WRITTEN BY KELLY JEFFERS
LEAD BARMAN AT MUD HEN WATER IN KAIMUKI, OAHU
When you walk into a drinking establishment and want to get the attention of the person working behind the bar, some names may elicit a quicker response than others. Some of us will answer if you call us barkeep. Others will answer to barman or barmaid. Some answer to mixologist, tapster, liquid chef, or bottle jockey. Two of my former colleagues would love it if you addressed them as cocktologists. But the one way to get every single person working behind a bar to answer you is to simply hail a bartender.
Bartenders go by many names and take many forms, depending on whether we’re slinging mixed drinks at a club, muddling fresh, local fruit at a farm-to-table restaurant, showing guests how to get that perfect pour at a pub, or working behind one of the many other vastly different bars around the world. While we come from many different backgrounds, all bartenders are charged with the same duty: to make you, the guest, happy. As a bartender talks with you, we’re afforded a small peek into your soul; the more we talk with you the better we get at knowing how to make you happy while you grace our barstools with your presence. The more we make you happy, the more we see you at our bar, and the more like family you become. This is what every good bartender wants. To make our family of guests happy.
Take one of Mud Hen Water’s regulars, Fred. When Fred comes in for a regular pau hana or just to check that the barstools are still comfortable, he always gets an old fashioned with muddled cherry and orange peel as his first drink. When the world starts tilting in a direction we don’t like, all of us have that thing that sets our world straight again. For Fred, all the bartenders at Mud Hen Water know that thing that sets his world back straight again is an old fashioned done the way he likes it. The more we get to know Fred and his family, the more they have become part of our family. Getting to know how Fred likes his drinks and food has lead to all of us forming a bond that goes beyond serving a great old fashioned. Bartending transcends the mere act of making drinks.
I’ve poured drinks behind a lot of different bars, and it’s allowed me the opportunity to view humanity through a unique lens. Or should I say lenses? While behind the bar I’ve seen people through the lens of a therapist, a babysitter, a teacher, a friend, a family member, a politician, and an entertainer among many other professions I’ve had to channel while bartending. I’ve had to wear many other hats while I bartend. The longer you bartend the more people you meet, and the more ways you develop to change hats when the needs of the guest call for you to become something more than a bartender.
One day, I told Fred that I had some CBDs at the bar for his cancer symptoms and would love to try to mix some in a cocktail for him. For those that don’t know, CBDs are extracts from the Cannabis plant that have medicinal qualities, but have none of the psychoactive qualities. I tried the best I could to give something extra to a bar regular that every day bartending doesn’t normally cover. This led to other conversations with Fred eventually asking me if this was the future of cocktails and if I knew Talk Story what the future of bartending would be. What is the future of bartending? Seems I’ve done a good job of convincing Fred that I am some how qualified of even being asked that. I’m not sure I’m the guy to shake the magic 8-ball on that question, but I’ll give it a shot.
I do see CBDs and THC playing a roll in future bartending. I believe once the legal hurdles are taken care of, bartenders who are looking to elevate guest experiences will start using these in drinks in a safe way. I’m also hoping the future of bartending starts to mimic the past. I’d love to see more bars using only fresh, SEASONAL ingredients sourced locally and grown naturally and only using alcoholic products that come from producers with a consciousness toward environmental sustainability. Getting rid of all single use plastics. These things are what the whole world was doing before advances in modern technology. And if going back to this “retro” way of doing things means that some products that don’t practice sustainability don’t get a place on our backbars, then we must choose our planet over profit.
Given the current rate of resource consumption on our planet, sustainability is a practice that all humans will eventually have to adopt in all aspects of our lives, including the way we enjoy going out to eat and drink. I see this as an important part of the future of bartending that I’m hoping will happen sooner rather than later.
Not many people realize that bartending used to be a profession that was looked down upon by society. I hope the future bartenders of the world become megaphones for the needs and wants of their communities, all while having a good ol’ time making you, the guest, happy.