When I was hired as a barback at Clover Club I was 25, loved to drink, stay up late and sleep til noon, it was a barman's life for me. Now just over 4 years later I'm bartending full time, pushing 30 and three days ago I became a father.
The onset of parenthood manifested itself in me with comical predictability. I exercise more, discarded t-shirts for button downs, started parting my hair to the side (which I lovingly refer to as my "Dad hair") and I've curbed my drinking thanks to a self-imposed regime I call "read more, drink less." (turns out it's hard to do a lot of both, for me anyway.) The only major element of my daily life that hasn't changed is my job, my patience and affections for which I've recently had to acknowledge are a finite resource that is being depleted with every shift.
It wasn't two years ago that I craved the feeling of rolling into work on a Saturday night knowing the 12-hour mountain of a shift that lay front of me. As Robert Simonson quoted me in a 2010 article for edible Brooklyn "I loved being slammed on a Saturday night and just killing it. I'd get really cocky about it. I'd listen to Rage Against the Machine before coming into work."
Back then I was a swashbuckler. I thrived the insurmountable horde of thirsty customers and with barpsoon in hand nimbly sifting through them, each stroke, pour, stir and shake producing a perfectly executed cocktail faster than the last. By the end of the night at 5am, shoulders sore, wrists throbbing and unrecognizable prune-like appendages where my hands used be, I felt fulfilled.
But now I drive to work, I listen to All Things Considered and - as in ancient Rome - the hordes have overwhelmed me. I've outgrown the job of bartending.
I'm still passionate about the artisanal craft of cocktails and think of them as my vocation. But there's only room for one source of sleep deprivation in my life, and now it's my daughter.
I sure I'm not the only one in this situation and I bet there will be more joining me soon. For the first time since prohibition the bartending profession is considered a legitimate career. But this cocktail neo-renaissance is still in relative infancy with the majority of it's tradesmen and women still in their cynar-hungry 20s. Eventually these talented people who have invested time and energy will start thinking about having families too. As this field rose up from the mire of the sour mix over the last decade how will it adapt to the realities of adulthood over the next one?
Generally, life out from behind the bar funnels into two narrow options. Brand-repping, a hybrid of salesman and liaison for a spirits product or company. Or opening your own bar.But how many cocktail bars and brand reps can New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chiacgo realistically hold? If you ask me we may have already exceeded critical mass.
Projecting ahead, I think the next frontier lies outside of the usual cocktail epicenters. We should concentrate on spreading the gospel to the vast majority of people who still think the sour in whiskey sour refers to that sour mix we left behind 10 years ago. It's the wild west out there and it needs is a few gutsy pioneers to blaze the trails.
We have a long road ahead before we see anything like a Cocktail Network on TV. How do we get there? I have no idea. But why not shoot for manifest destiny?
The future is indeed uncertain and unsettling, particularly at this moment as I type with one hand and hold my 3 day old daughter in the other, but it's also exciting. Which, as far as I can tell thus far, is not unlike being a new parent. You have to press onward regardless of whether you can see where you're headed. But the silver lining is, where ever the path leads, forging it will be a blast. And that is an adventure I look forward to.
Sour Mix-Less Whiskey Sour
2 Ounces Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
.75 Ounce Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
.75 Ounce 1:1 Simple Syrup
One Egg White (optional but recommended)
Shake all ingredients without ice to emulsify the egg
Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice
Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry