When Team Spirit Ends: Bartender Thieves
We call it the global family, with people who understand each other beyond what our own blood relatives might. There is however, a rarely spoken of darker edge where people look out only for themselves and prized possessions seem to grow legs. Haley Forest looked into those who have loved and lost.
We all like to say the bar industry is filled with amazing people who genuinely care for one another. It’s a big family where we are not only accepted, but welcomed with all our quirks, obsessive compulsiveness, and strange passions intact and we feel so damned lucky to be part of it. We pour years of our lives, plus many of our hard earned paychecks into building this community, showing the world it is a real profession, while ultimately supporting ourselves through something we love. Yet, it’s not always hearts and rainbows in the land of booze. Speak to any bartender who has moved jobs a couple times, worked industry events, or even hosted industry parties, and you’ll find stories of equipment, kit, and even personal belongings going missing, when they were supposedly surrounded by their trustworthy industry family.
Safety in Numbers
One might think that being involved in a massive industry event would be the safest environment; everyone is part of the same world, working towards the same goal, so why would you think to have to watch your back?
Anyone who visited Bar Convent Berlin in the last several years has partaken in the hospitality of the Amano Bar and it’s then bar manager, Phillip Bischoff. He told us about the aftermath of a party three years ago: “Some of our guests took around 25 silver julep cups in one night where we served at least 300 people the night before BCB. The next evening, although we had plenty of them, we didn’t have enough to serve all the drinks.” With BCB becoming a leading European – if not global – event, pulling in the crème de la crème of the bar world, it is slightly shocking to think that such esteemed visitors would resort to petty thievery. Everyone wants a souvenir, but at what cost to the original owner? Some might claim that it’s part of the game of running a bar, but you never expect “one of your own” to be doing the taking.
“Bartenders can be like magpies,” says Tiarnan O’Hare, group Head Bartender for the London Cocktail Company. “They see something shiny and think ‘I want that!’ It doesn’t always compute that it belongs to someone, or that they already have several similar.”
After Imbibe Live! a few years ago, renowned bar Trailer Happiness in London opened it’s doors to their friends who had descended upon the city to network, learn and celebrate life in the bar industry. William Pineapple, now in New York at The Suffolk Arms, was on shift. “Both of my jiggers went that night. One was replaceable, the other had sentimental value. Someone in the industry took them; it’s heart breaking.”
There may be a lucky few out there who never experienced things disappearing, who say this is the behavior of amateurs, newcomers not worthy of being part of the global family, who can’t understand what it even means. Unfortunately these evaporations happen even at small intimate events, where everyone is surely clued in. When Rematch, a speed competition run by bartenders, was recently held at Red House in Paris, someone literally walked away with their tip jar, which begs the question: Is nothing sacred?
Part of the Game
It is a complicated problem, however. Some people blame themselves, or say that it’ a byproduct of working closely with alcohol, making allowances for poor behavior.
Jörg Meyer, long time hospitality veteran and owner of The Boilerman Bar and Le Lion in Hamburg, worked an event with the Traveling Mixologist group. While equipment went missing, Jörg wasn’t overly concerned. “It was a construction site with many open entrances. It took us three days just to clean the mess – I lost a few thousand Euro but the only person responsible for that was me. We had a great party.”
Some bartenders are first trained in bars that can be trashed and reset everyday – and while there is a valid place for those venues – could it become ingrained that a good time inevitably means a messy one, consisting of broken glasses, missing gear, and plenty of sticky surfaces? Or, is it really just a case of bartenders “being forgetful,” misplacing things and only realizing afterwards, especially when doing guest shifts and seminars, when you finish and want to join the fun as quickly as possible.
“In my experience bartenders on stage are like strippers,” says Timo Janse, long time head bartender at Amsterdam’s Door-74. “We come on dressed all nice, but after the show there is that slightly degrading moment of grabbing all of your clothes (things) from stage again. This is where things get lost, as you want to spend as least time there as possible. I just scratch it off as a job hazard.”
The biggest question is, who is the bartender taking these things; who steals the Meehan bags, vintage jiggers, and specialty bar-blades? Is there an inherent darker side to the personalities of those drawn to the bar trade or is it just a product of many years of less than ideal pay, leaving budding staff to cover kit and paraphernalia but without the means to buy it themselves. We’re an industrious bunch, but when is enough, enough?