Bartenders witness a fair share of embarrassing situations: emotional drunks, bar fights, and tipsy patrons making questionable decisions—and it’s not uncommon for all three to occur on a nightly basis during just one shift. But the men and women manning the bar aren't immune to the occasional cringe-worthy moment while they're slinging drinks, either.
During a long night of mixing cocktails, pouring beers, playing therapist, and collecting tips, the alcohol-supplying citizens are apt to make a mistake or two at some point. Here, seven bartenders reveal their most embarrassing fails from behind the bar.
1. Showing Off With a Shaker
"About 10 years ago, I had been tending the bar for maybe six months at TGI Fridays. Every summer, they would have something called the Bartender Olympics which was a skills and flair competition. I needed to make five drinks for the judges and demonstrate some flair—flipping bottles, etc. The first drink I had to make was a Long Island Iced Tea. I made it in a tin and then I was supposed to lock in an additional shaker, so that I could proceed to flip the shaker around. Whether it was nerves, or rushing, I'm not sure, but the two shakers didn't quite lock together. Once I tried to spin them in my hand, one tin flew toward the judges, followed by the contents of the shaker! Long story short: I drenched a judge with the entire contents of the shaker. This happened 15 seconds into the competition and, suffice it to say, I didn't win the competition. Lesson learned: Always double check the shakers when trying to show off.” – Alex Mouzakitis, Bartender & Beverage Manager at Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails in New York City
2. Bashing a Fellow Bartender
“I was working at a fancy restaurant, which shall remain unnamed, in San Francisco, during the summer of 2012. The restaurant itself served small plates and cocktails from a small bar that two people could barely fit behind. I started barbacking with the lead bartender, who was nice enough to teach me a few things, as I was new to bartending and craft cocktails. What I learned from my first and most embarrassing mistake is a mix of things. At its simplest: be aware of what, and more importantly, who is around you. The lead bartender was letting me make all the drinks for the restaurant one night, and I was still getting use to the basic ‘moves’—one of which is shaking two Boston Shakers, one in each hand. I had practiced it a small number of times, and as soon as I had the opportunity to try that night, I aggressively threw my hands up with the shakers above my shoulders, only to hit that lead bartender right in the nose with the blunt, flat bottom of a shaker—and boy did I hit him hard. Not broken, but definitely bashed and not pretty. Needless to say, I continued to make the drinks for most of the evening as best I could. Luckily for me, he laughed it off. He saw how mortified I was. Small bars can be difficult to work in.“ – Alexander Yoka, Bartender at Bacari GDL in Los Angeles
3. Serving to Minors
“It was 2005, and I was working at my Uncle Dan’s restaurant in Rockaway Beach, Pier 92—now known as Bungalow Bar. It was for a communion/family party. I was 17 at the time, and there were a mix of ages attending. The kids started asking for Shirley Temples, so I delivered. They became a crowd pleaser and more of the kids were requesting Shirley Temples, so I served them Shirley Temples. Once I ran out of what I thought was grenadine, I’d realized I’d been serving them Sloe Gin. I learned the valuable lesson of never serving Sloe Gin to a bunch of kids, but they did have one hell of a party. Thankfully, it was mostly family that I’d served, and we go by the words of ‘no harm no foul.’ – Trevor Tubridy, Bartender at Bungalow Bar in Queens, NY
4. Mixing Up Ingredients
“About four years ago I was bartending at Fat Black Pussycat on a pretty busy Thursday night in [New York City’s] Greenwich Village. A very cute girl in her mid 20's sat down at the bar with a friend and ordered a Cosmo and a lychee martini. With a smile I said, 'No problem.' While making their drinks, I start to chat them up. While we were talking, I quickly make the Cosmo and poured it into the martini glass. The first girl takes a sip and makes an ‘mmm’ sound. Then I begin on the lychee martini. In a flash, I pour the vodka, lemon juice, triple sec, lychee juice in the shaker with ice, give it a good shake—making sure to look cool—and pour it into the glass. I placed the drink In front of her and watched her sip. Her eyes widened with shock and she spat her mouthful over her friend before escaping to the bathroom. When she returned she told me it was the saltiest and spiciest thing she had ever tasted. I’d realized that instead of reaching for the lychee juice, I’d accidentally taken spicy horseradish pickles that another bartender had been eating earlier. I felt horrible! I comped them a round of beers, and I apologized profusely. Looking back I’ve learned that I’m only human with two arms and to slow it down.” – Kyle Gager, Bartender at Bowery Beer Garden in New York City
5. Blacking Out
“About two and a half years ago, at the Broken Shaker in Miami Beach, I worked as a bartender. It was busy most nights and slammed the rest of the time. If you weren't shaking or stirring five-plus cocktails a round, you were definitely behind. One crazy night, right before the summer got hot, I was in the middle of mixing up a couple of shaken cocktails. A friend of mine came to the bar to say hi. I got pretty excited, shared a shot with my friend, and went back to preparing the drinks. I gracefully spun both shakers back on the palms of my hands simultaneously, banged the two tins together with a loud clang, and started shaking my cocktails with exceptional vigor. About two strokes into the performance, I pulled one tin back so fast that I smacked myself in the forehead with the weighted metal end. I hit myself so hard that I actually blacked out, didn't fall down, but definitely couldn't see for a second. That didn't stop me, though. I somehow got myself back into the rhythm and finished the shake. As I was straining the cocktails, wondering if I was bleeding, I looked up and saw my friends face—blank look—staring intensely at me. He asked, 'Are you OK, bro?' I wasn't. After finishing the cocktails, I went to the back and looked at myself in a mirror.” – Ben Potts, Bar Manager and Owner of Beaker & Gray in Miami
6. Distracting the DJ
“I was working for a very trendy Hollywood spot that catered to a lot of celebrities and money makers. It was a decadent place towering over Hollywood in an open-air environment, large towers on fire, the latest and greatest DJs blasting beats, and only the most chic employees. We were packed one night, and I was at the height of my cockiness. I thought I'd show off a little bit with some flair by tossing a magnum-sized bottle of high-end vodka into the air. Needless to say, I didn't catch it on the way down. It wasn't entirely full so there was just enough air in it to make a giant kaboom sound when it hit. The music stopped and all eyes were on me. I froze for a second, then pointed back at the DJ and started laughing. Of all the people laughing at me, I have to do it the best. Everyone there started to applaud and gave me my moment. For the rest of the night, I had to endure the teasing of people recreating my glorious moment by tossing plastic water bottles in the air and dramatically dropping them. That was the start and stop of my flair-tending career.” – William Cutting, Beverage Director at The Friend in Silver Lake, CA
7. Messing Up...Live
“My most embarrassing moment was when I was dry shaking an egg white cocktail on live TV, and I was so stressed out from being live, that instead of opening my shaker gently, I smacked it hard, and the shaker flew off the set.” – Rael Petit, Mixologist at Lot 45 Bushwick in Bushwick, NY
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