The physical toll of shaking cocktails

We’ve made so many strides and so much progress in mixology and bartending in the last 10 years, and especially in Los Angeles — previously a cocktail wasteland — in the last three or four.  More and more often we’re seeing properly long, vigorous shakes of egg and citrus cocktails, not that wimpy two-second rock-back-and-forth that was always the bane of the imbiber — as Dr. Philip Boyce once said to Capt. Christopher Pike aboard the starship Enterprise, “Who wants a warm Martini?”

We’re also seeing nice, big ice that chills the drink without overly diluting it — Kold-Draft machines are becoming more common, and some bars produce their own ice.  Apparently there has been a price to pay for this, though.


The New York Times recently published an article featuring several of our local bartenders about the mounting problem of repetetive stress injuries.

Bartender Marcos Tello, shaking the bejesus out of a drink

“When we first started Varnish, we began sustaining a bunch of injuries,” Marcos Tello said. “I had a huge, constant knot in my forearm. Chris Ojeda developed tennis elbow. Matty Eggleston popped a tendon in his hand. We were all sidelined with all these injuries.”

Varnish is not a football team. It is a stylish, speakeasy-style cocktail bar that opened early last year in downtown Los Angeles. And the men Mr. Tello mentions are fellow bartenders, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-30s. But in these heady days of behind-the-bar showmanship, when theatrical agitations of shakers filled with heavy-duty ice are becoming the norm, the mixologist’s physical lot is not so terribly far removed from an athlete’s.

I’d been hearing about this from several of our bartender friends in town, and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem.  I’m glad it’s being addressed — I don’t want everyone to have to retire by the time they’re 40!  Later in the article Marcos mentions consulting and even hiring physical therapists as consultants, which is a great idea.  If you’re a bartender, how do you cope?  How will we have to adapt our shaking techniques to still knock out great drinks without compromising health?  Do we need to invent a shaking machine?  Or is that just too wimpy?

Let’s be careful out there!


4 Responses to “The physical toll of shaking cocktails”

  1. Zachary Taylor said:

    Dec 02, 10 at 6:15 pm

    The article isn’t just about the perils of shaking cocktails, although that is certainly one of the major contributing factors. The bigger problem is that amount of repetitive motions involved in a typical bartending shift. Stirring enough cocktails will lead to problems with wrists, and being on your feet for 8 to 12 hours with all the bending and reaching for bottles creates stresses on your body which can build up. Ultimately, bartenders need better health insurance, better daily routines(yoga is phenomenal for keeping your body healthy for high intensity shifts), and especially better hydration.

  2. Chuck said:

    Dec 03, 10 at 9:49 am

    I know, I read it. 🙂 I did want to save a bit for y’all and not synopsize the whole thing!

    The yoga is a great idea — have any of our other readers had success with that? Chime in!

  3. Norma V said:

    Dec 14, 10 at 4:36 am

    I was a bar tender for close to forty years and have experienced shoulder, elbow and wrist problems. These were mostly due to opening wine and champagne bottles as I did not prepare cocktails. The standing for long period, however, has proved beneficial as I attend a lot of live music and up until I had hip surgery,(the result of an accident, not my employment), was able to stand for far longer than younger friends!

  4. Chuck said:

    Dec 14, 10 at 9:16 am

    My nurse sister says that if you’re standing around for work all day, “Get lumbar support!” Very comfortable shoes (all my bartender friends say this is a must) and rubber mats behind the bar help a lot, too.