"I made tiki drinks and Long Islands at a burger place, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts to work everyday… As a favor I did for a really good friend early in my career, when I was starting to break-off from my job at the burger place and was running my own cocktail catering company, my buddy thought it would cool to hire a party bus and have myself and my partner, Marcos Tello, mix a specialty menu of cocktails for him. So we created a small menu of drinks all themed around Star Wars, as he, like many of us, is huge fan, and away we went.” —Chris Ojeda (Cecconi’s,Soho House)
"I was working as a server at a hotel restaurant while attending college in Ithaca, New York. The bartender no call/no showed and we were stuck. I jumped at the chance to get behind the bar for the first time, thinking, how hard could it be—mind you, I was a 21 year old college student who, at the time, loved drinking Bacardi silver and Coke (gross, I know).
One of my first customers was an older gentleman with a long white beard wearing overalls. He strolls up to the bar and orders an Old Fashioned; not knowing how to make one, I explained the situation of me just filling in. He understood, and followed up with the question, 'Do you have any Angostura bitters back there?', I looked at him with a blank stare not knowing what Angostura was. He could tell I was clueless and said, 'Just give me a Budweiser.' I'll never forget that night, and now imagine I would probably react in a similar fashion." —Adam Robinson (The Bent Brick)
"My first bartending gig was at a private beach club for special events only. I was behind the sticks three times a year for Luau Night, Martini Night and the Christmas Soiree. I was 21 and making martinis and rum punches while not knowing the difference between gin, vodka, and rum. I'm sure they were horrible." —Dave McCabe ( Punk's Backyard Grill )
"Khaki shorts, white short-sleeve button-down, Connecticut suburbia, three floors, metal (that is, hot as hell in the sun) roof-top bar, all beer stored in the basement (did I mention it was 3 floors?), no bar-back, Bud Light and Barefoot ... oh, and I was 17." —Victoria Levin (The Tangled Vine)
"My first bartending job was part-time while I was in the Army at an American club in Germany. I poured a lot of Asbach and cokes, but never really learned much about the trade there." — Elizabeth Powell (ArtBar)
"The first bartending job I ever had was when I was 16. I had been serving drinks to tables at the golf club across the road from my house for about three weeks when around Christmastime one year, a lot of the bartenders had called in sick. The boss asked me if I'd been watching what had been going on behind the bar since I'd started working there and I told him that I had.
I'm sure I must have made a mess out of a lot of the orders that night but he obviously saw some potential there because I never went back to serving tables again. Looking back on it now, I guess I was lucky!" —John Cummins (The Dawson Lounge)
Out in Oxford
"I started my first bar job back in May '99 at a place called Maxwell's in my hometown of Oxford, England. Nightlife in Oxford then was mostly pubs that closed at 11pm and nightclubs. Maxwell's was one of the few cocktail bars in town and open late so it was packed on the weekends. We were always understaffed but I fell in love with the scene straight away." —Bob Achilles (The Industry)
"Though I helped 'run' a questionably legal dive back in Oregon, the first in earnest was with Tom Chadwick (Dram) at the Bushwick Country Club. It wasn't so much bartending as getting ice for him and having him throw frozen citrus at me in exchange for him teaching me to not suck so much at bartending." —Frank Cisneros (Gin Palace, Dram, The Drink, Bourgeois Pig Brooklyn)