A bartender needs to know the score, about everything from the Avs to absinthe

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Sean Kenyon's Ask the Bartender has been on a break, but Kenyon hasn't been taking it easy: Over the past five weeks, he's been traveling (Germany, France and New York City twice), working at Euclid Hall at night and opening Williams & Graham during the day. Now he's back, plenty of stories to tell about his travels on behalf of cocktails, as well as opening a bar on a shoestring -- but first, he wants to talk about a recent incident at a local bar that has him all riled up:

I was sitting at a bar (that will remain unnamed), drinking tequila neat and enjoying a nice moment of peace. The gentleman on the stool next to me says to the guy behind the bar, "I've been working a lot, and haven't been able to keep up on the Avs. How have they been doing?"

To which the bartender replies, "I don't really watch sports."

Then he walks away and leaves his guest hanging.

I was dumbfounded. I wanted to grab the guy by his flannel shirt and skinny jeans, take him outside, place him on his fixed-gear bike and tell him to pedal on home. Just twenty minutes before this exchange, I'd listened to the same "drink delivery unit" (hereafter referred to as a DDU, since I refuse to call him a bartender) go on for five minutes about one of the beers he was serving on tap. He was happy enough to talk about that...

(Warning: I'm about to sound off like an old man sitting on his porch screaming, "Get off my lawn, you kids!!!")

This interaction is a small example of what's wrong with the newest breed of DDUs. I've met more bartenders in the last few years who know nothing about sports than I care to count. The point is, it's not about just sports: It's about being informed about the world outside of your bar for the benefit of your guests. These DDUs care much more about what they are doing behind the bar than they do about the people sitting in front of it.

Some of the most amazing cocktail creators I've ever seen have been shitty bartenders. Many of them have encyclopedic knowledge of drink recipes, history, spirits, beer, wine etc. But they never learned hospitality; they never learned to serve. I take great pride in being a barman. It is a profession built on a foundation of hospitality. Many, many before me and many of my peers also take great pride in serving and pleasing people. These DDU's piss on that heritage and the history of our craft.

Growing up as the son (and grandson) of a bartender, I watched my father set up his bar in the morning, and then sit and read through the NY Post, Daily News and the Bergen Record before he opened his doors. This was not just because he wanted to be informed; he also read so that he could converse with his guests about current events, sports, entertainment. As a bartender, he took great pride in being a conversationalist, counselor, sports nut, etc. Essentially, he was (and is, since he's still behind the bar today) whatever his guests needed him to be. That is a real bartender. And he loves his job.

Don't get me wrong. I am excited about all of the new spirits, cocktails, tools and methods that are available to us now. Our craft has seen an amazing re-emergence over the past ten years. I geek out as much as the next guy. But as we progress, attain knowledge and push the boundaries of creativity... we can never forget to be bartenders first, to take pride in our profession, to serve with passion and sincerity.

I know (with a slight nod and wink to my good friend Brandon Biederman of Steuben's) what you're thinking: "Sean, the view from your ivory tower must be wonderful!" I'll be the first to admit that I am not the perfect bartender. But even at age 42 with 26 years behind a bar, I'm still trying. I've seen a lot of good and bad over that time, and I've learned from both....

So please don't be a DDU: Be a bartender first.

Now I'm stepping off that soapbox. Can I get another tequila -- and would you happen to know the Avs score?

Cheers.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Sean Kenyon Bio Photo.jpg
Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with 26 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can often find him behind the bar at Williams & Graham, the speakeasy he opened this fall; at Euclid Hall; or here, where he'll answer your questions. Post them in the comments section below. And in the meantime, read his piece on why Colorado bartenders are winning so many contests here.



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3 comments
Billhaskin
Billhaskin

Having learned how to work the stick in the mid nineties, I was always told the Guest is number 1 Period. Our job was to create an atmosphere where they would be comfortable. I learned from Bobby Duran and Angel Bourban  (of the Ira Gin and Angel Bourban) fame. A joke, an anecdote a current event quote always key but also to read the guest. Bobby and Angel could have a weary business traveler running for city council the next day or taken back to their room in a (note) respectful manner within the hour.Both men knew how to pour the best drink and of which I learned the basics whether it be the Stinger, Grasshopper or Negroni, Manhattan, Vesper or an Old Fashioned. These Gents had their craft down but it wasn't about whether the way they shook or stirred or muddled or just mixed and poured they did it with finesse because they were professional!I'm not going to lie I practiced the way these men lit women's smoke, twirled a cocktail napkin just perfectly and I still steal their mannerisms as if they were my own..I was fortunate enough several years later to come under the the tutelage of Tony Abou Ganim and then had the pleasure of managing Marco Dionysos and Jacques Bezedenhuit at Harry Denton's Starlight Room. From Harry I learned that detail is everything. Their are of course many other names I could mention and you could say I am not a bartender but merely a suppleir/importer bit I'll take the Pepsi Challenge with anyone anyday. Pardon my French But I really don't give a fuck what you think of me anymore; BUT what burns my arse is the person behind the bar "practicing their craft" that can't acknowledge a guest or is too cool to pour the guest a vodka cocktail or like Mr. Kenyon said has no clue of a current event or sports score.As one of my mentors Harry Denton once said "We are on stage". Our guests pay our salaries, our benefits, our bottom lines and for alot of you "Your next spots"My boys that are Bon Vivants, or Bar Lab or HMS, of course Anandas, Contemporary Cocktails, Especially The Modern mixolgist, Mixfits and many others I hope you don't take offense. This is my rant and after many years is the business I'm pretty sure I've earned it! I'm in total agreement with Sean Kenyon about the state of bartenders. Recently I walked into a very busy SF bar and all 3 bartenders greeted me like I was family and also treated me like such the entire evening although they were 3 deep. What a breath of fresh air!!

Oh Yeah Bobby Duran, Angel Bourban and Tony Abou Ganim, Jon Rader, Lyons Brown, Chris Alvarez, Tomas Estes, John Vlautin and to the rest of you saints and sinners, houligans and such and all the rest of you that aren't mentioned here. Cheers!Bill

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