Are All Bartenders Rock Stars?

Originally published August 2003 in “Cocktail Folktales” -The Key West Citizen


This is an actual e-mail that I received, followed by my response.  Industry folks, feel free to send your own response to RareFloridaGuy@(omitted)

On Saturday, August 16, 2003, at 09:54 PM, RareFloridaGuy@(omitted) wrote:

Please help me ponder this question,

Why are bartenders under the impression that they are like the coolest rock stars walking the earth ? Sure , most of us can do our job well, but a bartender has an audience. Therefor, it causes them to have this celebrity like feeling. Their jokes are cool and they have plenty of practice saying the cool things..  but   Get over yourselves !  You mix drinks for god’s sake ! It is something than can be perfected in about 2 weeks. I know I was doing it 20 years ago. I since went to college  for 8 years to learn something worthwhile. I was recently having a drink at Schooners and the “bar back”  Chad was walking around snatching quarters and change off of the bar and mocking the tippers by saying…  I’m rich, I’m rich..   I immediately thought to my self,  1. I wish I owned this joint so I could fire him. and 2 he is a product of his own efforts. He stocks beer, and takes out the garbage but makes fun of the real “hardworking” people who spend 50 weeks a year making this country what it is.

My advice to all the “service” industry people of Key West is…   pull your head out of your ass ! The tourist make your life possible !  The people of  Hawaii could teach the

Waikiki wanabees of Key West a thing or two about “service” “hospitality” and where their damn quarters come from !

LEIGH’S RESPONSE:

As much as I’d like to respond to you directly, there was no name attached to your letter.  I am always skeptical of those who criticize in anonymity but I still feel you deserve a response.  First, let me say that, “Wow,” you sound really bitter.  To answer your question, “Why do all bartenders think they are rock stars?” I must tell you that your assumption is quite a blanket statement and a far fetched one at that.  I myself am under no delusions about being a “rock star.”  There is a certain celebrity that accompanies tending bar in a bar-heavy community such as Key West and you yourself mentioned that this may be partially because there is always an audience.

Yes, we do mix drinks.  Yes, many monkeys can do this too.  But we’re not there just to mix drinks., otherwise people would stay home and mix drinks for themselves.   Good bartenders can feed their audience, entertain, and yes, Bitter One, “say cool things.”  Many have their own following as some patrons will visit certain bar employees for years and at their various bars of employment.  Vicky from Schooner Wharf, for example, has been tending bar in this town for 28 years.  She’s not a “rock star” but she has friends and loyal fans all over the world, and she attends to each one that pays a visit to our bar.  Vicky is great not because she knows how to mix drinks, but because she’s the kind of person patrons consistently want to visit.   She’s the smiling face behind the bar that tells you stories that make all that crap you were worried about just seem so distance, or irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

You mentioned something about the “real hardworking people who spend 50 weeks a year making this country what it is.”  I spend 50 weeks a year helping provide an atmosphere of relaxation, entertainment and enjoyment for all you hardworking folks to use at your leisure as an oasis.  I too am among the hardworking folks, and as an added bonus, I happen to love my job and the industry which created it.  I am proud of my profession and believe that all service industry people deserve to be adequately financially rewarded, ie tipped, for the jobs they do.   Does this make me a self imposed “rock star?”  I think not.

I am glad you went to college and learned something worthwhile.  I also went to college, earning a double B.A., University of Nebraska 1996, Summa Cum Laude.  Among the most important things that I learned was that all people have value….that every person, that each country, each business and each job on the planet has its purpose in the great script of the universe.   Somebody’s got to lead NATO while someone else has to head up the space program.  Somebody’s got to find a way to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.  Who is going to start seriously addressing the AIDS issue in Africa?  Who is going to man the phones at the Domestic Abuse Hotline?  Who is going to hook up the cable at your condo?  Some line cook somewhere is probably making you a sandwich while I am writing this.  Who is going to teach my neighbor kid’s second grade class?  Who is going to do road work on US 1?    Somebody has got to sweep Duval street after Lobsterfest!  And yes…..somebody has to stock beer, take out the trash at Schooner Wharf and make jokes about the guy who tips in quarters.

You see, we all have a place, whether it be temporary or part of our greater purpose.  With all my education and insight, I would never write a letter to you, or anyone else for that matter, on why my job is more worthwhile than yours.  I would never address an entire industry in the derogatory tone with which you addressed me stating that we “just make drinks for god’s sake!”

From your letter, I don’t think the real issue here in the inflated self image of bar employees.  After reviewing your words, I believe the real issue at hand is your insistence on categorizing and ranking which people in which jobs really count.  In my amateur psychiatric opinion, it sounds like your reproach and complete contempt of the service industry of Key West is a reflection of your own insecurities about your value in this society.  I mean, if some guy who stocks beer and takes out garbage is making fun of you, you’re probably questioning the value of all that education, hard work, salaries, benefits, company loyalties and whatever else accompanies your “worthwhile” profession.

The funny thing is, Chad the bar back, as he was cracking quarter jokes, was probably not the least bit concerned in that moment with his value in society.  He was just having a good time at work.  We find him valuable because he does a good job and he’s pleasant to be around.  Besides, who could resist that rock star smile!!

Sincerely,

C Leigh Pujado

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