Few things in life are more important to a bartender than preparing for a night behind the stick.
When you look into a wall of faces demanding a damn drink now or into the desperate eyes of a cocktail waitress as she puts in a string of orders, only then will you know what it’s like in the trenches. But as any good bartender can tell you, the way to survive a shift is to be mentally and physically ready. (And it takes special preparation to deal with the inevitability of the unforeseen.) So before the lights go down and the show begins, what are the pregame rituals of some of the country’s top mixologists?
“I need a good two hours of peace, quiet and order to mentally prepare myself,” says Phil Ward, who runs New York’s famed Mayahuel. “Rushing to start a shift must be the stupidest thing in the world.”
The pre-opening hours are vital to a bartender, not just for meditative isolation, but also to ensure that everything is in place. The actual setup tasks—restocking the bar, cutting garnishes, lugging buckets of ice—are largely physical and repetitive. To temper the monotony, two things are necessary: lots of caffeine and loud music.
“If it’s a Monday, I need some West Coast jazz and a big San Pellegrino,” says blogger and Clyde Common bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland, Ore. “If it’s a Friday, I need AC/DC and a Stumptown cappuccino.”
Other mixologists get ready by rolling up their sleeves and carving ice. Al Sotack, head bartender at Philadephia’s The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company, starts each night by “venting my frustrations on a large piece of block ice.”
And once all the tasks are completed, some bars play a favorite energizing song and the staff enjoys a collective drink. “Once my mise en place is immaculately arranged and my bar is ready for action,” says Richard Boccato, co-owner of Dutch Kills in New York, “I like to listen to ‘Triumph’ by Wu-Tang Clan.” Right before the door opens, everyone has a fortifying shot of bourbon. And then the show begins…
Alex Day is a bartender and co-owner of Proprietors LLC, a design and beverage-programming company based in Los Angeles and New York.