A good bartender is many things — a silent sentinel who also listens and talks when you need them to, someone who is somehow a step ahead of your every need, anticipating when your water needs a refill or when you’re ready to cash out. A good bartender isn’t afraid to kick out that dude who can’t hold his head up at the end of the bar when he starts to get rowdy. A good bartender is the kind of person who will let you charge your phone behind the bar and maybe even will do a buyback once in a little while. A good bartender, at the end of the day, shares the same straits as a good person, and those are few and far between.
You could be a jerk about it, and list all the things that make a bad bartender, but that’s not how we like to do it here. Good people should be celebrated, and no energy should be wasted on the ones that make us feel like crap. After narrowing down a list of traits, I distilled the three things that make a good bartender really, really good.
Drunk people get mad when they have to wait for stuff. Bartenders get mad when they have to deal with people being impatient. Everyone who’s standing at the bar either behind it, or in front of it clutching a sweaty twenty-dollar bill, is trying to do one thing, only, and that is to order or prepare a drink in exchange for money. As a customer, standing at a bar, frantically waving your money while a bartender ignores your every attempt at eye contact is a unique frustration, usually fueled by alcohol and a sense of righteous indignation that you deserve to get that drink, now.
All that said, it’s clear to see why efficiency is highly valued. The most efficient bartenders in all the land are at Hot Bird, in Clinton Hill. Maybe it’s the bartenders themselves, or maybe it’s the unspoken system they have in which there are understood areas to stand in which you order and pay for your drink, but this is the only bar I’ve ever seen patrons line up at to get their drinks, without having signs to indicate as such. It’s like you walk in, and everybody just knows. Other runners-up include Soft Spot, Beloved and Clover Club, all of which boast some of the most speedy bartenders around.
Friendliness seems to be overrated in general, when it comes to regular everyday life in the charming hamlet of Brooklyn. The bodega guy could stand to be a little nicer, and so could you when you gruffly push your change across the counter at your local laundromat. Treat people like you want to be treated, and no one will whisper mean things about you behind their hand, or take an extra long time to get you a drink. These are just rules for life, really. A friendly bartender is a fun bartender, and a friendly customer is much-appreciated. Remember, these people are working to serve you, who are presumably not working, so if they’re also super-nice about it, be grateful and tip well.
Lots of bars in Brooklyn are staffed by charming, friendly individuals, but the friendliest that we’ve encountered can be found at Videology, a lovely bar/screening room that hosts trivia, Arrested Development bingo and various movie nights based entirely on what the bartender feels like watching at the time. If you’d rather just have a beer and not watch a movie with it, take yourself down to Skylark in Park Slope or Midway in Williamsburg(ask for Anastasia!), where you will find some of the nicest bartenders around.
3. The willingness to chat, but the understanding of when it’s time to be quiet.
Sometimes you go to a bar because you’re ineffably, incurably sad, and have been sitting in your apartment in basketball shorts and a frown all day, and you need to get out, stat. Maybe you put on some pants, brush your hair a bit and head down to your local watering hole where you can read a book, drink a beer or talk to someone just to test out the sound of your own voice in a space other than your apartment. Or, maybe you’re not a sad sack, and just really like making conversation with other people! To each their own.
A good bartender is the kind of person that can intuit when it’s the time to talk and when it’s best to shut up. A friend said that most bartenders in Brooklyn exude a quiet confidence, something about them that makes you feel equally comfortable striking up a conversation with them or just sitting back and tracing patterns on the bar with your beer coaster. It’s a delicate balance, but when you stumble upon that bartender that just gets it, you’ll know.