There are people who tend bar, and then there are bartenders.
Both can mix you a drink and take your money, but a true bartender wears more hats than a balding boy band. One must learn to be drink-maker, host, counselor, server, cashier, bouncer, manager, custodian, concierge and friend (often at the same time) while keeping a cool demeanor.
Brian Barnes does all of the above in downtown Phoenix at The Turf Restaurant & Pub while also remembering your name and your favorite drink--but for the 36-year-old ASU real estate graduate, the most important bartending skills are the ones you can't teach.
"Ninety percent of this job is personality," he says. "I can teach a monkey how to pour a drink, but I can't teach a monkey how to communicate with people to where, at the end of the day, they say 'That place is awesome. The bartender rocks. I will be back.' That's how you want everyone to feel."
Sometimes that means cracking jokes with patrons, lending an ear to anyone who needs it, or even some good 'ol fashioned bottle flipping, fire breathing entertainment. According to Barnes, the best way to please customers is to observe and use your intuition.
"Some people just want to be left alone," he says. "They had a long, shitty bad day: their car blew up, or they almost got in four car accidents on the way over. They want to sit down and collect themselves and have a couple of cold beers and not have to chit chat. You have to be that bartender who can notice that and pick up on it."
Barnes has had enough time and experience to sharpen his customer intuition to a razor's edge. He has been bartending for 11 years, but has been in the bar/restaurant industry since high school. Barnes has worked in corporate bars, mom and pop bars, strip clubs and neighborhood pubs. He has held every position from server to general management to proprietorship.
Barnes worked his way up from waiting tables to barbacking before snagging a bartending position through the longstanding education system known as the "school of hard knocks," a method he advocates for any aspiring bartender.
"Barbacks who are now bartenders are the best bartenders anyone can hire," Barnes says. "When you get down and dirty and do all the shit work, you learn by washing the glassware what the glasses are and what they entail ounce-wise and presentation-wise, and what kind of drinks go in what. You learn your booze because you do a lot of stocking, inventory counting and organization."
A bartender of Barnes' caliber can have his pick of any booze-slinging establishment, but for him, The Turf Restaurant & Pub is an ideal bartending situation. It's been open less than a year, but The Turf already has a reputation as a bar where everyone is a regular (like a 21st-century Cheers, but with a less frizzy-haired clientele).
"We have people here five days a week; rain, sleet or snow; and they won't go anywhere else," Barnes says.
Those genuine customer relationships are what make the job worthwhile for Barnes. With his other lucrative business endeavors--including eight years (and counting) in real estate--Barnes continues to bartend in part for the supplemental income, but mainly for the fun environment, social connections and networking opportunities.
"Money is not what holds me here. I do this 25 hours a week because I like it," he says. "It keeps me on my toes, and keeps me fresh and in touch with what's going on in this type of business."
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