Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone
As I pointed out in The Joy of Mixology, I owe much to Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. He was the guy who, soon after Bartender’s Bible was published in 1991, took me by the hand and gently showed me how much I didn’t know about the world of cocktails. Oh, I already knew much about the job of the bartender–I first worked behind the bar circa 1965/6 when I was just 14 years old, and although I’d also worked as a bar manager at times, I’d been behind the bar most of my working life since then. Around 25 years behind bars. But Ted showed me the historical side, and lots more besides. Ted was also the man who pointed out that Margaritas and Sidecars are related, leading me to create the families I put together for Joy of Mixology in 2003. Do you ever hear Ted say, “Gary wouldn’t be where he is today if I hadn’t helped him.” No you don’t.
You don’t hear Robert Hess say that, either, or Dale DeGroff, yet all of these guys helped me out as I was coming up through the ranks. Paul Pacult is another guy who was incredibly generous to me in the early years. Incredibly generous. But you’ll never hear him say anything about it. And Dave Wondrich is yet another guy who should get a mention here, too. I think that all of us have had our eyes opened by some of the stuff that he has brought to light in our industry.
I’m not being overly humble when I credit these guys with helping me. In some ways I hope that I’ve helped them, too, and I give myself a bit of credit for being anxious to learn from these people. And I’ve learned from young bartenders along the way, too. Chad Soloman, for instance, was the first guy to show me the “dry shake” when he was working at Pegu Club. And Stan Vadrna showed me the “hard shake,” but I still can’t get that one right.
Lots and lots of bartenders 20-plus years my junior have taught me over the years, and if you’re a real bartender you know that the craft is a living thing–something that we’re constantly learning about.
You’re probably wondering right around now what it is I’m trying to say, so let me get to the point: A few weeks ago I heard that one bartender was putting down another bartender by saying that she taught him everything he knew, and that he isn’t as hot as he thinks he is. This truly saddened me. The best teachers don’t take credit for their students’ accomplishments.
When we put other people down, what we are saying is “I am better than that person.” And guess what, guys? Not one of us is any better than any person who walks the face of the earth. You’re no better than I am. I’m no better than you are. And neither of us is any better than the homeless guy sitting outside Grand Central trying to raise enough cash for a sandwich. Putting other people down is nothing more, and nothing less, than an ego trip. And if you’re on an ego trip, you can’t walk the Path of The Bartender.
Egos are weird things, you know. They keep telling us that we’re doing the right thing when, deep down inside, we know that that isn’t true. It can be hard work to battle the ego, and we don’t always win, but it’s a battle that’s worth fighting. Some of you out there are shaking their heads right now: “Well if he hadn’t started it . . .” you’re thinking. Well I’m here now to ask you to please think about doing yourself, and the rest of us, a huge favor: Let him start it. Be the one to end it by letting it wash right over you. Ignore it. Take the high road. Walk the Path of The Bartender.