Alright on the night?

Beverage Report
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The Independent Culture
5.15PM Wednesday: Behind the bar at Detroit, waiting for customers with cocktail-meisters Brian Duell and Bill de hOra. They are the real thing; I am a fraud. Dick Bradsell, who runs Detroit, wouldn't allow real bartenders to mix cocktails till they'd had months of training. Mine took a few days. And while Dick and Co have taught me well, I am out of my depth.

6PM Customers start trickling in. One young woman, clearly serious about cocktails, orders a Cosmo-politan (Absolut Citron, Cointreau, lime and cranberry juices). Brian makes it while I watch, hands in pockets to hide the shaking.

6.15PM Bill makes me a Cointreau Caipirinha (Cointreau, lime, shaved ice). Hands shaking less.

6.20PM My first customers: mineral water, twice. I remember to ask if they want ice, forget to ask "still or sparkling". Fortunately, I pour the right one. Have I fooled them?

6.45PM One red wine, two beers. Luckily, no mishaps.

7.45PM Two customers order Old Fashioneds, which Brian and I make in tandem. He tastes mine and pronounces it "quite nice." I feel pathetically proud. Open two beers without a hitch, run the till. Hey, this isn't so hard. Bar quieter - people leaving for dinner, I assume.

8.15PM The cocktail lady's been joined by a male friend, who slurped a Ramos Gin Fizz while she was finishing her Martini. When those are done, she says: "We want to shoot an Orgasm." Huh? Then I remember that an Orgasm is Amaretto, Kahlua and Bailey's, layered in a shot glass. I make them under Bill's tuition and pass them over. She says, "I want this to be the best Orgasm I've ever had." I reply, "I hope the earth moves for you."

9PM Still quiet but there's plenty to do. Glasses need washing, polishing; shakers and strainers need rinsing. At last, something I'm good at.

9.30PM Busy again. One couple orders a Bramble, a Bradsell invention of gin, lemon, sugar, blackberry liqueur, and a Cointreau Caipirinha. I make both. Pouring too generously, says Brian, but the drinks are good.

9.45PM Moving non-stop. I handle my first big order: a coke, two G&Ts, V&T, Wild Turkey, three beers. The guy giving the order looks puzzled. He doesn't laugh till his back is turned.

10PM I make a Ramos Gin Fizz for Dick. Not sweet enough, so I add sugar and re-shake. Dick gives the thumbs-up. This is like Matisse saying, "nice picture, sport."

10.15PM Brian leaves me alone behind the bar for a few minutes. I panic, but no orders come in (phew) so I clean ashtrays instead.

10.45PM A trio of Men Who Might Behave Badly order Wild Turkey, G&T, and one of Brian's amazing Lime Daiquiris (my suggestion). Brian handles the Daiquiri, I do the others. Still pouring too generously - Brian alarmed. The MWMBB turn out to be quite polite, though they don't leave tips (stingy bastards). Barmen love tips.

11PM Feeling cramp at the backs of my knees. Resolve to do Yoga, or go to a gym, or something. Meanwhile, it's incredibly busy again and Dick joins us behind the bar. He is whippet-thin and moves as if on wheels. Fifteen Oddbins' employees ask for Polish Martinis (vodka, apple juice, Krupuik honey liqueur). Dick makes them in two batches, then does a Russian Spring Punch (vodka, cassis, lemon, sugar, champagne). Lovely but lethal. "I made these at a wedding", he whispers, "and three people fell down the stairs."

11.15PM Detroit is now packed, and when speed counts there's no room for amateurs. I confine my efforts to washing, polishing, and admiring the pros at work. Brian makes a Mai Tai in a graceful frenzy: dipping, whirling, pouring two bottles with one hand. I note ruefully that I'm too short to reach the dirty glasses at the outer edge of the bar.

MIDNIGHT On my feet for seven hours. I realise I've had it.

12.45AM I'm off. Bill says they'll be there until 1.30, clearing up. He will get home at two, and be up at six. "Some barmen go for years without seeing daylight." He works off the post-service buzz by walking home, but I stumble into a taxi.

2AM Knees aching, I manage to crawl into bed, contented. No one has died, retched, or complained. I even had a few compliments.

THE NEXT DAY What advice do I have for my fellow Wannabars? If possible, be young. Failing that, be very fit. Try to be tall. Study hard, and perfect your pouring technique. Most important of all, prepare yourself to work with unfailing exactitude under unremitting pressure. Some tennis player once said that anyone can hit winners in practise, but a champion is someone who hits winners when he's 1-4 down in the final set. When you're behind the bar on a busy night, you're always 1-4 down. And you have to make every shot count.

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