Saturday, October 18, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: K






K is for Karaoke.

Karaoke is as much a mainstay in bars these days as Monday Night Football—but never both at the same time.

It has largely replaced live music in bars.

The reason for this is that the world has become interactive.  People don’t just want to watch and hear other people play instruments and sing; they want to participate in the performance.

Karaoke, of course, provides that opportunity.

Until I started doing karaoke in my bar, I had never before experienced karaoke.  The idea of it sounded, well, cheesy.

But the reality is something quite special:  

You, the singer, are the star, backed by the original music of your favorites tunes.  

Forgot the words?  No matter, you can read them from a monitor. 

In addition to entertaining yourself and others (assuming your voice truly entertains the latter), karaoke is excellent therapy.

There is nothing like singing your heart out to feel better.  And you don’t have to pay a therapist $175 an hour.

Karaoke soon brings in a new crowd:  The Karaoke Krooners.

These guys and gals follow the karaoke circuit from bar to bar, night to night, all around Santa Barbara.  They live for karaoke.  The moment after they sing a song, they scribble their name down for another, and another, hogging the mic as much as possible. 

Get those endorphins flowing!

So you need a firm (but good-humored) MC to host karaoke and keep the Krooners in line.

When my lawyer told me he had a friend who was about to buy a bar and wanted some advice, I said, “There’s two things he needs to know:  NFL Ticket and karaoke.”







Thursday, October 16, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: I & J






I is for Irish Whiskey, and not much else, though it quickly leads to…

J is for Jameson, the best-selling Irish whiskey in the USA. 

And though I used to be a fan of single-malt Scotch whiskey, such as the honey-like Oban or dank and peaty Laphroaig, the very best whiskey one can drink (in my humble opinion, of course) is Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve. 

Not that I recommend this for a bar.  I ordered a bottle and ended up drinking almost all of it myself (though not in the same evening…)

J is also for Jukebox.

These days, jukeboxes connect to the Internet and therefore have access to hundreds of thousands of songs.  

Given the choice of everything, it is tragic what actually gets played most of the time:  rap, hip-hop, and heavy metal.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: H







H is for Hangover.

You cannot drink a lot of booze without paying the price next morning.  

Essentially, if you put too much alcohol in your system, you poison yourself.

Many cultures worldwide have devised many ways of treating hangover.

We have distilled the data and come up with the best ways to deal with hangover symptoms.

The best "cure"is prevent:

Don’t drink too much; snack while you eat; intersperse alcoholic libations with glasses of water.

Speaking of water:  Life is all about keeping yourself hydrated, whether you’re drinking alcohol or not, but especially if you’re drinking alcohol.

Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning.  Drink a glass of water before you go to bed at night.  And in between, drink lots of water

If you know you are likely to drink too much alcohol (more than two drinks), prepare in advance by loading up on B-Complex vitamins or specialty vitamins for processing alcohol (which are loaded with B-Complex).

The Chinese tested every so-called hangover remedy known to mankind and determined that the very best hangover remedy is this:  

Sprite.




H is also for Health.  As in good health.  

Because alcohol (in reasonable doses) is good for you and also promotes longevity.




H is also for High rollers.


This is your favorite kind of customer.  

High rollers buy top-shelf liquor and like to spread the joy around by buying everybody a round—and then another round, and then…



Sunday, October 12, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: G






G is for Gin.

Gin is the most civilized of the Hard Liquor Family, which comprises of whiskey (Irish, Scotch, bourbon), vodka, rum, tequila, and this ancient potion distilled from grain and flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals.

Gin is my own favorite libation of choice, served up, with a twist, and with the shaker left in my custody so that I can pour it myself, a little bit at a time, into a chilled martini glass.

Don’t listen to James Bond:  You’re supposed to stir, not shake, as shaking bruises the gin and transforms it into a crystalline mess when its surface should actually be smooth as glass, like a pure lake on a still evening.

Why not pour all at once?

You can if your aim is to get drunk, a.s.a.p. because it’s almost like injecting alcohol into a vein.

But civilized drinkers know that the secret to a good evening’s drinking is to perpetuate the buzz on as few libations as possible.

We have a shelf of the finest main-brand gins:  Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s, Plymouth and (the American-made) 209.

In fact, we still have the same bottle of Beefeater from when I bought the bar eighteen months ago.

Because, alas, gin drinkers are rare, especially in middle-class and lower-middle-class neighborhoods.

Although most people associate gin with England, where it was known as Mother’s Ruin, it actually derives from Holland

G is for Galiano.

Nobody orders this Italian liqueur anymore, but every bar has a bottle close to hand.

Why?

Galiano’s bottle is shaped like a miniature baseball bat:  It is the bartender’s last line of defense if attacked.

(In our view, it doesn’t hurt to have a genuine Louisville Slugger behind the bar, along with Galiano.)

If a bartender needs to reach for Galiano, chances are it is due to…

G is for Gangbanger

...the slang given to wannabe gang-members who semi-populate the east and west sides of Santa Barbara (read:  many towns everywhere).  

In southern California, such persons are generally Hispanic and stand out like sore thumbs, not due to their ethnicity, but because of the way they dress:  long baggy shorts, black socks pulled high and baseball cap worn backwards over slicked-back hair, some black face fuzz.  

The irony is that they crave respect yet costume themselves so comically.

When I bought my bar, we had a few gang-bangers in residence. 

Not anymore.

A few got 86’d for ignoring our zero-tolerance policy with regard to aggression; others find it difficult to drink alongside the new hipster crowd that has found our bar to their liking.







Friday, October 10, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: F






F is for FOOD.

We don’t serve any.

We are a bar-bar, which is to say, a real (dedicated) bar unrequired to serve food (in fact, not permitted to sell food), a license known in California as a 48, as opposed to the 47 license issued to restaurants, which are required to prove a 50-50 food-alcohol sales ratio.

The good news is that we have a pizzeria on one side of us and a Mexican restaurant the other.

You can call Paesano’s from a stool at my bar, order a pizza, and they’ll deliver it to you right where you’re sitting.

The best of both worlds:  Food, as needed (always a good idea when for people drinking alcohol), without the hassle of a kitchen and chefs.

F is for Fernet-Branca.

Every bar stocks a bottle of this Italian herbal digestif, which can just as easily be drunk as an aperitif—or anytime one is suffering an upset stomach.  But in most bars it sits around neglected, awaiting only the most savvy of drinkers to arrive.

The people of Italy, from where Fernet originates, swear by its curative powers, knowing it is far better than Zantac or Mylanta or cola-syrup as an anti-nausea remedy.  

Fernet is hot, hot, hot in Argentina, the most popular drink in Buenos Aires, where they mix it with Coca-Cola.

Here in the USA, Fernet has quietly become the ultimate insider’s tipple, very trendy in San Francisco and Napa Valley, where bartenders covet Fernet’s Challenge Coin.  

These coins are not for sale, and hard to come by, but directly from Fernet.

Somehow, I managed to cajole a Fernet Challenge Coin after pledging my unwavering loyalty to this libation.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

I walk into a bar and slap my coin down, thereby offering the Fernet Challenge:  If the bartender doesn’t have one—or for some reason isn’t carrying it—he or she is obliged to serve me a Fernet on-the-house.  But if the bartender slaps down his or her own coin, I am obliged to buy Fernet for us both.

F is also for Fireball, a cinnamon-flavored whiskey that tastes like the candy Red Hots and which has become one of the top sellers in the booze industry, causing big brands like Jim Beam and Jack Daniels to scramble and create their own cinnamon-flavored whiskeys.

Fireball is pudding proof, in the tasting, that the general public has no taste.

It is served cold and drunk fast, shot style—and ranks within the top five bottles that sell best in any neighborhood bar, nationwide.

The only thing worse than sickly sweet Fireball is mixing it with Coca-Cola.

Actually, we can think of something worse…

F is for Flavored Vodka.

This trend began in 1986 when Absolut introduced Peppar.  Everyone jumped on the bandwagon and now we’ve got marshmallow, pumpkin pie, and cookie dough vodka.  Ughhh.

Ay my bar, we limit flavors to lemon, pear, and vanilla—and only because they are needed for cocktails.

Otherwise, flavored vodka is for little girls, and little girls should not be drinking alcohol.





Tuesday, October 7, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: E






E is for ENTERTAINMENT

I’ll deal with this broadly here, but save specifics for the appropriate corresponding letters.

Most drinkers entertain themselves and others around them when they have a drink in hand.  Alcohol animates people.  It softens inhibitions and lubricates the tongue.

This means the best entertainment is usually the drinker himself, and those around him or her, self-entertaining or entertaining one another—plus an engaging bartender to facilitate the animation and lubrication.

Although I do not personally like TVs in bars, they are sadly a necessity these days, as the bar biz is partly driven around the broadcasting of football, baseball and basketball games.  So sports becomes part of the “entertainment,” though I don't like to think of my place as a sports bar.

At our bar, TVs have no sound unless an important game is playing.

This allows for background music—another form of entertainment.

Ideally, customers pump the jukebox and play whatever tunes they want to hear.

If no one plays the jukebox, background music defaults to the cable box, on which the bartender chooses between Golden Oldies, Country & Western, or Easy Listening.

If a customer does not like the choice of music, he/she has this option:  Pay for your own choice of music by pumping the jukebox.

As a bar-bar, we have a pool table, and this provides further entertainment.

Occasionally, on weekends, we have live music:  a band performs from 8 p.m. till 1 a.m.

A live band is a gift to our customers and perhaps a way to introduce the bar to new customers i.e. friends and fans of the band.

It is otherwise a money-loser because a) the band costs, b) the band members are provided a free drink apiece, c) the jukebox is off, and d) the pool table is pushed aside.

Most regular patrons like the bar most when they are entertaining themselves, listening to the tunes of their choice, and shooting pool.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

THE PRESENT






60











LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: D






D is for Drinkology (my own term), the sociology of drinking alcohol.

It covers everything from etiquette to cultural customs, which vary from country to country.

D is also for Drunk.  Ironically, you do not want drunk in a bar, as much as they try to be twins. 

First off, it is a violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Control code to serve intoxicated person.  If someone staggers or slurs their words, that qualifies.  No service, please leave quietly.

Second, drunkenness often leads to aggression—and we’ve already covered our zero-tolerance stance on aggression.

And drunk leads to…

D is for Driving Drunk.  In a (contracted) word:  Don’t.  

Drunk driving kills.  

And those who fuel a demon driver with booze share culpability and liability.

Most of my customers walk to their neighborhood bar, leaving their cars at home.  That’s the way we like it.

Nonetheless, if we notice any customer to be drunk, we inquire about their plans for getting home.  (By this time, they’re cut off from ordering anything but water.)  If they have a car, we caution them about driving it.  If they insist on driving, we do all we can to separate them from their car keys, and call a taxi.

We just suspended a long-time customer because we witnessed him jump into his truck and drive off after too many drinks.  (If, post-suspension, he does it again, expulsion will be permanent.)

D is for Doorman.  We have a Doorman on Friday and Saturday evenings.  

The Doorman checks IDs to ensure a) any person trying to enter is at least 21 years old and b) the ID is genuine.

(Bartenders double-check.)

There is an old adage, If in doubt, don’t.

Meaning, in this case:  If there is any doubt that the person is over 21 or the ID authentic, they don’t get in.  Period.

The Doorman also ensures that persons do not bring their own alcoholic beverages or walk out with a served alcoholic beverage.

The Doorman further ensures that the peace is kept.

Ironically, it is never a good idea to call the police if trouble occurs, even though the police are paid by taxpayers to deal with trouble, keep the peace and enforce laws.  

The problem is, if police are called once too often, they view your bar as a trouble spot and make their view known to Alcohol Beverage Control, whose attention a bar does not want. 

So it is our Doorman who ensures that rude and intoxicated customers become ex-customers and are removed from the premises, by force if absolutely necessary.

It is far better to have a diplomat as a Doorman than a brawny body-builder.  It is, after all, not terribly difficult to outsmart a dim-witted drunk—or even alcohol-fueled aggressors.

D is for Drugs.

Alcohol and drugs often overlap.  Both are mind-altering substances and brain stimulants, and the tendency among many is to merge their effects.

In California, cannabis is quasi-legal.  Police don’t even bother to enforce possession laws anymore, not least because many people carry medical marijuana permits.

The next likely available drug is cocaine.  Not the expensive yuppie variety.  This comes directly from Mexico, is inexpensive, and customers use it to increase their staying power at the bar i.e. stay later, drink more, without symptoms of drunkenness.

Of course, we neither allow nor condone any illegal substance in our bar.  If ever we see evidence of it, the culprits are gone, gone, gone.

Unfortunately, bars are prime venues for dealing.  Our bartenders are therefore trained to be extra-vigilant about usage and dealing on the premises, and to cut off anyone engaged in such, and banish them from the premises.


D is also for dogs.

Reads a sign in our bar:  Dog welcome, people tolerated.


Friday, October 3, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: C



Pastel by Sean Kirkpatrick
Hangs at BoHenry's



C is for Cocktails.

Simply put:  Cocktails are a nuisance; especially in a single-bartender bar like mine.

Why only one bartender? 

The bartenders wouldn’t have it any other way.  More than one means shared tips, and, aside from minimum wage ($9 an hour in California), tips are how bartenders earn a living.

My occupancy is 49 persons, so unless the bar is slammed all at once, a sole bartender can handle the biz (with the help of a bar-back to clear tables, wash-up and restock beer coolers).

Unless, of course, too many patrons order cocktails.

Cocktails need mixing, which means they are labor intensive.

They also need to be precise to a recipe or to a customer’s instruction.  Do it wrong, it gets returned, and wasted.

Done right, it’s still more expensive than serving shots or simple libations, such as Jack Daniels & Coke.

(A cocktail, by definition, must have three alcoholic ingredients to be considered such.)

In any case, the trend these days is anti-cocktail and the avoidance of sickly sweet drinks full of sugar that worsen hangovers.  More people are becoming purists in their drinking habits.

To that end, we serve our five signature cocktails along with the basics, such as the Old Fashioned.  We do not do cute confection concoctions with cotton candy-flavored vodka, and we won’t even try.

C is also for Comedy.  A few months into owning my bar I created a Comedy Night.  It was very funny, indeed, but it did not work.

Unless you are running a dedicated comedy club, comics and booze don’t mix; comedians are better suited for a late-night coffee house.

C is for Characters.


The comedy should be among characters that frequent a bar:  the put-downs and ripostes and bar jokes.  If they wanted to be entertained by comedy, they could stay home and watch a Carol Burnett re-run.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: B



Painting: Thomas Van Stein
The Graveyard Shift


B is for BOOZE.

Isn’t that the same as alcohol?

Yup.  

But, again:  without booze, no bar.  So let’s not underestimate the importance of alcohol/booze by relegating it to a single letter.  

The three most important things in a bar:  booze, booze, and... booze.

Booze is the main ingredient for potions that anaesthetize the brain and ensure that imbibers feel more relaxed and less inhibited than usual. 

To reinforce that point, I hung this sign above the booze bottles in my bar: 

APOTHECARY.

One of our regulars asked me it’s meaning.

I explained:  An apothecary dispenses medications.

He got it immediately.  And ordered another potion.

B is for BARTENDER.

The bartender must be skilled, must know how to mix basic cocktails, must work quickly under pressure, and must understand psychology, sociology and rudimentary math.  And judo wouldn’t hurt.

But most important, a good bartender is a therapist who serves potions from a well-stocked apothecary. And talks to customers.  Even better, listens to customers.  If customers just wanted booze, they could buy it cheaper from a liquor store and drink alone at home.  They want company.

The best kind of bartender not only provides company vis-à-vis talk-therapy, but also introduces everyone at the bar to everyone else, thereby creating a party zone.

Unfortunately, unlike hard liquor, most bartenders have a shelf life, known as Bartender Burnout.  

This is because bartenders may become too familiar with their customers and trade over-pours for bigger tips, or grow dictatorial, such as one ex-bartender who liked to block customers from playing music on the jukebox he personally did not enjoy.  

Bartenders may become sloppy or develop a pissy attitude, or both.  Sooner or later, the time arrives for most bartenders to move on.  

B is also for BARFLIES:  the bread and butter of the bar biz.  

Barflies come in early, stay late, and buzz around, when not holding up the bar.  They know what they want to drink—and they drink a lot of it.  You learn their favorite tipple, and you stock accordingly.

Which brings us to…

B is for BESTSELLERS.

Although we stock over fifty brands of gin, rum, vodka, whiskey and tequila, you can count on the fingers of both hands all you really need to run a basic bar, substantiated not just by my customers, but by polling bartenders when I travel:

Gin:  (B is for…) Bombay Sapphire.
Rum:  (B if for…) Bacardi.
Vodka:  Grey Goose and Ketel One.
Whiskey:  Jack Daniels and Jameson.
Tequila:  Silver Patron—and in our unique case, Herradura, known by our regulars as Jaime Juice (because that’s what Jaime drinks).

B is for Bourbon, which is enjoying resurgence among drinkers, though most never get beyond their buddies Jack and Jim.

B is also for Beer, which chases bourbon and shares its status as America’s national drink.  We try our best to offer a wide variety of commercial and craftsmen beers, by the tap (we have six) and by the bottle and can (over thirty brands), but no longer Pabst Blue Ribbon, because that low-cost beer has just been sold to Russia—and we do not stock Russian booze.

B stands for Bukowski.  

Charles Bukowski. 

That’s because in my bar we celebrate famous writers who were serious boozers.   (See painting at top of post, Bukowski, far right.)

Bukowski was probably the booziest of the lot, and he literally wrote the book (and movie) on barflies, entitled (but of course), Barfly.






Monday, September 29, 2014

LESSONS OF THE BAR BIZ: A






A is for… ALCOHOL!  

But of course.  Because without alcohol, a bar you don’t have.

A is also for ART, which adorns my bar because I am a collector of fine art and, after buying a bar of my own, I chose to install it for others to enjoy. 

After doing so, and lighting it beautifully, my brother, Michael, arrived to take a look; he, an expert in alcohol addiction.

Michael walked up and down the length of the bar, looking this way and that, fully appreciating the art, and generally loving my saloon-style bar.  

Finally, he pronounced, “Nice job.”  After a pause he added, “But you realize, you didn’t have to do any of this.  Your customers are here for one thing and one thing only.”

No one knows this better than an expert in alcohol addiction.

A is for ALCOHOL.

Most of my customers prefer paper pennants to art.  My fine art still hangs, but during Santa Barbara’s annual summer Fiesta and football season I compromise, and we have both. 

Alcohol is why people come to a bar.  Some want it.  Most need it.  But they aren’t present for the art or for the pretty bartender (though the latter helps).  They want a drink.  They want it the way they like it.  And they want it now. 

Alcohol is the most-used (and abused) stress-reliever in the history of the world. 

For most people, it takes the edge off.

But A is also for AGGRESSION, which occurs among certain types of people when they drink too much alcohol, and for whom it sharpens their edge instead of smoothing it. 

When I bought my bar, one of the first things I did was set up rock salt candles on the bar and tables, to give the place a nice glow.

Dave, a seasoned bartender I inherited, took one look and said, “These may look like candles to you, but after midnight they are missiles.”

Apparently, bar fights were common in my bar, at least one every weekend.

As for midnight:  That seems to be start time for anything bad.  

Or, as my bookkeeper, who also owns a bar, put it:  "Nothing good can happen between 12 and 2 in the morning."

I imposed an ironclad rule with regard to fights:

It doesn’t matter who starts it, anyone involved in a fight is 86’d for one full week, and thereafter must apologize personally to me as a prerequisite for re-entry. 

If it happens again, 86’d for six months.  

If it happens a third time, 86’d forever.

Mine is the only bar in the neighborhood.  For the regular customers who visit nightly, it is their living room.  It isn’t fun to get 86’d from your own home.

Sure enough, our first fight took place two weeks after I took over.  I heard about it, and then I watched a video of it courtesy of the security cameras.

A stupid physical fight; all three participants, regular customers.  

As always, too much alcohol to blame. 

All three, 86’d for one week. 

All three, repentant and sorry (after sobering up).

I tell my bartenders they are an extension of me.  I don’t take crap from anybody—and neither should they.  If a customer is rude… adios amigo, we don’t want your money.

If a customer exhibits one iota of aggression, that person is immediately cut off and asked to leave.  

If the customer chooses to argue the point, they are told to leave.  

And if they still do not, they are not only cut off and leaving presently, they’re never coming back.

Zero tolerance for aggression.

Result:  No fights in my bar anymore.  And the people who used to cause them drink elsewhere.