The Advent of the Bar Team

I wrote something for Punch about the evolution of the modern “bar team,” a concept and term that was all but nonexistent twenty years ago. Gave me a chance to talk to some of the elders and early leaders of the cocktail revival.

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An interesting quote about bar teams from Jack Schramm (of Existing Conditions) that got cut from the final version Punch piece:

“I think a lot of the things that are beneficial can also be a detriment. The team culture can lead to a lot of working extra hours under the guise of ‘I can’t let the team down.’ But it also accelerates the way you can earn knowledge and expertise. The goal of the team is to bring of the weakest member and make them better. But It only works if everyone buys in. If you don’t, it can lead to resentment and infighting within the group.”

Funny how, in all lines of work today, management finds a way to make you work longer hours for no extra pay. And ironic, since in the past one of the allures of bartending work was all the free time.

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I wonder how the “modern bar team” differs from what a Charles Mahoney, Oscar Tschirky, or Frank Meier was doing?

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I think the key passage in @RobertSimonson’s article is this:

Throughout most of the 20th century, bartending jobs were just that: jobs. Bartending was not, in most cases, a calling or passion. It was a means to earn a living. You typically learned your trade on the floor and not beforehand, and often worked alone.

You’ll find that notion wherever bartending is seen as a career and not something to do in between real jobs. And you’ll find it whenever and wherever there’s an apprenticeship process.

Meier certainly had a team – and apparently launched the bar at the Ritz with people he had worked at his previous bar. In Spain, when Pedro Chicote opened his own bar, all the team that worked under him at Pidoux left and moved with him. His second-in-command worked for him for forty years.

I think that notion of ‘team’ is also key to understanding German bartending in the Schumann era.