Ah, the bartender. We would be lost without the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-advice-giving guru-slash-matchmaker of the 21st century. And we’re very excited about ABC’s new show Mixology, which features Dominic, the kind of dark, mysterious bartender we all like to imagine holds the keys to every bar hookup.
Until we get his wisdom, though, I thought I would find things out for myself.
I interviewed a few friends who have worked in some of the hottest bars of New York and Los Angeles; these are the secrets from the other side of the bar.
1. “I got into this job because it was the most money for the least amount of hours.”
The average New York City bartender can make $70,000 a year by working 30 hours a week. (And it’s not exactly the kind of job where you have to wake up and brave the pre-9 a.m. commute. How’s that cubicle looking now?)
2. “If the bar is by a hotel, there’s always going to be the one guy going through a divorce.”
This guy is typically the one who is at the bar at all hours, clearly just going through something rough, #dark, and just all around painful. One divorcé threw up all over the bar one day — at 2 p.m. If you’re going through a break up, bring friends along with you to the bar. It’s better that way.
3. “We’re more likely to call the cops for you than we are to call a cab.”
Some people get far too drunk for bartenders to simply cut them off and send them on their way. Kicking you out of the establishment is a liability, too, and it’s much safer for everyone involved if the police assess whether you should be taken home or to the drunk tank.
4. “Ryan Gosling once came into the restaurant where I worked just for a cup of coffee.”
He kept to himself mostly, and was really quiet and tipped well for that one coffee. When he left, one woman in her mid-20s actually followed him out. She returned 10 minutes later after basically stalking him for a few blocks, and told everyone that she had ‘wanted to give him [her] number so bad’ but he ducked into an apartment building before she could catch up with him. (And no, the bartender didn’t ask her where he lived.)
5. “If you want to flirt with me, give your server your number to give to me, don’t give it to me directly.”
Bartending is a busy job, and adding a messenger to the situation not only adds a little mystery to the situation, but it also shows that you respect the fact that at peak hours, the drink slinger of your dreams might be a little too distracted to know that the paper you’re slipping them is your digits, not a signed receipt. The waiters, waitresses, and hosts are your wingmen in this situation, because they work with the bartenders, and probably know them better than you do. Use this to your advantage.
6. “I use dating apps to get people to come to the bar.”
Just as club promoters blast Facebook with events, bartenders are often prowling Grindr, Tinder, and other apps to bring cute people in — both for themselves and for their regular customers. This can be good or bad: one bartender recalled multiple instances in which two or more people showed up at the same time, and they were left volleying between each potential date while simultaneously working their shift. Also, if the date crashes and burns, they now know where you work, so invite judiciously.
7. “Guys are often thirstier than the girls.”
Whereas girls are typically more reserved, and seem to understand the power of silence. (And the bartenders I interviewed said that it typically comes across as being stuck up, so be careful with this.) But your friendly neighborhood bartender would really just like to remind both genders that you don’t need to try so hard, and you definitely shouldn’t be trying to impress someone with materialistic things. Bartenders typically won’t intervene when they see a date or pick up attempt fail, but they’ve seen enough hit the rocks that they could give any dating seminar a run for its money.
8. “It’s our job to flirt with everyone.”
Male, female, gay, straight — it doesn’t matter. Part of being a bartender is to set the tone for the whole bar, and if we can’t make you feel good and loved up, what hope is there for the rest of your romantic prospects tonight?
9. “If you really don’t know what to get, tell me what kind of alcohol you like and let me have fun. I love that.”
The best bartenders aren’t just opening beer bottles and pouring shots. They’re mixologists — which might sound pretentious to the untrained eye, but there’s method to the madness. People are always creating new things and trying new techniques, and bartenders are constantly learning from each other. Their job is to try to make sure you’re enjoying your drink. They’re not going to want to give you something you hate. Trust them on this magical journey. Let them guide your way.
10. “Fall is always the busiest time of the year for bars.”
The weather is getting chillier so people are more likely to come back indoors, and students are back in school so the population of any city grows by that many more people clamoring to relieve the stress of classes and dorm life. If you’re looking for a quiet night at your local dive, don’t go in September — but if you’re looking to meet people and potentially hook up with someone, it’s much easier when the bars are packed.
11. “If I give you a drink on the house, I’m actually buying it for you.”
Contrary to popular belief, most bars don’t function on the honor system of reporting or not reporting drinks. Bartenders keep their own tabs, and will buy drinks for the customers with whom they’ve built up a good relationship. The least you can do if a bartender buys you a $13 cocktail is to add at least $4 on the tip for that one drink alone.
12. “The fastest way to turn off your bartender is to try to get too personal too fast.”
If you want to talk, let the bartender set the pace for the conversation. You’re on their turf, and their job involves being good at talking to people. Creepy people who often just get in too close and in your face, and ask tons of personal questions are just asking to be avoided as much as possible — and because bars get busy, there’s always a valid excuse to pretty much just ignore people.
13. “If a drink is supposed to be served up, don’t order it on the rocks.”
Just because you think the martini glass is lame, try to respect the fact that the shape of the glass is going to enhance the drink. If you want a drink on the rocks, get creative and go out of your comfort zone. (And for the love of God, don’t order a mojito. None of the bartenders I talked to thought the end product was good enough to warrant all of that prep work.)
14. “Bartenders are constantly hooking up with each other, not their customers.”
You probably shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you, but it’s also less risky to go home with your coworkers than it is to go home with a random stranger who’s been staking it out at the bar for you.
15. “But all of those TV shows that feature customers waiting it out at the restaurant for their server or bartender to finish their shift isn’t that far from the truth.”
If you’re really digging your bartender and aren’t invasive, you could easily end up drinking your cake and having it, too. Don’t bother buying the bartender a drink — they can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t be drinking on the job — but just be patient, be interesting, and try to have a good time. If you can mesh well in their bar’s vibe, they’ll like you all the better for it.
16. “Most of the time, I’m honestly too busy to really give you attitude.”
A bartender’s night gets busy — really, really freaking busy — so if your bartender seems short, it’s probably just because they’ve been on their feet for hours already and have five other tasks to help restock and reorganize the bar in addition to helping the other customers. Don’t let your ego get in the way — they’re not hassled with you, they just are genuinely busy, and aren’t going out of their way to give you attitude. All they want is a little peace and understanding.
17. “But if you really piss me off, I’ll deliberately take longer with your drink.”
The same goes for servers whom the bartender doesn’t like — sorry you get caught in that fray, you’re just an innocent bystander in that staffing war. Bartenders can also make crappy drinks or just flat-out refuse to serve you until you treat people better. (This is different from cutting people off when they get too messy, but it’s close.)
18. “The worst thing that could happen to my vibe is if someone starts crying right there at the bar.”
Bartenders are sympathetic, and know you’re going through something, but if a girl starts blubbering to her friends, they’ll often ask you to go to a table because it’ll only deter other people from going near that kind of bad aura. They’ll talk about your relationship, your work, and your family with you, but don’t always have the time to deal with crying, as callous as that sounds.
19. “Please, please, I don’t care if you split the tab seventeen ways as long as you tip fairly, and in cash.”
20. “The absolute best way to begin to flirt with someone is to buy them a drink.”
It’s just a nice gesture, and anyone — guys and girls — can do it. Your bartender will appreciate the fact that you’re willing to donate money to the cause, and will be more than happy to help you out here. This also separates you from anyone else who just walks up and says “hi” with little to no preface. And really, if you’re not even willing to do this, do you two have a real— wait for it, wait for the pun — shot? It’s one drink. Do something nice for them. Actions that prove you’re into them are always louder than words.
21. “Above all, just be interesting, be willing to have a good time, and just be yourself.”
Alcohol might enhance or downplay certain quirks and characteristics, but at the end of the day, you’re still just you. Relying too heavily on liquid courage is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t hit it off with someone, it wasn’t your buzz or their buzz or alcohol at all — you just weren’t a good match. Go your separate ways, and see if there’s anyone else who catches your eye. After all, there’s always more fish in the bar… I mean, sea.
One Bar. One Night. Ten Singles. Watch the Series Premiere of Mixology Wednesday, February 26th 9:30|8:30c on ABC!