Behind the Bar To Your Health

This Is How to Unwind After a Bartending Shift. Without Relying on Alcohol.

Image: Sofia Varano

As a bartender with unfettered access to shelves and rails of booze, it can be quite difficult at the end of the evening to refrain from grabbing a stool and a cocktail to blow off a little steam. And while having a drink every once in a while might be fine, allowing it to become your daily post-shift ritual can be detrimental to your health and do damage to your work-life balance. Here, industry pros weigh in on their zero-proof methods to destress when they’ve clocked out.

1. Go for a Walk

Kieran Chavez, the beverage director for the two locations of Spanish restaurant and tapas bar Boqueria in New York City and Washington, D.C., admits it’s all too tempting to step outside of your bar and right into another one. But, he says, a scenic stroll can be the antidote. “Years ago, when I was working on the Lower East Side of New York, I’d take a long walk over the Williamsburg bridge on my way home,” he says. “Spending time to take in the view and fresh air helped me clear my head, and by the time I got home, it was a little easier to let go of my day and just relax.”

It’s even easier to pound the pavement when you have a pet that requires high activity. “I have a border collie that always needs more exercise,” says beverage director Britt Ingalls of Shilling Canning Company in Washington, D.C. “All it takes for me to unwind is a 20- to 30-minute loop with the night breeze blowing before I’m ready to rest and do it all again the next day.”

2. … Or Better Yet, a Run

Chris Burmeister, the lead bartender at Denver’s Citizen Rail, recently finished his first Ultra Marathon, which consisted of a 50-mile run with an 11,000-foot elevation gain. He discovered that his set training schedule ultimately led to healthier eating and better lifestyle habits overall, including not drinking as often when he got off work.

“Once you get into a training groove, you become fixated on your progress, so you start to make small lifestyle adjustments to balance having fun, staying healthy, training and getting your work done for your bar and your team,” says Burmeister. Admittedly, anything this strenuous may be a bit daunting for some. But having any kind of fitness goal, like building up to run three miles, planking for three minutes or completing 100 crunches, can motivate you to make healthier choices.

3. Make a Mindful Transition from Work to Home

“The way I wind down after a shift is first reminding myself that the workday is complete,” says Benjamin Rouse, the head bartender at Henley in Nashville. “Being conscious about leaving work things at work and preparing myself to be the husband and ‘dog father’ is a pivotal first step.” He uses the 25-minute drive home to listen to music and mentally segue from work to play. By the time he gets home to greet his wife and two bulldogs, he’s ready to move into leisure mode by watching shows, busting out a board game or playing with the dogs. “These are all things that ground me and help me feel that the day is complete.”

4. Laugh Out Loud

After dealing for hours with impatient guests lined up three-deep at the bar, you may crave a little comic relief. Adam Cornelius, the operations director at The Little Beet Table in NYC, uses the 30-minute commute home to listen to something silly or absurd. “I love my job, but it’s hard to turn the brain off sometimes,” he says. “A good comedian has jokes that are easy enough for the average person to understand but smart enough to get you to think if you allow yourself to do so.”

5. Put Away Your Phone

“Laughing and not looking at my phone [are] surely the cure to most everything in life,” says Morgan Sullivan, a bartender at Cure in New Orleans. She likes to set down her device when she gets home from a shift and prep breakfast, tidy up her house and put on a light comedy. “I’m a huge proponent for allowing your body to relax into a rested state naturally, not letting time stress it out.”

6. Play a Game

Maria Polise, the bar manager behind the cocktail program at Laurel and ITV, both in Philadelphia, plays “Dungeons & Dragons” every Wednesday with a local pastry chef. Polise’s main character, Dwarf Bard, struggles with addiction and the need to constantly entertain others—two issues relevant to the hospitality industry as a whole, she says. “Through the character, I get to act out the stress and temptations I’m bombarded with every day but in a fantasy atmosphere.”

7. Get Engrossed in a Podcast

“Shifts can sometimes be mentally draining, so listening to people speak in-depth on a podcast about a certain topic allows me to wind down and zone out,” says Will Lee, the beverage director at Grey Ghost and Second Best in Detroit. “Podcasts also keep me awake for the late-night drive home.” Recent favorites for his 40-minute commute include “Business of Hype” and “The David Chang Show.”

Sarah LM Mengoni, the lead bartender at Los Angeles’ Double Take, queues up a creepy narrative podcast, then takes the prettiest route through the canyon to her home in the San Fernando Valley, during which she spots coyotes, raccoons and owls. “It’s often the only part of my day when I’m not trying to accomplish something, which I enjoy very much.”

8. Listen to (or Perform) Music

Listen to an entire album—even if you don’t finish it—suggests Wade McElroy, the director of food and beverage development for Assembly Hall and Neon Mango at FieldHouse Jones hotel in Nashville. Once he gets home, he settles in, selects an album and enjoys it with his eyes closed, becoming completely entrenched in the music and letting it consume his total focus. “I prefer full albums because they are more thoughtful and seamless as the album moves from song to song,” he says. “It puts me in a very relaxed state, helps me decompress the pent-up energy from working a shift and lulls me [to] sleep.”

Miles Macquarrie, the beverage director at Watchman’s and Kimball House in Atlanta, went to school for audio engineering and dabbles in sound design. “It’s therapeutic after a long day,” he says. And Tye Harrison, the bar leader at Asheville, N.C.’s Benne on Eagle, heads to open mic night on Friday nights at the bar next door, where he performs a few songs in front of what he calls a nice crowd of supporters and fellow artists. “Artistic expression has always been a release point for me, whether it’s writing lyrics, poetry or painting,” he says. “When I release that energy, I feel so much better.”