“Hey! I wanna recruit you for something!”
It was back in January. I was at Rob Roy in Seattle, one of my favorite bars anywhere. My friend Jim Romdall, bartender extraordinaire at Vessel (which closed after it lost its lease, to reopen in a better location this summer) was guest-bartending. My friend Rocky Yeh, bon vivant and force of nature, was barbacking with him (as was the usual team effort on Mondays at Vessel). Jim had been making us fantastic drinks all night until closing, and at one point Rocky approached me with a proposal.
“Sure, what did you have in mind?” I said.
“Jim and I are going to be doing a little tour down the West Coast, stopping in bars and doing a little competition. We want knowledgeable booze people who aren’t professional bartenders to barback for us, and we want you. What do you say?”
What else could I say? “I’m in!” This sounded like a lot of fun.
Word of advice, though — be careful what you agree to after six cocktails!
A barback, in case someone you aren’t aware of the term, is a bartender’s assistant. Making sure the bartender has everything he or she needs, keeping the ice bin filled, keeping fresh bottles of booze coming, washing barware, fetching eggs, cleaning, helping with taking orders … whatever needs to be done to make the bartender’s job easier, and making sure he or she doesn’t have to take more than one step away from their station to get a drink made. Speed is of the essence, especially on a busy night. This is what the participants in the Pro-Am and I would be doing. If nothing else, I would also probably hold the title of World’s Oldest Barback.
Word of advice to iPhone and iPad users — the iOS built-in autocorrect always wants to change the word “barback” to “bareback.” Keep an eye on this, or else it could get embarrassing.
As the date of this thing approached and I hadn’t heard anything, I called Rocky and he tossed some dates at me. I managed to get my schedule open that week so that either of the dates he mentioned would be available, and then he emailed me a little electronic flier that described the event in more detail.
“Amateur mixologists” were being sought! Okay, I resemble that remark. “The challenge is part of a mini-series to be shown on the Small Screen Network.”
Uh. What? (And what’s with the dead suckling pigs?)
“I could have sworn I mentioned that to you,” said Rocky after I had my first minor panic attack. I swore up and down he didn’t, “This is the FIRST I’ve heard of it!” I cried, but he almost certainly did at the time. Remember that six cocktails thing.
Here’s the thing. I hate being on camera. Hate hate hate. “Camera-shy” doesn’t even begin to describe it, if the camera takes moving pictures. I may be one of the only people in America who has on his bucket list never to be on TV in any way, shape or form. I was once approached to see if I was interested in participating in a reality show. “Does it involve me being on TV? Then no.”
“C’mon, it’s the Small Screen Network — you know those guys,” Rocky said, full of encouragement. “It’ll be great. You’ll be fine. Just relax. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
I began to think of what kind of bullshit story I could tell my doctor to get him to prescribe me some tranquilizers.
I actually had a major panic attack (not a clinical one, just a Chuck panic attack) the night before, which left me feeling sheepish the next day. “We’re your friends,” said Jim. “You should trust us.” They are, and I do … but after hearing tales of the way the Barback Pro-Am went the night before with the previous victim, I was still a bit wary.
Y’know what, though? It was a lot of fun. (Once I put my foot down and said no, I won’t be doing a dozen shots over the course of the night.) It was actually the first time I’d been behind a working bar doing actual work, and it felt great. Granted, I wasn’t really mixing any customers’ drinks (although I did get to make a Blue Blazer!) and the bar wasn’t as busy as I would have liked, it was still a terrific night. Well, except for when I decided to run. More on that later.
My episode of the series is probably going up within the next week, and I had meant to be posting these all along, but Jazzfest and Houston travel combined with my own absentmindedness and procrastination delayed us until now. Better late than never!
Jim did a fantastic specialty cocktail menu for all the Barback Pro-Am stops, and we’ll be featuring a cocktail along with each video — the cocktails are on the Small Screen Network site along with the videos, but I want to get ‘em in our database here as well.
Jim is a passionate lover of Ardbeg whisky, and sometimes seems to think that the crowning touch on any drink is the Ardbeg float. In fact, you can follow him @ardbegfloat on Twitter. This is a lovely Martini — a little bit of sweetness from the Dolin blanc, and a touch of smoke from the Ardbeg.
by Jim Romdall, Vessel, Seattle
1-3/4 oz Hendrick’s Gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth (Dolin dry or Noilly Prat Original)
1/4 oz blanc vermouth (Dolin blanc or Cinzano bianco)
1 dash Ardbeg scotch whisky
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lime twist.