The working writer’s life is shockingly dull. So I’m not going to talk about it. Instead, I’ll use this space to offer transcriptions of amusing, interesting and/or useful documents that I come across in the process of researching whatever the hell it is I’m researching at the time.
For my inaugural post, here are some useful fashion tips for bartenders from the Syracuse Daily Courier, June 1, 1884. The article is, alas, unsigned. I’ve monkeyed a little with the punctuation and taken a couple of guesses at illegible words. I haven’t monkeyed too much, though, lest I step on the original author’s pure Drunkistani.
I’m sure somebody out there must have a good line on bear grease. If so, help a brother out?
The Fashion in Bar Tenders
Wherein the Modern Mixer of Drinks Differs from the One of Twenty Years Ago
A man with a highly colored face, bloodshot eyes, a large moustache, and frayed linen leaned against the bar of a prominent downtown saloon yesterday and conversed with the proprietor of the place in an easy and confidential tone. He was evidently a man who was familiar with the surroundings and atmosphere of the great American barroom. Though his attire was careless, he looked like a man of considerable means, and was evidently well known in the place, for he bowed to every man who came in.
“I observe,” he said blandly to the proprietor, “that you have introduced the latest style of bartender here.”
“I don’t know much about the style,” said the proprietor carelessly. “They’re neat enough young fellows, and most of them are thrifty. I have five of them in all and none of them drink behind the bar. I believe several of them save a good share of their earnings, and they all dress better than I do. I suppose you have seen them Sundays upon the avenue, and if you have, you have seen some rolling swells. Still, I don’t know that there is any particular fashion about them as bartenders.”
“That is where you make a mistake,” said the man who leaned gracefully against the bar and toyed lovingly with the sugar in the bottom of his glass of whiskey. “There is as much fashion in bartending as there is in spring hats. I am surprised that a man in your position of the world of gin is not more acquainted with it. For instance, a fashionable bartender now weighs about 145 pounds, stands perfectly erect, and is clean shaven with the exception of a small, curled, blond moustache. It is of course possible for him to be reasonably fashionable with a black moustache but the blondes are just now the go. He should wear a standing collar, a light tie, a small tight-fitting and scrupulously clean jacket and snow white apron. The best of them do not wear rings when they are behind the bar, and they mix drinks daintily. If it is necessary to put a strawberry or a slice of lemon, a bit of orange or pineapple into a punch lemonade, the fashionable bartender puts them in with a small pair of sugar tongs. This is much better than having him grab them with his fingers, as the old style of bartender used to do.
“Dear boy,” said the dissipated habitué lolling gracefully up to the bar and slowly filling his glass up with whiskey, “it is well to treat patrons at the bar with all possible discriminations, and to encourage their appetite by endless touches of delicacy and refinement.”
With which he winked unctuously at the bar tender and slowly poured the whiskey into the cavernous opening immediately beneath his moustache.
“The fact is,” he continued, there is a deep seated admiration in the heart of every American for the bar. The most prosperous barroom in New York is that started by a man up town who came to the conclusion that the café had lost its attractions, and that a Simon pure American bar would catch the trade if it could be made famous. He made it famous by stuffing his barroom with $10,000 pictures and costly bits of bric-a-brac, and he is rapidly reaping the reward,”
“What sort of bartenders were the fashion when you were a boy?” asked the proprietor of the place.
“That was a tolerable remote period,” said the patron of the bar, quizzically, rubbing his chin. “The first bartender I distinctly remember was of the class which was then popular. He was plainly dressed, mixed drinks clumsily, and presided over a bar that would have been thrown out of any first class place nowadays. Gentlemen in those days thought it more or less a reproach to be seen drinking over a public bar; now, “however” [punctuated sic] continued the rounder in a measured tone, “I think it is rather dignifying to be seen budging at all hours of the day. In the early days the proprietor of a liquor store was not the great man that he is today. He was often his own bartender, and and [sic] never disdained to have his wife help him when there was a rush of business. Later on came the fancy bartender. I tell you he was a gorgeous creature, and no mistake. His hair was elaborately parted in the middle and greased with bear’s grease. You’re too young to know what bear’s grease was in those days. It was the greatest grease I ever saw. It shone from afar, and it gave off a pale, but distinct and palpable odor, which [was] considered to have a killing effect upon the girls. When the bartender was properly done up in bear’s grease, with his hair artificially curled and his black moustache waxed at the ends, he was, to the eyes of the barroom loungers, a great and glorious creation. He wore several rings upon his fingers, and the crowning glory of his life was a huge diamond breastpin in the middle of an expansive shirt front. It took the proprietors of the saloons exactly fifteen years to find out how their bartenders managed to save enough out of their meagre salaries to buy diamond pins. Then the bartenders bought them out, and the thing was as clear as day. That was before the introduction of bell punchers, indicators, checks, and other various machines for detecting thefts on the part of the man behind the bar. In those days it was fashionable for bartenders to be black haired, and those who possess light hair dyed their locks a raven black. They mixed drinks with indifferent success. These men in the course of time became too offensive and indifferent. They had their cronies, and they talked sharply to men whom they did not like. In the course of time the Western bartenders made inroads on the Eastern states, and were the rage for several years just about war time. They were quite little men who had made a study of the business of mixing drinks. They knew to a shade what flavor to give it, and never forgot a man’s face. If you went in on the 1st of the month; was pleased with it, and told the bartender that it suited your taste, you could go in at the end of the month, and he’d make a cocktail similar. They introduced lots of fancy drinks, and had all the business of throwing mixed drinks from one glass to another over their heads. The majority of these men have become proprietors by this time, and they have done much to introduce the present bartender, who are the quickest, most dexterous and presentable of their species.
[Transcribed by David Wondrich, 7/10/2010]