Careers and Ed: Cocktail frosh

Mixed Drinks 101: Can a two-week bartending course impart real-world pouring skills?
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culture@sfbg.com

Swanky-ass bars, high-end restaurants, sex, drugs — they're all great things to love about San Francisco, but they can be cruel and constant symbols of failure to the scrilla deprived. With one-bedroom apartments currently priced at about $1,600 a month, cell phone bills hovering in the $75 to $150 range, and PG&E. religiously raping us for half our salaries, it's amazing anyone can afford to live in this city, let alone enjoy its vast array of entertainment. But San Francisco has a secret. Unlike most cities, San Francisco pays its waiters, bartenders, and bussers almost $10 an hour. Add to that a healthy tip stash, and there's at least a little disposable income to hit the town with.

Of all the jobs the service industry has to offer, bartending rules. We're talking potentially $200 to $500 for six hours of work. OK, count me in. The major problem, though, is acquiring the skills to qualify. San Francisco has almost as many service-industry schools as it does bars and restaurants. Would I get scammed if I enrolled in one? With the ultimate goal of becoming a bartender, I spent a month researching the cultlike world of barkeep education, starting with a quest for the perfect school.

THE SEARCH

In order to minimize any money and time investments, I first looked for Web classes and free tutorials. I should have known better. Looking for a free or relatively inexpensive online course in bartending turned out to be a bigger waste of time than the hours I logged scouring the Internet for free porn as a young man. The sites of my youth always promised girl-on-girl action, fist-fucking, and bizarre fetish acts but only generated advertisements for sketchy online subscriptions or outrageously expensive chat sessions. The same was true, metaphorically, of www.bartendingcollegeonline.com, www.ebartending.com, and www.zizoo.com. Each one taunted me with screen shots and personal testimonies but wouldn't give up the goods without a credit card number. So I passed on the virtual cocktail-slinging and set about finding a real-world educator.

ABC Nationwide Bartending School (www.abcbartending.com, 1-888-262-5824) looked promising but seemed a little too corporate for my taste. Other schools, such as National Bartenders School (870 Market, suite 828, SF; 415-677-9777, www.nationalbartenders.com), seemed legitimate but didn't quite have the attitude and style I associate with the glamorous life of a bartender. I want to be Tom Cruise in Cocktail, not the sad barkeep from Billy Joel's "Piano Man." I want to serve mojitos, cosmos, and lemon drops to drunk yuppies, ending every night with fistfuls of easy cash and invitations to cologne-drenched orgies. Glamour! Eventually, I seemed to find perfection in the San Francisco School of Bartending (760 Market, suite 833, SF; 415-362-1116, www.sfbartending.com), a school run and taught by local SF bartenders — sort of a FUBU for mixologists.

It works like this: for about $300 (a slow night's tips for the average SF bartender) you get hands-on training and insider information from a seasoned professional. The classroom simulates an average pub, with music, neon beer signs, and a supersize bar with a pouring station for each student. There's homework every night, a daily quiz, and a final exam. Near the end of every minisemester, students get a consultation with a professional résumé builder who has magical contacts to the city's premier restaurants and bars. It's a boot camp for bartenders, taught by some of the toughest and most knowledgeable drill sergeants around. The slick Web site, affordable price, and sense of community won me over.

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