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.