One of the true markers of how hip and trendy a city is can be determined by the number of cocktail bars that call it home. You can judge how much a city loves to party with its number of bars, but it’s the number of cocktail establishments that determine a town’s genuine class.
Austin is fortunate to be a new center in the current enlightenment of craft cocktails and mixology taking place across the country. The creation of these specialty drinks is now recognized as an art form and has been elevated to the recognition provided to chefs and sommeliers, and now you can learn the stories behind the bar thanks to the new documentary, Hey Bartender.
Last seen on Austin screens during this year’s SXSW, Hey Bartender will return for one night at the Stateside Theatre on Saturday, June 22 to provide you with the history of cocktail making and the personal stories of those who mix them.
While the history behind cocktails and craft bartending is expansive and informative, it might feel like too much of a History Channel special with an endless stream of experts providing information. The true insight of the film comes with its spotlight on two different bartenders: a young gun who is an up-and-coming rock star in the cocktail world and a former bank executive looking to keep his bar in Westport, Connecticut afloat.
Both are great subjects in showing the divide in what bartending has become in recent years. Steve Schneider is a talented apprentice in NYC’s immensely popular Employees Only cocktail lounge. He’s what you’d expect to find behind the bar at your trendy locale: tatted up, with hipster chic facial hair and a cocksure attitude while serving you a Pimm’s Cup.
On the flip side is the bartender that most of America is used to. Steve Carpentieri left behind banking to pursue his dream by buying a restaurant/bar called Dunville’s. Despite past success, his business is starting to languish and the bills are stacking up, all while he laments the fact that fewer people care about the bars where everybody knows your name.
These opposing bartenders define what it is a bartender is supposed to do. Schneider immerses himself deep into creating his own art each night, but dismisses the term “mixologist,” considering them to be bartenders who take too long to measure out your drink while making it for you. Carpentieri is reluctant to even join the craft cocktail movement, not seeing why he needs to change what he already understands.
The true lesson provided by the film’s subjects and its talking heads is that bartending will always be about service, whether mixing you up a Ramos Gin Fizz or just handing you a beer. When they’re pouring you that drink, it’s all about making you feel like you’re the only person at the bar.
The film itself provides many lessons for aspiring bartenders, and Saturday’s screening offers even more lessons before and after the show. Before the screening, David Alan of Tipsy Texan and Bill Norris of Midnight Cowboy will tend some bar and sell some special cocktails in the lounge. After the film, you can pick some bartender brains in a Q&A, and maybe you’ll decide to ditch the cubicle and start learning to pair the right bitters with the right spirits.