Having a reputation as a great bartender creates an avenue for a lot of wonderful, interesting, and strange interactions between you and your guests. Some people belly up to the bar with a look of wonderment and simply want you to make them a great drink, no matter what’s in it. Others guests are just dying to try whatever is new that you’ve been working on. My favorite type, though, is the person that that is hell-bent on playing “stump the bartender,” and I’ve begun to notice that this type comes in a few different breeds.
Probably the most common subset of these people is are just trying to impress their friends. By catching a bartender off guard while trying to remember what exactly is in some obscure drink that they may have only made one time for a guest two years ago, it gives them the opportunity to look like the “real” professional when they have to remind the person behind the bar how to make a particular cocktail. I’ve found that when I finally get finished preparing the obscure drink and inquire as to how this person ran across the drink, they typically aloofly reply with something along the lines of “Oh, I had it on my last trip to Manhattan. Next time you’re there you should check out this new little place over in The Village. It’s called INSERT TRENDY COCKTAIL BAR NAME HERE.” This is the point in the conversation where I smile cordially, thank them for the tip on the new spot to check out, and wonder how in the hell this person finds it necessary for me to memorize every cocktail menu on the eastern seaboard.
Another “stump the bartender” type is the guy that started getting into cocktails about six months ago. They’ve been blazing down the path to “cocktail guru” fame and have picked up just enough knowledge to be dangerous…and cocky. This person has begun collecting all of the cool little tools and toys that we use behind the bar, purchased every old cocktail book available on cocktailkingdom.com, and has soaked up every new post on every popular blog site. They are hyper-aware of all the hottest trends in cocktails. They even know what is going to be trending next season, and they want to tell you all about it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a nerdy cocktail conversation, it’s that I don’t like being spoken to in a condescending fashion. The new guru likes to try to stump you in one of two ways: The first way is they’ll want you to make them a drink they recently discovered in some archaic text. The other way is by asking if you read such and such blog and if you say yes, they’ll keep rolling down a list of informational outlets until they find one you haven’t read. They’ll proceed from there to tell you all about it until your eyes bleed. Thankfully this type is getting fewer and farther between.
The last of these groups of people that I want to take a second to mention is the ones that just ask for dumb drinks. For the most part these customers just tend to be young. The young ones are not the type I have a problem with though. I try to give everyone about a decade of drinking to figure things out before I start getting judgmental. It’s the people in their 30s that order a Sex With an Alligator, and when they find out that you down carry Jagermeister switch the order to a Midori Sour or some bullshit like that. It would all be fine if they would just stop there and order a simple two-part mixed drink, but they never do. What started with a Sex With an Alligator cascades into a series of Woo-Woos, Chocolate Munkey Choo Choos, and who knows what else. Eventually, the customer gets queries “What do you know how to make then?” They’re frustrated by the fact that it must be my first day on the job. The reality is that there are a lot of wonderful exotic drinks whose recipes are etched into my brain, but all I can do at this point is start naming off all of the pink ones to them in hopes that we can find some common ground.
At the end of the day you can’t stump a good bartender. Sure, if you’re really trying to you can find a recipe that a bartender hasn’t heard of before. If you’re willing to work together with your bar staff though, you’ll find that they probably have a drink in their repertoire that will make you look cool in front of your friends, show you something new that you didn’t catch on the hottest blogs, or just has that easy tropical taste you were looking for in the first place. Us bartenders will readily admit that we know a lot, but we don’t know everything. No one blamed Einstein for not being able to recite the speed of light even after he’d done a lot of work on his theory of relativity, though. Don’t judge us solely based on the number of drinks we have memorized, but rather show us a recipe and let us use our skill and knowledge to recreate it for you. If it works out well, then you’ll know that you can always catch up with that bartender on the occasion that you want another one.