Monday, 5 March 2018

Soft & Low

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

There are no hardhats, steel toes, safety goggles or reflector vests required—not because bartending isn’t hazardous work, but because the physical, mental and emotional hazards are subtle. 

At least once we’ve all been three deep at the bar and caught a thumb with a serrated knife drenched in lime juice. Inevitably it happens directly over the well and at that moment when it would be least appropriate to explode in a stream of all the words we weren’t taught as children. We keep straight faces. We smile. We gesture to the barback for a bandage or a roll of duct tape and a bucket of ice and a fresh ice well while smiling and chatting to the bar reviewer who showed up during a Friday night peak. All the while, we’re remembering the inventory is due at the end of the shift and we’ve got visitors dropping in at closing time and the ice well is filling with blood and toward the back of the bar a drunken hen party is stuffing all the expensive new electric candles into their purses, the ones you barely squeezed into the budget. 

Stress. The world doesn’t realise bartenders face stress. Many bartenders are unaware of it, even some of the ones feeling it the most, and most affected by it. Does it matter? Perhaps not in the short run, but the three most common causes of death: heart disease, stroke and cancer all include stress as a major contributing factor. 

For bartenders there are additional dangers from stress. Primary among them is substance abuse. Alcohol is the obvious danger. It is all around us. Customers buy us shots. We buy customers shots and they expect us to drink with them. Drinking is part of the job. Moderation is up to us and incredibly challenging. 

While the prevailing cure for alcoholism is complete abstinence (and for some this is the only possible cure) for many it is possible to exercise self-control once the problem or potential problem is recognised. 

Other more addictive and illegal substances should generally be avoided. Bartending is a profession. Cocaine and other class A drugs have ruined countless careers and lives. Those highs are simply not worth the risk.

If you or someone close to you has issues with substance abuse, it is worth investigating the root cause by going to (or encouraging the person) to visit a therapist. All too frequently, this abuse is self-medication in an attempt to cure underlying emotional issues. Once the root is treated, the remedy loses its urgency. 

Beyond substances, there are less visible forms of self abuse and other hidden addictions that can harm us in the long run—even the pursuit of good health. Beware of workout programs that do damage to your body. You can get a massive endorphin release in the gym or on a run but if you are risking your ligaments and rotator cuffs you are not actually improving your overall health. Again, bartending is a profession. It is one of the best professions in the world. Take care of yourself now and always and you extend your professional life, and the party keeps going.

“Everything in moderation,” said British author and bon vivant Oscar Wilde, “including moderation."

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