Yes. I did it. I went to Bartender College. Back when I was a younger and more footloose person I accepted an invite from a friend in a larger city to room with him there. So I figured a way to land on my feet in new city would be to have a job skill, something always in demand, like bartending.
I paid something equivalent to a months rent on the local Bartender College at the strip mall. What I received in return was two weekends of classroom sessions, about 20 hours, of bartender training.
The stripmall classroom was set up as a working bar, ice machines, neon lights, sound system, cocktail napkins, the works. I was enrolled with 8 others, both men and women, all under age 30. We assembled on the bar stools to observe the instructor as he demonstrated a series of drinks and discussed what was interesting about them. Then we would swap and go behind the bar to practice what we just observed. Bottles being filled with water for practice purposes. The course was laid out very methodically with discussion touching on barroom history, vocabulary (top shelf, neat, back, tall), glassware, details on the history and varieties of various alcohols, and of course how to mix drinks. Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whiskey, Tequila. A couple hours spent on the cocktails produced from each member of this holy congress. Plus bouts with liquors, mixers, garnishes, shots, wines and beers.
We were encouraged to take our notes on 3 X 5 cards. At the end of it I had an entire card file with a couple hundred drink recipes that were easy to understand and follow because they were all written by me in my own hand. Plus I know I have practiced making every one of those drinks at least once in my life. To this day I still own that card file and have had many opportunities to refer to it over the years. I did spend a months rent to buy it after all.
The big question about Bartender College is if it is worth it. Are you getting what you pay for?
In my case I was trying to buy a superpower that would land me a quick and easy job. What I received was a bunch of classroom learnin’ about cocktail mixing. Which illustrates the ignorance of a young man. And I do believe that Bartender College capitalized on this ignorance in their advertising and promotion. I recall on the first day talking with the instructor before class:
“What is the success rate on your job placement program?”
“Everyone who wants a job gets one.”
“There’s got to be a number.”
“If you want a job bad enough you will find your way in. Everyone who wants a job gets one. If you don’t want it bad enough or don’t try hard enough you won’t get one.”
The ironic thing is that the weasel talker was right.
Lets fast forward past the next six months of unemployment and the hardship of being without dough. I was clearly not in possession of any sort of job landing super power. Most bars are not particularly interested in the guy with the “Bartender College” certificate. Every bar out there has a dozen people, typically found sitting right across the bar, that could step up and work at tending bar if needs be.
I had one more contact with Bartender College over in New City. After a few phone calls I got the New City bartender college affiliate to run me through their job placement again. Wanting that job after all and pulling every string. The culmination of this being a visit to another strip mall fake bar, visiting the proverbial dingy back room office with fat gangster looking man behind the desk. I received the “everyone who wants a job gets one” pep talk again and his promise to do everything he could to see if there were any job placements for me. After walking out of there I never contacted, nor heard from, Bartender College ever again.
Apparently I did want it bad enough because I eventually found my bartending job. This particular joint was on the verge of shutting down. The owner was an immigrant from Central America and he could no longer work at the bar himself because A) his crippling alcoholism and B) the restraining order keeping him out of his own place over that cocaine dealing kerfuffle. The employees he was grinding through were okay but he just couldn’t keep enough on hand somehow.
Now the thing to understand, leading up to all this bartender business, is I was never particularly interested in bars. Not much of a drinker and social scenes were not my scene. Sure, I had been in a few bars but I couldn’t claim to have much bar experience. I was a dork!
So picture the young, broke, hungry, bar virgin with 20 or so hours of book learnin’ on fancy cocktails going into work at what is basically a pool hall frequented by the greasers of the local trucks and firearms club. I actually held in there for nine months. In that time I was promoted up to bar manager. I quadrupled the revenue of the place and rebuilt the clientele. I hosted a band, I hosted a pool tournament, I had sex on a pool table, made a grip of cash tips, and saw some success.
I also saw a few bar fights, witnessed a few drug deals, and watched the cops drag people out of there in cuffs. I spent most of my time with alcoholics. Tolerated many drunken shenanigans. Cleaned a lot of vomit. And received two citations for serving underage. The latter of which closed the doors on that joint once and for all. I had to stand in front of a judge to explain myself. When he heard that I was no longer interested in working at bars and he saw my application to the local community college I got a slap on the wrist sized fine and sent on my way.
In doing the math over that couple interesting years of my life I think the down payment on Bartender College did pay itself back. A hard year later I was running a sketchy pool hall without any experience, minimal training, and no oversight. An endeavor which can be both exciting and hazardous. I also have the index card recipe file of awesomeness, the feather in my cap of “Genuine Bartender” in my CV, and a life experience to show for it.
If the discussion about the merits of Bartender College focuses on jobs, I would caution that Bar College is no substitute for barroom experience. I would not recommend bar virgins, or anyone for that matter, use this to find work like I did. If you are not already enjoying your time spent in barrooms then bars are not a place you will enjoy working. Skip this and go straight to community college. If you are already an aficionado of barroom culture and like the idea of greater alcohol prowess, then Bartender College may an okay idea. Just go in with low expectations and the understanding that no one working in the field will have any respect for it. All you will come away with is some book learnin’ about fancy cocktails that most barrooms will never serve.