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The Airing of Grievances: Bartenders

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Photo: Shutterstock/ilovetogossip.com

Chicago's cocktail scene is growing and flourishing at an unprecedented rate, but many people in the industry see room for improvement. For this Cocktail Week feature, a few high-profile bartenders around the city anonymously submitted ideas and advice for how the scene can continue to grow and improve. While every one of them first praised the local cocktail and bar culture, they also have a few gems of note.

· "I don't know where people get the idea that they have to be snotty cocktail bars. That doesn't necessarily make it a fun bar. Don't forget that we're in the service industry and we're there for the guests and not the other way around. Anyone can learn recipes—you can program a computer to make cocktails—but you can't program hospitality."

· "Cocktails on tap. They take away from the whole experience and waters them down. It's like making a craft cocktail Lunchable."

· "It bothers me that it has become an elite club. It's filled with pretension. Our business is hospitality, yet community and sharing is discouraged. We are in the industry of 'cool' but that does not have to dictate the philosophy of our work."

· "When guests order a cocktail from another bar or restaurant's menu, assuming I know what's in it. There are way too many menus out there to keep up with."

· "We are lucky to be in a market where education is available, but I'd always like to have more educational opportunities. Whether that means spirit training or tasting, new technique, cocktails, even non-alcoholic beverage. It would also be great if we could all pull together and create an awesome cocktail event in Chicago."

· "This industry is tough and right now it's the 'cool thing' to be doing. I just hope that with the recent boom in cocktail bars that we don't water down the creativity. People see the money these liquor companies have to send to faraway lands and they drink the Kool-Aid by selling out. Let's see more Charles Jolys and Paul McGees start to make themselves known and lead the way for the next wave. This revolution isn't going to last with the current growth. Learn first to tend the bar you work at well."

· "If I had to choose one thing it would be a lack of warmth and hospitality; no amount of cocktail technique or drink-mixing prowess is a replacement for the essential bartender trait of kindness. A bar is a place for relaxation, socializing, and fun. A great bartender fosters and promotes this environment."

· "When someone narrates everything you're doing on the bar, but doesn't really know what they're talking about."

· "I encourage everyone to continue to wage war against mainstream beverage distribution. Embrace small distribution and direct imports, build relationships with importers and producers that truly care about their products and something that is bigger than the bottom line. Seek to understand the products that they create for what they really are and don't fall victim to marketing."

· "When bar workers or restaurant workers (industry) get above and beyond service while civilian guests get treated with contempt. It's a big problem."

· "I think there is too much turnover, too many new concepts. As a business owner or a beverage director you can't sit down for ten minutes with a sheet of paper, write a few vague cuisine-related terms down, and then put the word mixology next to them and expect good results when you open. You lay the egg in the concepting phase, but then you have to incubate it. This is what most people leave out, because they think it costs money that they'd rather not spend. Recipe testing, staff training, knowledge, interior design. Three Dots and a Dash is a prime example of what kind of results that can bring."

· "When people who are getting behind the bar for the first time immediately expect to be a 'mixologist' and start creating drinks. Take the time to learn about spirits, beer, wine, classic cocktails, service, and mechanics before you start telling me how good basil would be in everything."

· "Bartenders who bitch about their customers. Why be in the industry if you hate people? I'd like all of those people to leave the industry."
· All Cocktail Week 2013 Coverage [-ECHI-]

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