Maybe its just me, or the places I go, but I find it increasingly hard to find a GOOD bartender. One that I might label a bar chef, one that has a handle on the classics and the flavor profiles from which beget some good Specialty Cocktails.
For a while now, I've been asking bartenders the question, "So where did you learn to be a bartender?" The normal answer I get has the person starting in a lower end position and working their way up. I then ask if they went to bartending school. I get about an 80/20 split to this, 80 percent say no, and 20 percent say yes. Of the 20 percent that confirmed they went to bartender school, I'd say about 95 percent are NOT what I would classify as a GOOD bartender. Sad but true, at least from my experience.
The 80 percent left learned from a seasoned veteran in the form of OTJ (On The Job) training. This group, from my experience, seems to have a better chance for learning the art the right way. Learning that bitters really do go in a Manhattan, that sour mix is a bad shortcut, or that the glass is called a cocktail glass NOT a martini glass these are all little things that seem to be lost on those that were taught the wrong way and never really bothered to confirm the truth about their profession.
I know what your thinking, our host to this little blog is getting on his soap box again, maybe so. So again, the problem I face is that I have such a hard time finding that GOOD bartender. One that has a passion for their profession, one that enjoys serving up small glasses of satisfaction to everyone of their patrons. But I digress...
Geography also seems to have something to do with finding GOOD bartenders. When I lived in New Orleans it was fairly easy, when I travel to New York City its easy, and when I seek out known bar chefs I have no problem however, here in Memphis, TN I've only found one (more on that later). I travel a good bit in the US, more so with my last job, but from my experience there are some hot spots: New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago. I'm sure there are more smaller pockets of bar passion out there, but its clear the concentration is in certain areas.
So, if you are looking to get into bartending and your serious about it I would recommend finding a tavern where the bartender knows his/her stuff and try to get them to mentor you. We have to make sure the old school knowledge that's in the world doesn't die off with age.