I didn’t want to go home last summer.
I cried on the rooftop of O’Neill one night after a summer job I’d applied for in Boston turned out to be volunteer. I wasn’t ready to leave New England yet, and September-when I would be departing for Spain, away from my beloved Chestnut Hill for an entire semester-was too close around the corner. As a rising junior, two years from the scary job market, I knew something “professional” was expected of me from May until August. But I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. I needed one last adventure, one that did not include screaming 12-year-old campers and overpriced ice cream that had been my reality for the past five summers in New Jersey.
Soon began the soundtrack of the greatest summer of my life: pint glasses of Sam Adams Summer Ale clanging against wooden surfaces, Bruins hockey sticks scraping against the ice on flat screen TVs, guitar riffs of ’80s rock songs blasting from the jukebox, and the shake-shake-shaking and mix-mix-mixing of blueberry mojitos and a million rum-and-cokes. The crack and sizzle of a newly opened bottle of Corona replaced my favorite summer beach song, and cigarettes and gin replaced the smell of my mother’s freshly made chocolate chip cookies. Familiar faces of Brighton would come in and say “hello” to old friends, to new friends, and to me. This was my summer, and I was home.
Last April, I began working as a bartender at Cityside, Boston College’s favorite neighborhood sports bar 1.9 miles down Comm. Ave. I know precisely because I did that walk almost every day, twice a day, for months. I was a waitress there first, and throughout the summer I often switched between waitressing and bartending, sometimes doing both during the same shift. I love both jobs, but sometime throughout the summer, bartending morphed into a fascinating style of art. Drinks became masterpieces and Cityside became a museum, and soon, I too became an artist.
On my first day of bartender training, I moseyed around the downstairs bar with a stack of notecards in hand, memorizing my whiskeys and my scotches, my beers and my vodkas. I practiced my shot counts and learned the difference between “straight up” and “neat.” My manager made me practice pouring drinks with two hands, one liquor bottle in each hand, and I was certain that I’d acquired some serious forearm muscles. All of the technical terms and special counts and hand movements I practiced were incredibly important in creating delicious, successful drinks, and I was surprised at how quickly I learned the essentials. Bartending is definitely an art, allowing incredible amounts of freedom with recipes and personal touches, but it is also meticulous in its own right. Even a single extra ounce of liquor not properly balanced by a non-liquor could ruin an entire drink and wastes about $3 worth of alcohol in a bottle. A person buying $7 worth of alcohol gets $7 worth of alcohol-no more, no less. Like in a mojito where too much mint matters, in a business, these little dollar amounts matter.
Sometimes there was more than one bartender behind the bar during a shift, and I had to learn how to work smoothly with other bartenders. Two adults and a width of no more than three feet make teamwork a necessity. This, plus working at 100 miles per hour to cater to all of the reaching hands and waving dollar bills, requires lots of multi-tasking and multi-thinking: Did another bartender serve this customer, or are they waiting to be served? Did I give this customer change? What’s in a Mai Tai again? Do we have any more amaretto? Bacardi Limon? Should I start up the frozen margarita machine first or should I pour these three beers? Bartending taught me how to manage multi-tasking, teamwork, and the rush of adrenaline that comes with a fully packed bar on game night, and nothing has felt more rewarding than a successful balance of these three things. It is what truly makes a seven-hour shift less about work and more about having insane amounts of fun.
I’ve learned a lot about people through bartending. I’ve learned the value of a hard-earned dollar and that a tip from a customer represents more than just a little extra spending money. Working in service has taught me what it feels like when you quite literally get what you give, what happens when you put in 100 percent, and what happens when you don’t. And, sometimes, what happens when people just don’t appreciate your 100 percent. Every single person should know what this feels like. It makes you realize that kindness is not always rewarded, and sometimes in life you just have to be kind for the sake of being kind. It humbles you.
One of the more entertaining things I’ve learned while working at Cityside is how difficult it can be to get a bartender’s attention. If I spend more than a second making eye contact with a customer and they don’t put in any real effort to get my attention, I have to move on to the next person. At a crowded bar, there is no time to wait for an individual to think about the drink they want to order. Even the manliest of men and most self-assured bar-goers have difficulty understanding this, and it’s hilarious how quickly confidence drains from someone’s face when they can’t get their drink right away. I try to be patient, but sometimes it’s just impossible. By far, my most prized entertainment of this summer was observing the social interactions of the inhabitants of a packed sports bar from a position of power. (Well, not a real position of power-just the power to give someone a drink or not, which, at times, can mean serious control over a situation.)
And so, while my friends were working on Wall Street and at Government Center, I was refilling ice buckets and learning what makes a dry martini so dry. Bartending may not seem like a professional, duteous job, but I’ve learned more from bartending than any other job I’ve ever had-without all of the tedious paperwork and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. desk sitting. I learned about precision, teamwork, efficiency, and the feeling of a job well done. I learned about the importance of kindness and making people feel welcomed. Oh, and some fantastic drink recipes, of course.
Let the countdown to my 21st birthday commence.