I NEVER thought I’d be a bartender. Waitress, maybe. Cook, probably. Bartender? Hard to imagine. But here I am, almost six months into the job and I as I prepare for my transition into something else, I think I am going to miss it. Though working at the Lark isn’t like working at Bourbon and Branch in SF (an uber trendy cocktail bar) or Fishco in Providence (the most stereotypical college bar you can imagine) I still make cocktails and serve University students– just on a different scale. What’s more, I talk about whisky. For hours. And I put together cheese platters and play barista. My cappuccino is hit or miss but I can make a mean long black and flat white (people have even told me so). I would hate to forget some of the funny stories that I have experienced but I would hate even more to revert back to my old mindset about the service industry when I go back to the US. Tending bar is hard work.
A typical day at the Lark starts off by serving regulars their specific beverages when they escape from work for a quick pick-me-up. Sheila needs an ashtray with her long black, Jerrard wants his skinny latte extra hot and in a mug, Louise wants a cappuccino and a “taste of the cask strength whisky” (as if she’s forgotten what it tastes like from yesterday) and Russel cuts to the chase with a pint of pilsner. Rod has the same meal every day and likes his special table next to the bar to be ready when he arrives. I greet him at 10:15 am with a glass of Pinot Gris and I start making his Ploughman’s lunch with bread instead of crackers. By the time lunch is made, he’s ready for his second glass of wine. He likes to read the local newspaper and will often fill me in on international news that I gather he read at breakfast because The Mercury certainly doesn’t report anything beyond Hobart news. After his lunch I bring him a long black and ask what sort of whisky he’s in the mood for. Rod takes a look at the back shelf and chooses one he hasn’t tried in a while. When I asked him what he’s planning to do when he retires in a few weeks he says that he just bought 1001 Whiskies to Drink Before You Die so he has his work cut out for him. Since he’s been coming to the Lark daily with this routine for over a decade, I imagine he already has a pretty good head-start. He goes back to work at about 11 am after another round of coffee and a second whisky.
The afternoons at the Lark typically involve whisky tastings with tourists who come to the Lark specifically for the single malt experience. We pour the Lark range and educate them about why they might think the 46% is sweeter than the 43% (more of the Port finish coming through) and what kind of barley is used for the malt (brewers barely which is known for being particularly rich and oily). At two-thirty we do a daily guided tasting that I often lead: an hour of drinking that includes whisky history and an explanation of the distillation process. The first time I pulled off the tour by myself I couldn’t believe that I had just filled sixty minutes talking about whisky to a group of eight people who supposedly drink single malts regularly. I wondered if they could see right through me or if I was successful at making myself seem like an expert. Now I know that most people know nothing and I have enough personal anecdotes from various conversations with the other Lark staff and tasting notes from helping myself to the top shelf to speak with authority.
I cringe when someone asks for “our best Scotch.” Only the Scotch make Scotch– it’s a terroir thing. And the “best” is personal. As far as I am concerned, tasting notes and ratings are silly. You like what you like. It just so happens that you’ll probably like our most expensive bottle the most. I roll my eyes when bogans come in for a Lark whisky and coke. Why?! And I put on my fake smile when a woman looks at me and says, “oh I don’t like that stuff. Whisky is a man’s drink,” as if she wants to share a bond with a fellow woman who understands. Really? I love whisky.
Thursday through Saturday at the Lark get a bit hectic. Working those night shifts is the closest I ever want to get to a rowdy student bar. I’ve had nights where I come home stinking of beer, dripping in sweat and exhausted from hustling so much. When you’re slammed behind the bar it’s like being on a timed cooking show. You have to move FAST and everyone is watching. The best thing about being behind the bar though is that when it does get busy, I decide who I want to make eye contact with and NO ONE gets to come into my zone. This gives me more respect for waitresses than I have ever had because for their line of service, they move into the customer’s turf. A waitress has to wait patiently for a customer’s conversation to hit a lull before jumping in. A bartender is licensed for cut right through the chatter. You are waiting on me. Do you want a drink? Yes? Great.
I am so thankful for the team of Lark bartenders that I work with. I think I hit the jackpot with a crew of smart, funny and knowledgable servers. Most of them have been in the industry for years and have taught me everything by leading a good example. Michael can crack a joke in even the most stressful moments and we always have a good time together behind the bar. The mumblings about jackass customers that come quietly out of Kris’ mouth keep a smile on my face because I know I am on the inside. Rob has an encyclopedic knowledge of whisky that I can always count on for a top shelf suggestion. John keeps the place flowing as the resident tidier-upper. Ben is a doll (read: easy on the eyes) and though Bex can be a drill sergeant at times, if I want to stand in the back and clean dishes without any people interaction for a bit, I can count on her to talk with customers for ages so I don’t have to.
The place is quirky, that’s for sure. Lots of the equipment is old and falling apart. Many of the customers are old and falling apart as well. The playlist drives me crazy because it’s been on repeat for the entire time I have worked there. And mopping at the end of a long night is my least favorite thing to do. But I’ve never felt like I have earned my paycheck as much as I do when I am tending bar. And I will never refer to my future job as a “real job.” This is as real as it gets.