The next time you’re chatting up your regular bartender, you should ask if he or she went to school. Not college, mind you. I’m mean bartending school, as in the place that teaches you to make the kind of drinks nobody would ever think to order unless they’d heard about them from a radio commercial set to a terrible country tune. Years ago, when I was but an eager barback trying to work my way up to a crappy happy-hour shift, I asked the gal I worked for if she learned to make drinks by going to a class. “Fuck, no!” she said. “Nobody goes to those schools.”
And, honestly, in 10 years of slinging drinks, I’ve yet to meet a colleague who entered the industry via a call to 1-800-BARTEND. Everyone I know who pours for a living has learned the craft on the job, and that widespread lack of formal education is even a source of pride, the way that successfully booting your first unruly drunk is — or the first time you survive a hectic night. For most people, it seems, bartending schools exist primarily as a cultural meme based on their infectious theme song (sing along now, “Red Snapper, Kamikaze, Long Island Ice Tea …”), though probably only half of bartenders know what goes into a Sex on the Beach. I used to scoff that nobody ever ordered that drink –– until someone inevitably did. “Is this your first time in a bar?” I asked, trying to be a jerk. “Yes,” she said. “It’s my 21st birthday.”
I actually found a physical location for a bartending school the other day — the shopping center on South Hulen Street that contains, along with a Kroger, three hair salons, a Krav Maga academy, a Christian bookstore and a Priscilla’s, plus a massage business. That part of town is sort of weird because South Hulen is like a suburb squished into an urban area, but what makes it dull is its disappointing dearth of quality watering holes. Sure, there’s Yupp’s, a quality watering hole if ever there was one, but it’s farther afield, on Granbury Road near I-20. There are places like Chili’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, but they don’t stay open until 2 a.m., nor do they have carpeted floors, nor the psychic film produced by 30-plus years of dedicated day-drinkers. South Hulen should be an ideal place for a strip-mall carpet bar, yet the only thing that comes close is The Premium Institute of Bartending.
It was Monday around 5 p.m., and the sign on the door claimed that Premium’s weekday hours went until 9 p.m., but the door was locked and the room empty. Peering through the darkened glass, I could see that the Premium Institute was actually pretty close to the South Hulen carpet bar of my imagination: dark, small, floor covered in a thin carpet, stools neatly aligned at the bar. All it was missing was the customary array of drunks. Had it been open, I might have very well stayed until close.
Do bartending schools work like cosmetic academies? Like, can I get an inexpertly mixed Manhattan from a neophyte barkeep on the cheap the way I can get a crooked haircut from an Ogle student? I have no idea. From a quick perusal of the school’s website, I learned that the space is available for rent, though I’d probably staff it with non-graduates. But then again, maybe what you learn at one of these places encompasses all the professional knowledge I’m sadly lacking. I still have to look it up to find out what a Sex on the Beach is, after all. At least I know the words to the song. — Steve Steward
Premium Institute of Bartending
6080 S Hulen St, FW. 817-294-3300.
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