Barkeeps Learn Their Way Around Jiggers And Ponies

Second-oldest Profession Requires Speed And Tact

June 13, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Instructor Lora Collins turns in her pointy white boots and poses a question to the class: "Has anyone ever had a Screaming Orgasm . . . drinkwise?"

Yes, drinkwise. This is not sex education. This is mixology -- a world of Stingers, Jelly Beans, Snake Bites and Banana Boomers, a world where a half-ounce of vodka is the difference between an Orgasm (but not a Screaming Orgasm) and a Toasted Almond.

At the Maryland Bartending Academy in Glen Burnie, people learn to make these distinctions. They also learn the basics of customer relations, the proper way with an Old Fashioned and the rudiments of running a respectable bar. They slap down $540 in tuition and fees and order up a potentially lucrative sideline or maybe a new career.

Some 2,500 people have completed the the 45-hour course since owner-director Mark Russell opened the school in January 1981.

Russell could not say what percentage of students finds jobs in bartending, but the school provides a placement service for openings at restaurants, hotels,taverns and bartending at private parties.

On Monday morning, seven students file in. They walk through the glass doors next to the pizza place in the Glen Burnie Village Shopping Center, mount the stairs to what looks like your standard strip mall office space.

But wait a minute; through a door in the reception area is a darker room. It's not another office. It's a barroom, complete with ceiling fans, dark paneled walls, mirrored beer signs and music on the stereo.

Soon, the students are seated at the bar stools like so many customers, their workbooks spread out before them. Class is in session, Lora Collins presiding behind the bar. She's a full-time instructor here and part-time bartender at Cheers in Pasadena.

"What are the first liquors in my speed rack?" asks Collins, referring to the area beneath the bar where the most basic and most often-used ingredients arestored out of the customer's view.

A few students answer: "Vodka,gin, rum, tequila."

"What are my whiskeys?"

"Blended, bourbon,Scotch."

"What are my grape products?"

"Brandy, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth."

Collins then reviews the names of 20 liqueurs anda list of bartending terms: shot, jigger, pony, proof, neat, straight up, among others. The students need to memorize these. There will be a test.

Robert Sherrock isn't worried. The 23-year-old from Columbia has just finished his first year of law school at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- torts, criminal law, contracts, civil procedure. He figures he can handle the memorization required in the two-week curriculum at the Maryland Bartending Academy.

"I'm used to that," says Sherrock. "I'm used to pounding massive quantities of information into my head."

Like most of the students here today, Sherrock figures bartending is a good way to make money while he's going to college.

Stacey DeMilio of Parkville enters her sophomore year at Essex Community College in the fall. She plans to go to school during the day and work as a bartender on weekends.

"I was working for an interior designer, but it wasn't reliable work," says DeMilio,who is 24.

Michael T. Bottega of Bowie is 30 and the senior student in this class. He's a salesman by trade who switched to computer programming and was laid off in April when the firm lost a key contract. He says bartending should be good not only for money but also for contacts for a sales job.

"I have the personality," says Bottega, a fast-talking, chain-smoking native of Brooklyn, N.Y. "I can sell myself. I just need to know the mechanics."

It's not rocket science,says Russell, a 36-year-old veteran bartender.

"Bartending just isn't that difficult," he says, "once you get the hang of a few basics."

He says the toughest part of the course is probably the speed test, for which students are required to mix 20 drinks in 10 minutes, including ringing the prices up on the register.

A school record was set in March 1990, when David Stebbings mixed 36 in 10 minutes.

Like much of the school's program, mixing speed takes practice and repetition. The nuance of a winning bartender's personality is anothermatter, says Russell. That's tough to teach. But the course workbook, which Russell wrote, gives a few pointers. Among them:

"Never enter into a conversation between customers unless you are invited. Andif you are invited, never take sides.

"Generally, bartenders knowthe latest jokes, how to tell them, and which jokes to tell whom.

"Avoid talking about religion, politics, sex and/or your personal problems."

Which is not to say that a bartender shouldn't know how to mix a drink with a sexual name, as there seem to be so many of them. Russell says a good bartender should know how to mix about 200 drinks without consulting a bar guide.

For the record, a Toasted Almond consists of Kahlua, Amaretto and cream. Not to be confused with an Orgasm -- vodka, Kahlua, Amaretto and cream -- which is not to be confused with a Screaming Orgasm: Southern Comfort, Amaretto, pineapple juice and cream.

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