Looking at the long game
In a line of work where partying is part of the game, is there a point when enough is enough? Haley Forest spoke to some lifelong industry luminaries who are recognizing the long term effects in a lifestyle of excess and how to guide the next generation towards a more balanced life.
To many young bartenders (and several ones old enough to know better) a common night off duty involves copious amounts of shots, a never ending stream of strong drinks, and a party that goes on way past a reasonable bedtime. They grew up watching their mentors do the same dance and believed that it was tradition to live to excess; it was part of the persona and lifestyle of real bartenders – after all, they drank for a living. Thankfully, some industry professionals have woken up, smelled the green tea, and decided to help bring balance to our crazy, frequently alcohol intensified lives.
Healthy mind = healthy body.
Dushan Zaric, of notorious NYC party bar Employees Only and spirit company The 86 & Co, spends part of his time helping the next wave of bartenders find a better balance both physically and mentally. Many have seen him give presentations at various international bar shows expounding the importance of keeping your head level while on shift and how this effects your entire being.
“I’m looking at working a shift without getting upset,” Dushan says. “I train people in hospitality. I think of it as tools to survive the week, the month, a career.”
At Tales Of The Cocktail this year, along with Patricia Richards and Natalie Bovis, Dushan lead a three morning series called “Keeping It Real: Mind, Body, Spirit(s),” all centered around helping industry folk stay at their best while enduring, not to mention enjoying, the rigors of life in the modern booze circus. “It’s a different situation than 10 to 15 years ago.” says Zaric.
“Bartenders are now making a conscious choice to do this as professionals, and have to be counted on to travel to bar shows, guest shifts, and camps. Without the tools – the physical and psychological resources – the stress can become overwhelming. I wanted people to hear how someone, like Dale DeGroff, survived decades! I wanted people to know what worked and what didn’t. I’m not expecting them to turn into yogi, but giving them information to have an intelligent choice.”
A different kind of brand trip
Leading the charge is Claire Smith, Head of Spirit Creation and Mixology over at Belvedere Vodka. Last year, she flew a dozen industry professionals to Ibiza for a brand trip unlike any before. Instead of informational “tastings” and “respectable” dinners followed by “a couple” drinks, the group did yoga, cycled, learned nutrition tips, and day-to-day techniques for balanced life amongst all the booze, late nights behind the stick, and general life in the fast lane. This isn’t to say alcohol was off limits, but the drinks were light on the sugar plus had revitalizing elements like kale and beetroot thrown in.
Claire has continued to strive to open colleagues eyes to what we blindly see every day: The lifestyle of excess is not conducive to an extended stay in this industry. Again, this year she held another Belvedere Boot Camp as well as took part in a seminar at Tales of the Cocktail debating the effects of sugar and where it hides behind the bar. This multi-angled approach on how to balance out the accelerated lifestyle is a starting point we can hope to see continue.
All about the long game
At the end of the day, people are drawn to the hospitality industry for a number of reasons, least of which is the perceived grandiose lifestyle that comes with it. This is an incredibly exhilarating line of work, but one that has the potential to destroy both the body and the mind without proper care. With the rise of awareness through realistic, targeted seminars and general community responsibility, hopefully we as an industry can avoid any further tragedies and continue to advance towards greatness. The future of the craft might just rely on a couple extra glasses of water, a bit more sleep, and maybe a couple less drinks. This is pretty much the best life ever, and the chosen few get paid to do it, so let’s make sure that our community can for a long time to come.