Words by: gaz regan
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou
My first season of Cocktails in the Country 2.0 has just come to a close, and hopefully there are now about 100 more bartenders, from bars in New York's Waldorf Astoria, The Nomad Hotel, Middle Branch, The Gramercy Tavern, and many more bars who have a better grasp on what it means to truly be of service to their guests, and how to get along beautifully with their co-workers. Hopefully.
The first series of Cocktails in the Country ran from 2001 through 2007. It was a very rudimentary course. Very rudimentary. I had cobbled it together for people who wanted to become bartenders, so I was teaching simple stuff such as how to free-pour, when to stir, when to shake, etc., and the class ran pretty smoothly for the first few years. Then the A-Team started to arrive.
Bartenders such as Angus Winchester, Stanislav Vadrna, and Steve Manktelow traveled over the Pond to take the course, and more than a few key players in the American bar scene made their way to the Hudson Valley, just north of Manhattan, to hear what I had to say. I'm talking the likes of Jim Meehan, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Lynnette Marrero, Sam Ross, and myriad more of their ilk. What did I teach them? Very little, I'm afraid. I learned much from them, though . . .
This year, after a seven-year hiatus I finally realized that I did, indeed, have something to teach the bartenders of the Twenty-First century, and it has very little to do with mixing drinks. I therefore resurrected Cocktails in the Country as a two-day course on Mindful Bartending. I wanted to teach bartenders about the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, and how they can use it to become better bartenders in a very real sense.
I'm not a Buddhist—I think of myself as being a New-Age Arsehole—so although I do read lots of Buddhist literature, and I also delve into modern-day philosophers such as Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, and Don Miguel Ruiz. And it was by way of these teachers I was led to mindfulness. It's a multi-dimensional subject that' impossible to explain here (or anywhere, for that matter, unless you have a couple of hundred years to spare), but in bartender terms I believe that "total awareness" works well. In the Tao Teh Ching, a Chinese text by Lao Tse in the 6th Century BC, it states, ""Without going out of your door, you can know the ways of the world." In bar-speak I believe this to mean, "Without turning your head you can know damned well that the arsehole at the end of the bar is putting moves on the manager's girlfriend" Geddit?
This year, Cocktails in the Country 2.0 attracted bartenders from New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, Chicago, Philadelphia, and many other cities and states. At present the workshop is open only to bartenders working in the USA, I'm afraid. But things could change. The course covers mindful bartending, trusting one's intuition, a guided meditation, the secrets of success, mindful mixology, how to write a cocktail recipe, and there's a session during which the bartenders get to pore over many of my first-edition antiquarian cocktail books. I'll be holding another ten classes in 2016.
Meanwhile, here are a few comments sent to me from bartenders who took this year's workshop.
"I did learn a lot at CitC this year . . . The Mindful Bartender module was very helpful to me. In fact, I feel like it was designed specifically with me in mind. This addresses the issues and challenges I have with mentally preparing for work. Everyone wins when the bartender is practicing mindfulness. Everyone!" David A. Roth, Cask Bar & Kitchen, NYC.
"I value what I learned at "Cocktails in the Country" greatly as it really got me to do some deep introspective thinking, and I am very grateful that you took me there. Sometimes, us creative types get in our own way- and you helped me realize this and gave me the "tools" to best handle it," Mimi Burnham, The Porchlight Bar, NYC
"By focusing on the present moment and completing a task to the best of my ability, whether it be providing a guest with a smile or fetching ice for the well, the frustrations of being behind the stick immediately are set aside. . . . This generates a personal feeling of placidity that is in turn projected on those I work with, making their job easier and exposing me in a more favourable light." Aaron Shuttleworth, The NoMad Hotel, NYC.
"After the seminar, I called my mom. She almost choked up hearing of how I had begun to learn mindfulness -she worries much more about the stressful environment and career I have chosen than I do -or at least used to do." Selma Slabiak, The Donna Cocktail Club, Brooklyn.