Confessions of a DC Bartender


It’s 2 a.m. and you’ve just stumbled out of a bar with a dude sporting jorts, a doo-rag, and three teeth. The good news: You’ll never remember diving tongue and hand first to third base with him as you turned a dining room into a makeshift dance floor. The bad news: I will never forget it. Ever. Not even when you reappear in seven days, scrubbed clean and without beer goggles… your name will forever be Sloppy McGross and you will live in infamy.

Who am I? The bartender. I’ve slung drinks at some of DC’s best bars, hottest events, and most exclusive parties. I know how to do it on the rocks, on the beach, with virgins, and just about every which way one can take down a toddy, ‘tini, or LI tea. I like you. Or, at least I did, until you took a wrong turn on your path to inebriation. So, in an effort to help you save face on your next evening on the town, I offer you these insider secrets.

How to get a bartender’s attention:

One method is to wave wildly while walking to the bar whistling, and then promptly grab the person who’s about to serve you by the wrist/shoulder/boob right before shoving money in her face/down her bra. Another method is to do the exact opposite and wait patiently, smile, and be polite. Guess which one works better?

How to order a drink:

First of all, know what you want. Rather, know what you, your girlfriend, husband, parents, siblings, and guys you’ve just offered to buy drinks for want… before it’s your turn to order. There are menus for you to peruse in the case of cocktails, wine and bottled beer, and big, shiny, plastic taps doing drink-me dances in front of your face. Please acknowledge their existence—it would crush them to know you didn’t even consider looking after all that work they put in.

I also recommend having your card and/or cash out and ready to pay once you’ve received your drinks. It speeds things along, which, in the Rube Goldberg machine of life, ultimately means you’ll be served faster.

How to ensure speedy service:

Order beer. If you don’t know what you want—and who can blame you when picking from a list of, say, 30 specialty cocktails—a cold brew is a great way to start out your night and keep yourself occupied until you decipher what a Nice Blue Coat Derby Cobbler is.

How to impress your company:

-Take charge of the situation.
-Take orders before leaving the table.
-Pass out drinks (women first).
-Pay for the first round.

How to impress the bartender:

Despite what your bartender will make you think, you are not, nor will you ever be in charge of the situation. So…
-Say please and thank you.
-Tip reasonably (that means do it, but don’t overdo it—it usually won’t buy you a drink from us)
-If and only if the bar is empty enough, engage in conversation.

How to become a regular:

See above, add a dash of conversation, and lots and lots of visits to the bar. That’s how you become a regular. Regulars easily become friends. I’ve become real friends with a few of my regulars. If you enjoy spending time with a particular bartender, ask when he or she’s working and choose to imbibe on those nights. Note: If the bartender seems slightly standoffish or responds with, “Uh… my schedule changes,” I recommend not becoming one of his or her regulars as they likely think you’re creepy.

How to be made fun of by the bartender:

Order anything from the following list:
-Long Island Iced Tea
-Virgin Margarita
-Anything with sour
-Disaronno on the rocks
-A bloody mary at night
-Shooters that your fraternity/sorority created

How to sound like you know what you’re talking about:

There’s one very important point to remember when talking to bartenders about booze: Unless you are a distiller, sommelier, or owner of DC Brau, they know more about it than you do. Trust me. You may enjoy sipping single malts at night or tossing back some cold ones— maybe you’ve been to a few tastings or had a long conversation with the winemaker from Walla Walla—but our livelihood (read: life) is booze. A small fraction of my education has included wine college and advanced tequila courses. I’ve even completed required reading on the history of cocktails, spirits, wine, technique and mixology. Of the many years that I’ve worked behind the bar, only a few have been as a full-time bartender. That’s because in a city like DC where more people choose to tend bar as a career than a hobby, bartenders are generally consummate professionals. That said, they also love booze and would love to share their insider knowledge with you. So if you want to learn, listen. Of course, add your own say to the conversation as well, but don’t start barking about everything you think you know.

How to pick up someone from the opposite sex:

Guys: Make eye contact, crack a joke, buy the girl a drink, and for heavens sake, keep the conversation going. There’s nothing worse than seeing a dude approach a girl and having her taken away by not talking while another guy swoops in for the kill.

Girls: Talk sports.

How to pick up the bartender:

This, my readers, is a tricky endeavor. As a blonde, female bartender with access to endless amounts of booze, I get hit on fairly frequently. Chances are I’ve already heard that pick-up line you’re about to spit out twice—tonight. Instead, try beginning a conversation (thought not if the bar’s mobbed—see above). It can be about anything, really, but remember, your server is there for a reason and that, more than anything else, it’s because she has the extroverted personality and sense of humor to deal with the array of people that come to the bar, and the drunken version of them. She’s been listening to a lot of customers all day, so be a breath of fresh air and complement her hair.

How to exit gracefully:

Drunk or not, there are a few basic rules. Remember to tip. Take your credit card. Say thank you. And leave. Through the door.

How to get thrown out:

You should know off the bat that bouncers live for throwing people out—the more violent, the more fun. So beside the obvious (no fighting, being unruly toward women, stealing booze), here are a few definite no-nos:
-Talk of politics or religion. Ever.
-Sex in the champagne room (just kidding, you can have sex in the champagne room).
-Sex in the middle/corner of the bar (that one’s for real).
-Changing the channel if the remote is anywhere near you. (I am not afraid to hit a dude.)
-Bringing in the bartender’s ex.

Bonus: How to act classy when there’s an open bar:

I know you probably paid a hefty sum to get into said open bar, but with everyone clamoring for drinks, how do you ever plan on getting one for yourself? Throw the bartender a $20 at the beginning of the night, with a quip along the lines of, “I just want to make sure I tip you for the night.” Then proceed to get hammered. Your face will be remembered and you will be served before just about everyone else. Well, except the guy who threw the bartender a $50.

  • Emily

    This makes me want to be a bartender. Fabulous article. Great tip re: open bars.

  • mathew

    So… jorts are a good thing?

  • Kristy

    Wow. Full of yourself much?

    • KristyII

      Wow. You full of yourself much… much? 

    • JonB

      Makes you wonder if one of those people she’s talking about is you.

  • Mo

    wow. someone should tell you, because it is apparent you are quite unaware, that you are not a celebrity.  you sling drinks.  if you moved to europe, you’d have about as the same pay (and ego) as your barback.  i’m a polite patron who knows how to order a drink and tips well, but even if i didn’t, i still pay your rent. 

    • Kara

      Gee, Mo. You pay taxes too. Do you use that last line on meter maids?

    • Michellejames

      If you’re not tipping, you’re not paying anyones rent

  • Know-La

    As a long time barback/bartender/security working in New Orleans (the kings of the drunks) I find this article should be required reading before you are even allowed into a bar. Most drunk people don’t know how to act unless they have worked in the service industry. Mo is a baby and Kara sounds like she gets kicked out of bars a lot. Great article.

  • GJ


  • Joel Mann

    Bar Time 101!! This is a great article and should be placed on everyone’s page who is in the biz!!

  • AshleySwagz

    This is a great article. It’s hilarious how all the critics are offended b/c either 1) they were that “guy” 2) never waited a table or bar in their life or 3) religious jort wearers.