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Merit Badge - Dr. Bamboo

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Merit Badge

  • 2 oz. Overproof Bourbon (I like Jim Beam bonded)
  • 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
  • 1/2 Demerara simple syrup
  • 1/8 oz. Lactart*
  • 1 dash Fee's rhubarb bitters

Stir everything with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or small cocktail glass.

*Lactart is available from artofdrink.com.

~ A Dr. Bamboo original creation

"Be Prepared."

That's the what the Boy Scouts told me during my brief tenure with that venerable organization (I wasn't there long- It turns out that wearing a uniform and being treated like a serf by the older kids wasn't my strong suit). That aside, there's a bit of wisdom in that musty slogan. Having what you need before stuff happens is generally a good approach.

Bartending is definitely one of those situations. Even the most stripped-down, no-frills dive requires a little bit of preparation before opening each night...even if it's just whacking up a few lime wedges and re-stocking the beer cooler. But what about craft cocktail bars? The fancy-schmancy drinks at those joints require a lot of behind-the-scenes time & energy, and most people don't realize what's involved. Let me give you a peek at some of the things that need to happen before we start tossing booze at you.

Throw down the floor mats. These are useful for keeping bottles and bartender's bones from getting broken. Gather up and clean any stray glassware and tools that were left behind by the closing bartender the night before (it's always fun figuring out who was drinking what at the end of their shift. It's like being a cocktail CSI). Put liners in the garbage cans. Place bus bins (for dirty plates & glasses) and recycling containers (for the tons of glass bottles you'll empty during service) in their appointed spots. Move anything that doesn't belong behind or on the bar somewhere else so it's out of your way. Now you're ready to start prepping.

Go to the walk-in cooler (if you're lucky, it's on the same floor as the bar) and haul a case of assorted fruit to wherever you do your citrus-slaughtering. Pick out some nice, unblemished ones. Clean those, and put them in bowls for later use as garnish. Take the rest, chop 'em up, and then crush, ream, or otherwise mutilate them as efficiently as possible for juice.* Strain it all and portion into bottles.

Open the coolers, pull out the assorted vermouths and aperitifs, and check their levels. Make sure there's enough to get through the shift. Do likewise with any syrups and other housemade ingredients. If anything is running low, retrieve more from the liquor storage or walk-in.

Take a look and see how you're set for beer. Do the same with bottled mixers like seltzer, tonic, ginger beer etc. Go grab whatever you need, and drag it back to the bar (Did I mention bartending is mostly just dragging stuff back and forth from one place to another?). Oh, I almost forgot. There's probably some liquor that needs to be re-stocked too.

People also tend to eat at bars, so get plates from the kitchen and silverware from the server station. While you're at it, get a stack of towels- you'll need a handful for various cleanup tasks behind the bar, as well as for when a customer spills something.

Ice comes in pretty handy for making drinks, so grab several buckets of ice from wherever the ice machine is.** After 2 or 3 trips, you'll probably have the bins filled (You did remember to wash out the bins first, right?). Then do the same with crushed ice, or else those mint juleps and zombies will be pretty disappointing. Lastly, check your large blocks of hand-cut ice.*** If you're low, go grab more from the freezer and haul 'em back to the bar.

Now that you've got ice, shovel some into the water pitchers and fill those up. Take a peek and see if you need to re-stock straws, stirrers, coasters and cocktail napkins. Ditto picks, skewers, little umbrellas, and other miscellaneous pokey things.

Oh, and don't forget the mint (and other assorted herbs you may be using for garnish at the moment). You'll need eggs too, along with cherries and olives (Remember the bleu-cheese ones, or your customers will riot). Check to see if there's enough bitters to go around while you're at it.

Now that you're in the home stretch, grab your tins, glasses, strainers, spoons, and whatever else you keep in your arsenal and set up your station. Chuck your wine key, bottle opener, pen, and notebook in your pocket. Make sure the cash drawer is squared away.

Wipe down the bar. Put on some music. Unlock the door.

Showtime.

Bear in mind all bars won't do everything on this list. Some will do more, some less, depending on their program. And these are just a few highlights. I've left out a variety of little tasks that don't necessarily need to be addressed each night. Things change frequently, and your "to-do”" list is always being revised.

So the next time you watch your bartender deftly assemble a top-notch drink in a matter of minutes, just remember there were hours of effort beforehand. That's not a complaint, but rather a reminder of the less-visible aspects that contribute to your (hopefully) good time. We wouldn't do it if we didn't care.

Thanks for drinking!

~ Dr. Bamboo

* If you're fortunate, your bar will have some kind of motorized juicing device. If not, your country appreciates your sacrifice.

** Some bars conveniently have an ice machine up front. Many do not, and will use a shared one that will likely be in the kitchen, basement, etc. More trips back and forth!

*** Breaking down large blocks of ice is a task normally done outside of daily bar prep. Like making syrups and other specialty ingredients, it is time-consuming and labor-intensive, so another bartender will often be scheduled specifically for this task.

 
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