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7.1.18

Thirsty: So a Bartender Walks Into a Bar…

Dave Rolanti hustles down the bar on a busy Friday afternoon at Offshore Ale Co. with two beers. In the first, he pops in a straw, in the second, he pours in a touch of grenadine. He slides them toward two of his quirkier customers and heads off to fill the next order.

Now that’s a bartender with a good memory.

So what makes a good bartender?

A good memory is certainly one of the necessary attributes to sling drinks on Martha’s Vineyard.

There are lots of others.

Take discretion. There are times when a bartender’s memory is best kept to himself. Like when you walk in with somebody he doesn’t know. It might be the better part of valor for the bartender not to let on that he knows your regular drink, or worse yet, have it waiting on the bar before you even step up.

Awareness is another necessary attribute.

“A good bartender has very good situational awareness of his bar,” Rolanti said. “They know when someone needs a drink, they know who needs what drink, and they’re also very attentive to their patrons, and the service bar as well.”

On the Island especially, it also helps to be fast and accurate. July and August, when Martha’s Vineyard fills to the brim with visitors of every stripe, test the patience of everyone. Imagine being a bartender, maybe on a third double shift in a row, with customers pouring in the door who are unfamiliar with your drink menu and probably don’t know what they want.

“In the summertime you’re full on, so its harder to sit and talk to someone,” Rolanti said. “You have to keep in mind you’re not rude to somebody, or appearing rude.”

Sometimes a bartender needs to be creative with the ingredients he or she puts in a drink. That doesn’t necessarily mean an exotic liquor or an unusual garnish.

I know a very good bartender who mixes a perfect martini. When she mixes them for my friend, who shall go unnamed, the martini contains a healthy pour of Hendrick’s gin, a whiff of good French vermouth, and three olives on a little skewer.

His second martini is a picture perfect copy of the first.

On his third martini, completely unbeknownst to him, she skips the gin and makes it with water. He gets home safe. He never complains. 

But perhaps the most important character trait of a good bartender is confidence. A busy bar can be on the edge of anarchy for hours at a time. One cranky customer, one demanding drinker, one patron who should have gone home a drink ago can push the scene over the edge.

“You have to be confident, you have to make the rules,” Rolanti said. “We’re gonna keep the peace here. It’s like a little country, we all need to get along and we’re all going to have a good time.”