After spending 20 years behind the bar making drinks and waiting on the imbibing public, I guess it would be safe to say that I committed every mistake that can be made by a bartender.
For example, I was recently asked about the first time a customer ordered a drink and I had no idea what it was. What a pleasure it would be to have slipped that question. The answer was either going to be embarrassing or embarrassing. Unfortunately I think I recall the exact moment when a guest ordered a drink from me and I had no clue what it was.
I was working at a popular restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the mid- to late 70s, which was well before the so-called resurgence of the cocktail, so I find little solace in that few bartenders at the time would have known how to make this drink.
I recall the order was for a Negroni. Well, not only did I not know how to make the drink, but I remember smirking as if the guest had ordered a drink popular on Mars. Perhaps it was some sort of joke. What a crazy sounding name for a drink, I thought.
Apparently my dull reaction sufficiently conveyed I didn’t know how to make a Negroni, so the guest quickly told me the recipe. Equal parts of dry gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, served up with a twist.
“Sounds easy enough,” I said. That was my response. “Sounds easy enough.” What if the drink wasn’t easy to make? Then it would be their tough luck ‘cause I wasn’t going make it.
As I was preparing the drink I recall needing to ask the guest if the ingredients were to be stirred or shaken. I don’t recall how he responded, but a few moments after closing their tab I remember I stuck a small straw into the mixing glass and tasted a (slightly diluted) Negroni for the first time.
Whatever the guest tipped me was far eclipsed by affording me the experience of tasting a Negroni. I have grown to love the drink.
By the way, if you’re ever fortunate enough to find yourself at a bar with world famous mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, do yourself a favor and buy the man a Negroni. As far as I know it’s all he drinks. What a class act.