Art of the Bar

I recently stumbled across a full-page spread in the August Bon Appetit devoted to a former friend from my days of bartending in Boston.

from Bon Appetit Magazine

I knew Misty as a hard working, spunky brunette that worked long hours at Toad, the Cambridge restaurant/music club we both worked at. Back in the day, when I wasn’t writing screenplays and she wasn’t attending classes at Harvard’s Divinity school, we would commiserate over late night Manhattans and talk about what our lives would look like once we got out from behind the bar. They were hopeful days filled with big ideas and limitless possibilities.

Photo, circa 1997. My last night working in Boston. Celebrating with Misty, and all of my Toad friends

In the years since I came to Los Angeles, Misty decided to put her Divinity schooling behind her and dedicate herself to the art of the bar. Her devotions went from the teachings of God(s) to a new kind of religion: celebrating classic cocktails, via the Boston based chapter she founded called the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails. Now she runs the bar program at Drink. The Bon Appetit article reminded me just how influential those early years in restaurants really were for people like Misty and myself.

And that’s when it hit me. We restaurant people really are a different from most people. We don’t share the same wiring of the nine-to-five, business suit wearing set. We work odd hours, dream in cocktails and recipes, and share a secret language that is truly unique. For many of us, making it in the business of food and drink isn’t about the money. Success is being able to create truly great product–drinks and food and service–and do it night after night. Success is consistently great product that people from all over the world stop and take notice of. Success, for many of us in the restaurant business, is about getting street cred.

Street cred may not pay the rent, but it certainly does has its benefits. Respect from restaurant brethren equals a table at a busy restaurant, a spot at the front of the line at the bar, a dish on the house, or a handshake from the person in charge. Witness a restaurant pro with a lot of street cred walk into a restaurant and you will see something akin to the way Italian restaurants cater to the Mafia. It’s a beautiful thing. A full page spread in a food magazine is, without a doubt, the print version of street cred.

The Nomad, The Bartender and The Writer

I belong to the service branch of the restaurant business. Servers, bartenders, runners, bussers are the mercenaries and carnival people that make up the front of the house–or service unit–of restaurants. We are a nomadic group with a touch of the performer in us. We rely on a toolbox of skills and a range of talents that are always required because every day is filled with a flurry of difficult and trying situations.

Bartenders are a small subsection of the service branch. Equal part technician and server, bartenders offer a level of service very different from waiters. Not only do they act as a liaison between the guest and the kitchen, but bartenders must be able to create cocktails in the manner that a chef creates food—they must be consistent, have good technical skills and understand their ingredients. Despite the fact that bartenders often offer the same services as the waiters, life behind the bar is a very different place than on the floor.

Which is part of the reason why I am so excited to start work behind the bar again. For just a few nights a week, I will step behind the bar at Osteria Mozza to bartend, serve and fine tune the technical skills to create amazing drinks on the fly. Bartending is an aspect of the restaurant business I have missed greatly—ever since the good old days when Misty and I were just starting out in Cambridge and finding our way in the world—via restaurants.

In order to give more time to my freelance work as a frequent contributor to Squid Ink, LA Weekly’s food blog, I have made the difficult decision to leave my full time job at Tavern Restaurant.

Now I must sadly say goodbye to Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne, and the inspiring team of people I had become a part of. The dedication, tenacity, fearlessness and attention to detail of Goin and Styne was a constant inspiration that made me want to be better at what I do. They are, without a doubt, two incredible women that deserve every bit of their enormous street cred.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

3 Comments

  1. Steve
    August 31
    Reply

    Best of luck in your old haunt. Brentwood sucks. We both know it, and I'm sure Goin and Styne are learning the lesson the hard way.

  2. Jennifer
    September 1
    Reply

    I admire your courage, lady. Switching gears in order to focus on your writing career will prove rewarding. I also look forward to reading about the drink recipes this job will inspire.

    I know Misty through my fiancé and am happy to read about the spread in BA. Very exciting!

  3. Gaby
    September 1
    Reply

    omg you left – how sad! But how FUN to be at Mozza! I am working with Carolynn so I will be in there soon! Good luck!

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