I Went to Bartending School Just So I Could Get Drunk on the Job

I Went to Bartending School Just So I Could Get Drunk on the Job

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Here's What Happened When I Went to Bartending SchoolThis post was originally published on July 29, 2016.

During my mid-20s, my professional life was kind of a disaster. I’d been working at Men’s Fitness Magazine for over two years, having landed a job in the art department straight out of college. After American Media Incorporated acquired Weider Publications (Joe Weider was the dude who dragged Arnold Schwarzenegger out of Austria and made him a superstar), I got laid off.

For a while, I spent my time applying to Master’s programs in Fine Arts, thinking my sloppy oil on raw canvas paintings and sophomoric photos from my undergraduate photography courses qualified me to become a professional artist. Okay, maybe they weren’t that bad, but I was applying to programs like Cal Arts, Columbia and UCLA, programs with a 5% acceptance rate.

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure why I even bothered to pay those application fees.

The economy was in the shithole in 2003, so the only job I could find after submitting all those applications was as a receptionist at this corporate branding firm in Santa Monica, a job that made me want to gouge my eyes out. Between organizing staples and ordering lunch for all the employees, I stared at the computer screen, bored out of my mind. Unfortunately, they paid me well, but because I was so depressed I spent most of my money on booze and a bunch of overpriced and intentionally ripped-up clothes from Urban Outfitters.

In fact, it was at that job that my drinking really took off. Given the continual state of brain numbness I weathered all day, I’d stop by the Liquid Kitty—one of my favorite bars in West LA on Pico—en route from the office in Santa Monica to my place in West Hollywood, and down a couple of “Magic Christians.” By far my favorite drink in all of Los Angeles, the Magic Christian is a vodka-based, citrusy cocktail poured into a stem glass with a rim covered in sugar. It tasted ten times better than a Cosmo or a Lemon Drop, and seemed even stronger in booze content.

Eventually, I quit the receptionist gig after my boss told me the fruit I bought for a meeting was “stupid.” She told me to “organize the bananas,” and at that point I picked up my bag and walked right on out the door, driving to my boyfriend’s house to smoke joints while hiking up Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Because I hated office work and needed a job, because I loved drinking on the job, because bartenders in LA can make a killing working just three nights a week, if, that is, they work at swanky places or places like The Liquid Kitty that serve up $14 cocktails, I decided to enroll in bartending school.

Specifically, I enrolled in National Bartending School located in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. A guy named Guy sold me on signing up, even though I really didn’t have the $600 the whole course cost, given I was unemployed. But since he told me I could pay in installments by writing six checks for $100 and post-dating them, I figured why not?

This was my first attempt at any real sort of trade-type school, and it was loads of fun. About 12 of us, all in our twenties, learned about all the booze and liqueurs and how to make classic drinks like a Tom Collins and a White Russian and a Gimlet. We learned about snifter glasses and high balls, how to shake up a martini with ice and the difference between a Long Island iced tea and an Adios Mother Fucker. (If you don’t know, Long Islands are filled with two ounces of booze—a half ounce of gin, rum, tequila and vodka, with a dash of triple sec and a splash of coke, and an Adios Mother Fucker has double the booze, a total of four ounces of liquor, hence the name.)

I studied my flashcards really hard to remember all the formulas for the most common drinks, and, after a couple of weeks and acing an exam, I was a proud recipient of a National Bartending School diploma. Or, more accurately, a flimsy paper certificate I have since lost. When I signed up for the school, Guy mentioned that they had a job placement program, that I would be able to find a job right after getting the certificate. For some reason, I believed him. In truth, they had two postings for jobs, one at the Pacific Design Center, LA’s swankiest spot to pick out furniture and other home and office decor, and another job as lunchtime bartender at the restaurant in the Beverly Hills Sofitel hotel.

Wanting to land these jobs desperately, I crafted an embarrassing resume of my zero hospitality experience, a resume that only highlighted my certificate from the bartending school and my useless college degree in English and Fine Art. Not surprisingly, none of the managers hired me. When I subsequently applied and interviewed for a bartending gig in Glendale at this Armenian hot spot, I thought my half-Armenian heritage might work in my favor. I lied and said I bartended at catering events in Chicago for my friend’s event company, Box Studios, but that didn’t convince the manager to even give me a trial shift.

“You’re fast? Super fast?” Aram asked me.

“Very fast!” I lied.

“You know all the drinks by heart and can handle the bar when it’s super packed?”

“Yes!” I lied.

“So, if I put you behind the bar right now, you’d kill it?”

“Yes!” Big lie.

Apparently, Aram could see right through my bullshit and I never got a call back.

I did land one job with that certificate. My pal knew a gal who was throwing an engagement party at her home in Van Nuys. She actually let me and my other friend, who had also attended National Bartending School, pour basic mixed drinks. When I showed up, I was very nervous, but it didn’t take long for me to get comfortable and settle into the gig and really have a good time. Since we mainly served beer, wine and a few vodka drinks, I was able to perform well.

Unfortunately, because I was dumb beyond words at the time, I invited my edgy hipster boyfriend and his brother and cousins, who sort of looked like thugs and had tons of tattoos, to join me at the party. This pissed off Emily, the bride, and at the time I just couldn’t understand why. I was used to free-for-all parties where everyone got smashed, the more the merrier, especially since the more attendees the more likely you’d find drugs. Apparently, this isn’t kosher for invite-only engagement parties. To say Emily was pissed is an understatement, but thankfully she paid me the $100 we agreed on. Still, I haven’t forgiven myself for that inane and completely selfish move.

After that, I just surrendered the bartending idea entirely, like many of my impulsive and wild career ideas. I’ve contemplated everything from graphic design, teaching, stand-up comedy, entertainment advertising, belly dancing, photography, being a pastry chef to being a front woman for a band. Not long after attending bartending school, I applied for an MFA in writing and thankfully got a job at the same university wherein I received that degree.

In the end, it’s probably best it didn’t work out. I can’t imagine how drunk I would have gotten working around booze, and it’s possible that would have thwarted my decision to go to grad school. Ultimately, it was the biggest waste of $600 I’ve ever spent.

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1 Comment

  1. So, did you get to drink all those drinks you made in class?

    I googled ‘Who gets the drinks in bartending school’ and found you.

    Here in California you can’t drink if your a bartender or the bar could loose it’s liquor license.

    Well? Did you get to sample all those drinks you made?

    Guess it wouldn’t be a waste of $600 if you did.

    Can you buy like $1 drinks as a customer at a bartending school the way you can get a $3 hair cut at a beauty school?

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.