Monday, July 19, 2010

From the other side of the bar

I learned two key things from beertending last Thursday. First of all, serving beer is a whole lot harder than drinking beer. Second? Serving beer is a whole lot of fun.

That being said, I'm a very lucky girl. I got to serve beer in a bar I know and love, surrounded by good friends. I didn't have to do most of the hard work - from mixing drinks (my toughest task was serving sangria) to changing kegs, I got off real easy. I was there to tell people about beer and to suggest some new, crazy things to them.

Easily the best part of the night was getting to see so many people be excited about the things I was giving to them. I'm going to skip as much of the sap factor as I can, but let's just say I don't get many chances to actually make people happy at my day job. Occasionally I'll get a file set up really nicely for the designer that comes after me on a project, or I'll get something delivered on a crazy deadline and a producer will be surprised and excited that it actually happened. While those things are occasional bright moments - and I actually do really like my day job - it turns out that they don't compare to the joy I got out of finding someone a beer that they enjoy.

I'm not here to tell you that beer is going to change the world. (People tried to do that to me in design school, too, and it turns out I'm not really into that kind of philosophy.) I am here, though, to tell you that I think taste is really important. And I'm not going to judge you for yours. When I get off work at the end of the day, and I stop by my favorite corner bar, I want a beer. I do. I want it to be cold and refreshing and a little overwhelming. I want to talk to my nerdy friends about it and I want to lose the world for an hour or so. If your thing is beer, we should hang out. If your thing is food, we should probably hang out too. I get that same joy out of a lot of things - it's why I ride a bicycle home after work every day - but on Thursday night, I got to GIVE that joy to people.

We've done the sappy part. Let's talk about the real stuff.

I think I did a good job. People told me that as well. The thing standing between me and being a great bartender is that I really do not know how to deal with a crowd of people. I don't hear all that well, and I am a people pleaser. I want to give you all of my attention. And when it occurred to me that there were six (a whole SIX, for you actual bartenders out there!) waiting for my attention, it became completely impossible for me to focus on one at a time. Thankfully I had an actual bartender with me that reminded me of two things:

1. They will wait.
2. They will come to you.

The second one is important. My compulsion, as a person who hosts the occasional dinner party, is to always be reaching out. Constantly scanning the crowd to make sure everyone's drink is filled, everyone has enough to eat, everyone is happy. (I am exactly this anal-retentive when I host dinner parties, yes.) So the idea of scaling back my desire to be proactive never, ever occurred to me. Once it did, we were smooth sailing.

Also, and I cannot stress this enough - if you are friends with a bartender, please, drop in on them. All the time. I loved meeting new people and getting an opportunity to chat with them, but what really got me through my grueling 3.5 hour shift was how much support I had from my beer-loving friends. They were great. My friend Jeff was always quick with a Mets joke to distract me from my stress, my friends Rhiannon and Staci iPhone-filmed me pouring my first beer, my real-life co-workers came by to heckle me for apparently being a flirty bartender, Harry's co-workers stopped by and gave me their full trust in what they should drink, my housemates showed up late in the game to say hello - and they were just a small sample of many that came by. I really, really appreciated seeing the smiling faces.

And the beer! I was pleasantly shocked at the beers I was moving. I had a sort of vested interest in this list since a few of them were things I had suggested to David. The Alaskan Raspberry Wheat sold like crazy without me even heavily pushing it. Even though I can't get through a description of it without using the word "weird", a ton of people were willing to take the plunge and order a Gageleer. I found a couple of gin-drinkers that were excited by the St. Amand. Lots of people took kindly to the hop-bomb Green Flash IPA. Even though they're crazy popular, I barely poured any Chimay or Stella.

I've been trying for days to really sum up everything I learned in such a short time and what a great experience it was, and I always know I am going to leave something important out. So, let's wrap up with this blanket: Thank you. Thanks to everyone who came, thanks to everyone who didn't hate me if I poured your beer a little funny, thanks even to the people who weren't able to make it but contacted me in the surrounding days to express your regrets. I love beer, but I almost love our beer community more. (Almost.) If you were a new face, it was a pleasure to meet you. Until next time, you can probably catch me toward the end of the bar, clutching a Payback Porter. Cheers!

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