Shift switch: Bartender at Blu
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Most of my bar experience over the last few years has been as a customer, fighting my way through crowds to try and get to my favorite bar stool, where I can sit and enjoy my beverage of choice.
There was a time, however, not that long ago, when most of my time inside of a bar was spent behind the bar.
When the folks at Blu offered me the chance to come sling drinks for an hour -- while helping a charity of my choice -- I jumped at the opportunity.
Heading into my shift, I was slightly nervous. Sure, I've mixed a few cocktails in my time, but these were in college bars, even a dive joint. Blu, from what I knew, attracted a more sophisticated clientele. I hadn't made a martini in years.
Jones quickly reassured me.
"You're back here to talk to the customers and make some money for your charity," he said. "If somebody has a special order, we're here for you."
My time behind the bar was much like I remembered from my bartending days. Business at the bar was somewhat slow, though a very nice waitress (who helped me properly pronounce "Triple Karmeliet") did brisk business as folks strolled in and took a table, enjoying the stunning view of Downtown Milwaukee.
I couldn't blame them, either. Blu is one of the most beautiful places to get a drink in Milwaukee. Would you rather sit at the bar and look at my mug, or sit along the wall of windows, looking out at the skyline? Seems like an easy decision to me.
Jones told me to relax at one point. Business was slow and I was fidgeting -- I had been trained that downtime behind the bar meant doing dishes, wiping down bottles, making sure the bar is clean and stocked. Time to lean, time to clean ... that's what I was taught.
Of course, I didn't have to worry about that.
"Don't worry about the glassware," Jones said.
So I focused on another favorite part of the job, getting to know my customers. I talked a little sports with Mike, who was excited to see how his beloved Detroit Tigers would look this season. Two gentleman visiting -- one of them from the U.K., the other from St. Louis -- enjoyed a couple of those hard-to-pronounce Belgian beers before switching over to Budweiser.
We chatted about Milwaukee's festival season a little bit and the city's ethnic heritage. Eventually, my hour whipped by and it was time for me to return to the "other" side of the bar, where Jones told me I did a good job and we talked about the bar business for a bit as I sipped a gin and tonic.
It's easy to forget sometimes that many bartenders aren't just serving drinks to make a few extra bucks while working on their degree. It's a career -- and a noble one, at that. The hours are long -- usually fun -- and the pay can vary.
But, as Jones says, and as Wednesday night reminded me, it is a labor of love. And, for me, it was also a chance to raise a few bucks for my favorite charity -- the Ataxia-Telangiecitasia Children's Project.
Sure, it was only an hour on a Wednesday night and doesn't quite qualify me for the Bartender Olympics, but it was fun. I've often told myself that, when I'm done with journalism, I'm going to ride out my working years wiping glasses and serving up cocktails.
By the way, if you think you or somebody you know would make for a good "Celebrity BLUtender," you can fill out a nomination form at Blu's Web site.
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