10 Tips For Getting Back To Bartending Basics

Bartending Basics

If you have been paying attention in class, you’d know that I’m pretty stuck on the classics. One of my favorite ways to show your guest that you actually care about them – and your job – is to put a glass of water down in front of anyone who sits at your bar. Why? Because it shows that you care.

Warren Bobrow

Even if you are up to your neck in French Martinis, take that extra second to find a nice polished glass and fill it with ice and water. Why? Because it will allow you to slow down, even if it is only for a moment, connect with your new guest and let them know that you’ll be right back. A cocktail napkin is nice too. Even if you are not busy, set that little square down on the real estate and while smiling, set the glass of water down on the napkin. Then come back when it’s right. Here are another 10 tips for getting back to bartending basics:

1. The Glass of Water.

My bar mentor, Chris James makes sure that you water your guest first! Don’t forget!  It’s a really nice thing to do and they’ll remember you.

2. Do not shake my Gin Martini.

I will not be happy. You will not get a tip, and now you’ll know why. Stir it only. Tell me you cannot make one if you only know how to shake a Martini. Don’t make up a story of how you saw it in a Bond movie. Ugh.  Stirring this venerable drink…Instead of shaking. I was out in Las Vegas a couple years ago, staying in a hotel that had a pretty decent mixology menu. But words on a page don’t necessarily translate to a fine cocktail as evidenced by the well-meaning, yet completely clueless bartender on duty. It’s not that he couldn’t make a drink with a calm, grace under pressure. It’s that he insisted on shaking the living daylights out of my Gin Martini. And I say Gin because he was certain that a Martini only came in the flavor of the day- I seem to remember chocolate- and of course I wanted something a bit more restrained, like Gin with a whisper of Vermouth. It was not meant to be.

3. Vermouth.

Another ugh. Do you refrigerate your Vermouth? When was the last time that you got a new bottle? Has that one in your hand been lurking on top of the reach in since the last decade? If so, you’ve got to do something about it. Get a new bottle and keep it in the refrigerator. It’s lightly fortified wine, it has an expiration date. Once opened, a bottle of Vermouth should be enjoyed pretty quickly. Use fresh Vermouth!

4. Have a couple different kinds of Vermouth.

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There are dozens on the market, both domestic and imported. Make up a series of cocktails with different Vermouth as the base.

5. Ice.

If you are serving really high-end Bourbon, you should buy a silicone ice tray and make your own large ice cubes. It really does make a wonderful and memorable presentation.  And you can charge more. That is important. After all you are there to make money for the house, right?

6. Glassware.

I’m so over mundane glassware. I want to drink fancy drinks out of coupes and classic, fizzy drinks out of Collins glasses. Get yourself to an Estate Sale and pick out some funky glassware. Use these glasses in all your specialty drinks. They will put a smile on the face of your guest. Do it!

7. No IPA’s.

IPA’s are the workhorses of most bars. They are one step above an American Lager, with extra hops stuffed into them. They have very little balance, and fewer memories. They all pretty much taste the same. Try to purchase Porters, Stouts, Bitters, Gose, Pilsners. Anything but IPA.

8. Clean Dishware.

See your bar-back? He’s engaged in his job, polishing the glasses with a lint free cloth, making your juices, all from scratch. He’s polishing the stainless and making sure that everyone has water at the bar. Your tools are spic and span. Your bar mats are clean and not greasy. Your ice and specialty ice are perfectly cut and cool. Your bottles are gleaming and there are no fruit flies. I was in an expensive Denver Airport restaurant recently. With my Duval Ale, in the correct glass, nice touch, I noticed the glass was a breeding ground for fruit flies.  Big fat ones. And they find me very desirable. So put out white vinegar in containers in your kitchen with plastic wrap on top and holes added. The fruit flies find this aroma irresistible. Don’t serve me 9 dollars per bottle beer with fruit flies. UGH. 

9. Punch of the day.

I’ve spoken about this prior. If you are not making punch, every day, step up your game and make one. Get Dave Wondrich’s marvelous book on Punch. Read it. Use it. Stop complaining! Make Punch!  Get Steven Grasse’s book on Colonial Spirits!  Do it!  It’s fun!

10. Stop using so much Rosemary.

No one wants to taste an entire stalk of rosemary. It’s so overpowering! Use a couple of needles crushed in your fingers. That’s all you need. It’s really strong stuff, be subtle in your flavoring. Buy several different kinds of bitters as well. Angostura is marvelous stuff, but there is a plethora of bitters on the market. And please, when I ask for a Pink Gin, know that this drink is only two ingredients. Angostura and Gin.  That’s it!