven Things You Should Never Catch Your Bartender Doing

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You may think I was a little harsh in my previous post, Eight Things You Should Never Say To Your Bartender. Actually, I thought it was funny. However, the truth is that I’m much harder on other bartenders than I am on customers. I’ve worked in a lot of bars, I’ve seen a lot of shitty bartenders in my day and I feel there are certain things that you, the customer, have a right to demand of your bar staff.

So here they are, the seven things you should never catch your bartender doing.

1. The Glass Scoop
I hate this one. I absolutely hate it. Seriously, it’s my biggest pet peeve, and whenever I catch any of my bartenders or waitstaff doing it I scream such bloody murder that you’d think someone was torturing a small animal.

But you know what? It’s dangerous. It’s also stupid and completely unnecessary.

Here’s what it is: you sit down at a bar and you order a drink. Let’s just call it a gin and tonic. You order your gin and tonic, and the bartender proceeds to make it. He (I’m just going to assume it’s a guy) grabs a glass from the shelf and plunges it right into the ice, scooping out the ice for your drink.

Big deal, right?

Yeah, big deal. The one thing I hate about working with glass is that it’s always breaking. Or chipping. Or cracking. Glasses tend to do that, because they’re made out of glass. So, let’s imagine that the glass he used to scoop the ice for your drink chipped a little when he dipped in the ice. And now there’s a little piece of broken glass floating around. There are two possible scenarios here: either it’s now in your drink, or it’s about to be in someone else’s drink. Either way, somebody is going home with a chunk of broken glass in their stomach.

Yikes.

The really sad thing about this practice is that your bartender had to work around his perfectly good ice scoop to do this. The ice scoop is there for a reason, and it’s made of metal or plastic for a reason: to keep the ice and the glass separate.

Oh, and if you see him scooping the ice with his bare hands, just get up and leave. You don’t even have to pay for the drink first. The hand-scoop is a close cousin of…

2. The Hand-Packed Ice.

I’ll admit, I did this on my very first night working with hard liquor. But someone pulled me aside and told me how disgusting it is, and I’ve never done it again. I’m talking about smashing the ice down in the glass with the palm of your hand after you’ve scooped the ice into it, and before you start pouring liquor into it.

Come on, you’ve all seen it in the movies before. A customer walks up to a bar, the bartender fills a glass with ice, mashes it down with his hand, and then looks expectantly at the customer and says something like, “What’ll you have, Mac?”

The part they never show takes place right before that, when the bartender makes change from a filthy ten-dollar bill. It’s disgusting, and it’s no worse than watching your bartender put his finger in your drink.

Don’t let it happen. Tell your bartender to keep his hands out of your drink. And if you ever see me walking in to your bar, don’t let me catch you…

3. Juggling

This is it. This is the worst thing you could ever catch your bartender doing. I’m talking about flair. Yes, it’s called ‘flair’ bartending, and it’s the worst thing to happen to the profession since the invention of sweet-and-sour mix. It’s taught in bartending schools, it’s done in competitions and shown on ESPN on Sunday mornings, and it’s practiced by people who have absolutely no idea how to make a drink.

Bartending is a show, I’ll give you that. Most people who choose to sit at bars do so to watch the show. But a truly great show is one that involves a smooth, seemingly-effortless output from a genuine bar master. A great show is one where no single move of the bartender’s body is meaningless, but every finger, every muscle is focused on the efficient preparation of cocktails. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and a rare thing to find.

In contrast, a poor show is when you are forced to watch some jackass take ten times a long to make your rum and Coke because he’s tossing the bottles above his head, catching them behind his back, and spinning shit in between his fingers.

It’s not flair, folks, it’s juggling. And juggling is something that is done by clowns.

Oh, and it tends to go hand-in-hand with another idiotic practice…

4. The Glass Pyramid

Yes, this one’s a claaaaassic bonehead move. You’re sitting at a bar watching some clown do his tricks when a bachelorette party of, like, ten sorority girls comes in. And they all want shots. Well, my friend, I certainly hope they’re standing near you when they order, because you’re about to see one of the biggest shithead moves of all time, the shot-glass pyramid.

The bartender proceeds to fill a cocktail shaker with ice, and probably all kinds of apple schnapps, cranberry juice, maybe a Capri-Sun, whatever. Then, with razor-like precision, he stacks up ten shot glasses in a pyramid in front of the girls. They ooh and ahh, watching every move this genius makes as he begins to pour their drink into the top-most glass. Soon the top glass is full and the shots begin to cascade down into all the remaining glasses. Gorgeous.

The problem is, he had to make twice as much to account for all the shots that are now sitting in his bar mat. But they don’t realize that he poured their drinks down the drain, they got a free show. They pay for the drinks, tip him a dollar, and leave.

Sucks for him. Maybe next time he should try…

5. Lighting Things on Fire

I live within one hundred miles of Huber’s in Portland, Oregon, so I’m obligated to make a Spanish Coffee once in a while. I’m not a big fan, but I do it. It’s their drink, they’ve made a name for themselves by making it, and I’ll respect that. So I make the Spanish Coffee. And for those of you not from around here, it involves fire.

But it’s a coffee drink, so I can sorta see the connection. But when you catch your bartender lighting a margarita, or a Purple Hooter, or any other cold drink on fire, you know you’re dealing with a Grade-A knucklehead. It does nothing for the flavor (hey, folks, 151-proof rum tastes like shit, let’s face it), it warms the drink up (there’s only one thing I want warming my drink up: my stomach), and then there’s the possibility that you’re going to burn your eyelashes off.

If you see your bartender lighting things on fire, get up and leave.

Now, there is one more exception. It’s a very old drink invented by Jerry Thomas (like, 1800s old) and it involves a chafing dish of scotch, two pewter mugs, and some very dim lighting. There’s really no point in even mentioning how to make it. There are a lot of things bartenders did back in the golden age of bartending, but one thing you’d never catch a bartender doing was…

6. Shaking a Martini

Clear drinks should never be shaken. Ever. I don’t care what James Bond says, or what you may have heard about a perfect martini having ice crystals floating on top, or whatever.

Here’s the deal: A stirred martini (or a manhattan, or whatever) contains about 15% water. A shaken martini contains about 30% water.

A shaken martini is a shitty drink. Suck it up.

But there are times when ice is more than welcome, and it’s a bad bartender that gets caught…

7. Stiffing you on the Ice

This one is mainly applicable to straight shots of liquor served on the rocks, but I’ve seen it done in mixed drinks, too. It’s an amateur move and a pretty good sign that you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know the first thing about bartending.

When filling a glass with ice, any glass, it should be filled to the top. Not half-way, not two-thirds of the way, but all the way up. Your bartender is not smarter than the people who make glassware for a living. You’re not getting more booze. You’re not getting a better drink, you’re just getting a warm drink. Or a drink with too much mixer in it.

I know there are merits to not taking one’s shots with ice. I like my shots neat, too, and I’m not going to touch that debate here in this post. But sometimes, folks, there is nothing in the world finer than sipping on a nice bourbon that’s been mellowing out in a bed of ice. It’s sublime, and it lasts so much longer than a straight shot. But I tell you, when I walk into a bar and order a eight-dollar shot of Woodford Reserve on the rocks, I don’t want five pathetic cubes swimming around in my drink. I want a god-damned rocks glass, filled with ice, and soaking in bourbon.

It’s the way it’s supposed to be done. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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