Category: Food


One Thing I Hate About Working Nights

I work as a bartender in a downtown lounge and that means long into the night. People like to stay until closing, which is quite late. It is an urban area that attracts the local night owls. They prefer a good round of drinks before bed rather than watching TV. It is a social scene as well. People meet up with friends or make new ones. Everyone is willing to talk. It is that kind of environment and I love it. I will mix up anything their hearts desire, especially if it involves mescal. It is my specialty and I can make magic with it. But I have one pet peeve which is walking to my car in the dark at night. I usually ask another worker to accompany me if I have not secured a spot close by—within a block. But sometimes no one is available.

One very dark and creepy night when there was no moon in sight, the streetlight went out. Maybe it was a bulk or an electrical failure, so I was on my own. I imagined all sorts of horror stories like people lurking in the shadows and scared myself silly while walking to my car. Some people carry a keychain that can turn on their car lights and this is a fabulous idea, but mine doesn’t. Instead, I carry a Flashlight Pro model with me to lead the way on such dark nights. I hope the streetlight will be back on soon, and I may even call the city. I am likely to park once again in this unlit spot.

The flashlight has enough power to reveal anything in my path. Surely it would deter any muggers but you never know. I have heard about such goings on in the city but frankly nothing bad has been reported for a long time near the bar. For this I am grateful and I leave work alone when I must. I also know the patrons who live in the area and they might be out walking their dogs. If I encounter them, it is no trouble. If I get really panicked about walking to the car, I may ask the boss if I can park behind the lounge. I know he has a spot but he doesn’t always use it and he often leaves early. I am usually one of the last to go. I think he will understand my need for more security being a woman. I will pick my moment to bring the subject up. Meanwhile I am wielding my trusting flashlight. I also have a small one as a backup on my keychain.

I approached the boss with some trepidation but it was alright. He understood. He said that I could park behind the lounge but he warned me that there was a lot of garbage. Use that flashlight of yours, he suggested, and it was good advice. I wouldn’t go anywhere in the dark, even a few feet, without it.


The Customer is Always Right…Right?

It’s slow season, I guess. Last night I worked with John and Trisha and a new bar back named Tommy and I let John go home, like, four hours early because there was no need for that many of us behind the bar. Trish busied herself in the back going over the stock and organization of our liquor and beer closets with Tommy while I polished some glasses behind the bar, up front. It was barely into dinner service when an elderly man walked in and sat at the bar. Our first customer of the evening, and we’d already been open for two hours.

“Hello sir,” I called to him. “How are you this evening?”

I walked over and made myself available, throwing my polishing rag over my shoulder. Immediately I could tell he was going to be an odd one. He looked at me like I was from outer space and then proceeded to look behind, almost like he was looking through me, at our bar, squinting his eyes.

“Do you not have a menu? I can’t see that far, anymore,” he barked at me.

“Why, yes, of course we do,” I said, chipper, while thinking, why didn’t you just ask for it? I presented him both a food menu and cocktail menu because I was unsure which he needed or wanted to see.

“I don’t need to see that,” he said roughly and shoved the food menu towards me.


He stared down at the cocktail menu for a long time, a whole 30 seconds probably, while I stood in front of him, waiting for a question I knew he would have, wanting to be available, wanting to show that I was patient and happy to help him. But the question never came, so then I thought, maybe he wants his space while he contemplates. I know I wouldn’t want a server or bartender hovering over me, making me feel rushed to choose. So I began to walk away over to the end of the bar to polish more glassware. Then he looked up, “Hey, where ya going?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Are you ready to order or have any questions?”

“No! Don’t rush me!”

I blinked at him. “Okay, well, I’ll just be right here, sir. Whenever you are ready, okay?”

“Don’t play that game with me, missy,” he said sternly, like I was his granddaughter telling him I was dating an ex-con.

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“I know what you’re doing,” he said and gave me this crazy stare. While I was trying to discern if he was cursing me or having a stroke, Trisha walked up behind me from downstairs with Tommy in tow. She must have sensed the oddness or tenseness of the situation because she looked over at the old man and said, “Are you okay sir?”

“Are you a manager?” He asked, immediately.

“No, sir, I am not, but I can certainly grab someone for you. We’re happy to help if something is wrong.”

“Something IS wrong,” he nearly shouted. The hostess at the host stand looked up from her iPhone, curiously.

“Your sister over there is rude and condescending.”

Trisha looked over at me and I put my hands up and made an expression that said, “I don’t know, I’m innocent.”

Was this guy crazy? Maybe he was homeless and just wandered in off the street? Maybe he was an actor and we were on a prank show?

“Well, I can take care of you, sir.” Trisha walked over to him and walked him through the cocktail menu (which was the page he had been looking at) and then he ordered a beer we happened to be out of, so Trisha suggested one very similar in taste.

“This establishment is the worst service I have ever had,” he muttered as he gathered up his coat and began to haphazardly get off the barstool.

Trisha tried to reel him back in by almost pleading, “I’m sorry, sir! How can we make you happy?” But he left the restaurant nearing breaking our door by pushing it open so hard it bounced off the outside wall. The hostess stared over at us with a face of fear; we looked back at her with faces of boredom and disdain.

Sometimes you just get crazies. You can’t do anything about it. Keeps work interesting, I guess.


Busy Night at Work

Last night was insane. Everyone behind the bar was totally surprised because it was Sunday night, then Antonio pointed out that the next day would be Labor Day, so, yeah, no one had work and everyone was drinking the night away. By seven all 15 bar stools were taken and Antonio and I were so busy we hardly had time to look at or acknowledge each other. Both of us had our heads down, making drinks, cracking open beers, or looking to customers to ask for their order.

I don’t mind it, though. It makes the shift go by so quickly, and of course, I made bank! I realize that I get into a nice flow when it’s fast paced that I can never get to when it’s slower. In fact, sometimes I feel less willing to work when we have a slow night. I went up to the hostess stand after we were closed and she told me that we had done close to 650 covers! Insane. On typically “busy” Sunday dinner shifts we do, maybe, 400. I laughed, shocked, and she laughed too. She looked flustered, her hair was frizzy and her face was gleaming with sweat. It must have been a nightmare to run around the restaurant and patio seating all of those people. I’m feeling thankful the bar is only about 15 feet of space I have to walk back and forth through, that’s for sure!

It was definitely a fun night for Antonio, and me even if it wasn’t for her. The customers at our bar were friendly (although lively) and they weren’t super needy either, which was surprising. It was around 8:30 that people began lining up behind the customers that were seated to order drinks. They didn’t have a table or a reservation and were waiting to obtain either, so they shouted over the hustle and bustle of the restaurant, “Beefeater Martini, please!” or “Can I look at a menu?” There was no in between.

It was around this point that I noticed the dining room on the right was full and the lounge area on the left was full, and from what I could tell the outside patio was too, that’s when Antonio and I got flooded with drink orders from the servers and cocktail waitresses. Then there was hardly time to interact with the customers. Bartenders choose to work differently. Antonio tends to check in with people at the bar that make eye contact with him. He’ll be shaking a tumbler or mopping up a mess and he will always break from it and go up to someone at the counter who looks like they need attention and ask them, “Doing okay?”

I’m different. I prefer that you flag me down. I’m busy. I’ve got things going. If a customer of mine really needs me, I should hope that they’d catch my attention somehow.

However, I also know some people don’t feel comfortable shouting across a bar or find it “rude”. I get it. So I try to check in from time to time, as well. Sometimes Antonio will help me with my guests, and I appreciate that. Sometimes we tip pool. We’ve been working together behind the bar for over four years now, so we know how the each of us likes to work and respect one another. That’s one of the major reasons I love to work at Esperanza, and busy nights aren’t a headache because the staff just grooves with one another, you know? Bartending isn’t always like that at any or every restaurant or bar. Psh. Trust me, I know. I’ve been doing this since I was old enough to, to help myself through college, and now to help myself through grad school – a total of almost seven years!

Sometimes it kills me. But it’s the busy nights that kick my ass that I always appreciate. They remind me why I do this job to even begin with – it’s hard work but it’s rewarding when you close up at the end of the night, count your cash, and go home to two sleepy cats and a warm bed.


Trying a New Menu

Yup, it’s that time of year again, folks! When the managers and other head of house come sniffing around the bar, sizing the cocktail list up, and asking, “What’s on here that’s seasonal?” Christmas is still more than two months away and already Jamie is like, “We should put something on here called Smoking Rudolph or Santa’s Pipe!” She laughs and the other managers chortle and when she walks away I give Trisha and Antonio this look like, “What….”

We’re not going to do that. That’s stupid. That is a stupid name for a cocktail and it’s October. But,we brainstormed.

“We should put something a little more seasonal on there, though,” says Antonio unpacking bottles of beer from their box into the mini-fridge.

“Yeah…” Trish and I say, wistfully, with vacant stares and pause.

Summery items are on the menu, it’s true. We’ve a lot of citrusy drinks, Mezcal with grapefruit and lemon, cocktails made with lemonade and Cointreau. So I thought about it while at our horrendously boring and useless FOH (and for you non-service industry folk out there, that means – Front of House) meeting. I couldn’t get away from the fact that Mezcal paired so well with grapefruit and citrus by cutting its smokiness with sweet acidity, but then I thought of it!

A play on apple cider! Apple cider is sweet and acidic but definitely not summer. After the meeting, Antonio joined me behind the bar to try and play around with the idea. We borrowed apple cider from the dessert chef from the kitchen and she suggested adding an actual red apple to the rim of the glass for color and interest. It was perfect! At the end result, we added a few more ingredients, put it in a rocks glass with ice, and topped it off with a nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, and sugar rim. (We had to use a green apple slice because we had no red in-house). Before Jamie was out the door, I slid the concoction down the bar.

“What’s this?” She asked me from a few feet away, picking up the drink and sniffing it. “It smells pretty!”

Really. She said that. We told her about the drink and she tasted it and lit up like a light bulb. So, anyway, yeah, not to brag, but we’re trying out a new cocktail on the menu and I created it! So next time you come by Esperanza be sure tobe sure to ask about the Oaxacan Christmas.


Will Work for Tips

It really is the slow season. It’s been raining so much lately, no one has any interest in our patio, which means the front of the place never looks full, which means people walking by think we aren’t doing business. Most people don’t want to sit in a bar by themselves; they want action, they want people around them laughing and having a good time. Sometimes I swear I’ve thought about hiring people to just sit at our bar during the winter season to liven things up.

I wonder what a Craigslist ad like that would look like…. “Bored, broke bartender seeks actual customers. Sit at the bar. Drink for free. Make me look good. Entertain me.” I feel like people would respond. But I never post anything like that, because, well, it’s ridiculous. Esperanza is a great place to work, don’t get me wrong, it really is. I’ve been here over four years and there’s a reason for that. It’s not that I’m stuck. I choose to be here and stay here. But the winter season SUCKS!

We’re all getting desperate for shifts. Different bartenders take the slowness differently. You can always tell who is good at saving money or has a second job because those are the ones happy to go on vacation and take the days off. The ones who suck at saving money, have no other means of income, or are perpetually broke (that’s me, in case you didn’t guess) have to hustle. I like going up to the host stand and seeing which nights have the most reservations and then if I’m not working those nights, I ask other bartenders if we can switch shifts. I make some excuse, like, I have family in town that night or concert tickets or whatever, and then get on a Saturday that’s busy solely because the dining room and lounge are full.

I don’t feel bad about it. It’s survival of the fittest out here. And in case you forgot! I gotta pay undergraduate AND graduate student loans off. I need all the money I can get.


Tequila vs. Mezcal

Okay, okay, I get it. I work at a Mezcaleria and so you want to know the age-old question (something I get asked at work at least once a day) – What’s the difference between tequila and Mezcal? I promise I won’t get all sciencey on you, either, like a wine person would. The major difference that most anyone will tell you is that tequila is tequila and Mezcal tastes like smoke. They aren’t wrong when making that judgment, but it’s more observant than it is insightful.

So why is Mezcal smoky? And what are their differences? Are they similar? Are they both from Mexico? Okay, it’s simple. There are four simple facts everyone should and can know about Mezcal.

  • They’re both traditionally made in Mexico, although usually in different regions.
  • Due to laws upheld in Mexico, Tequila is only qualified as such if it is created with one type of agave – Blue Agave. Whereas Mezcal can be made with any agave, giving it more variety and flavor than Tequila.
  • The actual process of fermenting and producing Mezcal is more involved than with Tequila. Specifically, the agave that helps create Mezcal is prepared almost in the same fashion tradition barbacoa is cooked – in a dug out coal pit with lots of smoke. This is where the distinct flavor of the drink comes from.

So the next time you come visit Antonio and me, or Trisha, or Ashlee, or John – you’ll know what the key differences are. Hey, and I mean this, if you come and order a Mezcal flight and know all of those differences between Tequila and Mezcal, I will give you half off!

And tell your friends! Spread the word about Mezcal. Maybe one day I won’t have to answer that question at work if this P.S.A really takes off.