Bartenders. They’re the rock stars of night life. Like a dude with a guitar, a bartender is somehow automatically cool. Give a guy or girl a jigger and a Boston shaker, and suddenly they’re in control of your inebriation destiny. And you worship respectfully. You wave your money at them (don’t do that), you flirt with them (also don’t do that), you pray to the gods of intoxication they’ll make eye contact with you over the row of bachelorette partiers blocking access to the bar.
Kind of like wondering what your teacher does after she leaves school, we dare ask the question: after a night of doling drinks out to the thirsting public, how do bartenders wind down? Remember, bartenders are people, too, and they, too, like to take the edge off a long day with a drink. They just do it six or seven hours later than the rest of us.
In fact, we have to assume bartenders are extra “thirsty” by the end of their shifts. They’ve been watching us pour liquor down our gobs for hours, and probably overheard way too much talk of our terrible ex-boyfriends, terrible bosses, and/or terrible Pokemon Go failures. What kind of magical bartender potion do they go to for relief?
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It’s useless to try answer that question universally, since there’s probably someone out there who makes himself a perfect cocktail at shift’s end and somebody else who chucks 99 Bananas into a bottle of Yoo-hoo and calls it a day. That said, there are at least a few common bartender go-tos, drinks that don’t require a ton of prep but still deliver much-needed relief after a night of inarticulate drink orders and a hundred open tabs.
Beer and a Shot
Bartenders like to drink. And most bartenders drink well (think special-release cask ales and Scotches with unpronounceable names). But at the end of a long shift, one of the more common bartender choices is also one of the more modest: the simple beer-and-shot, also known as a Boilermaker. Why the name? One story has it that the beer and shot combo was a favorite shift-ender for the big, brawny dudes working the 19th-century steam locomotive gig. It’s not hard to imagine them stepping up to the bar, knocking back a shot of cheap liquor, and staring straight ahead in total silence as they drank their beers with manly stoicism. Or something. Fast-forward a century and a half and bartenders have taken up the time-honored, shift-ending ritual, typically with whiskey (depending on the shift, maybe even good whiskey) and a cheaper macro beer like PBR or Budweiser.
It’s hard to estimate how many bartenders actually make themselves a Negroni at the end of a shift (wherein they may well have made a hundred Negronis). But the drink is a good archetype for the kind of cocktail a bartender might make after work: simple (easy ratios of gin to Campari to sweet vermouth), classic, and delicious. No fussy garnishes really required, just a bit of ice and some stirring. Not to mention the Negroni has a rich but somehow perky flavor profile, especially in the family of stirred mixed drinks, thanks in large part to the bitter, bright grapefruit flavor of the Campari and the botanical elements in both the gin and sweet vermouth. All of which make it a decent salve for the fatigued palate, a pick-me-up-while-you-put-me-down kind of drink. (The Negroni actually began life in the early 20th century as an aperitif, thanks to those brighter flavors, meaning it could also kick-start a bartender’s late night out.) Where gin isn’t desired, other stirred drinks — the Old Fashioned, even the Sazerac — work in similar ways.
At the end of a long day on your feet, after 300 people have shouted the words, “Do you have an IPA?” and “I want something not too sweet!” directly into your face, nothing goes down quite like bubbly. Think about it: all a weary bartender has to do is pop the cork to enjoy the sparkling fruits of somebody else’s labor. And, since bubbles do seem to get us giddier a bit quicker than other alcoholic drinks, drinking Champagne is an efficient but classy way to catch up with everybody else’s buzz.
Another efficient and highly popular shift-ender: a shot, or tumbler, of Jameson Irish whiskey. Yeah, there’s a reason this is the best selling Irish whiskey in the world (and it has nothing to do with Smitty the distillery cat). It’s middle of the road price-wise, it goes down smoother than other well shots, and it’ll keep your interest without demanding as much attention as say, an Ardbeg 10 Year. There’s also the total absence of thought or measurement that goes into the preparation of a shot of whiskey, a blessing when you’re on your third 12-hour shift and the weekend is looming over you like a giant, thirsty party animal. Drink up.