P(our) Symposium 2019: Jeffrey Morgenthaler wants you to stay behind the bar

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

19 July 2019

What should an award-winning bartender, respected drinks journalist and author and all-round good person do once they’ve been named Best Bartender in America, and had their second book published?

Jeffrey Morgenthaler
Jeffrey Morgenthaler

For Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the choice was clear: carry on working behind the bar. The manager of Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko in Portland, Oregon has been behind the stick for 23 years, and he has no plans to quit any time soon. And yet, as he lamented in his talk at this year’s P(our) Symposium, the industry is suffering a leeching of talent. Here’s an abridged version of what he had to say on the matter…

‘When I started working in bars, they weren’t really very nice. They were places that you’d go to get drunk and pick someone up. Then in the States there was the craft brewing thing, then there was the Martini craze, and then the cocktail trend happened over the last 10-15 years. Now people will visit a bar for a bartender. It’s a very weird switch to be the focus of attention.

‘Today there is a lot of truth in the fact that people are sort of searching for fame. There are articles on “How to up your cocktail game on Instagram”, that sort of thing.

‘I come from a place where I did what I did to get here because I wanted to contribute. I shared recipes and techniques and things that I had learned online because I love what I do, and I love sharing with bartenders and giving back.

We need you to stay behind the bar so badly, you’ve all got a tremendous voice

Jeffrey Morgenthaler

‘But we see [Instagram accounts] today, it’s morphed into this strange kind of stuff, pretty pictures without much content. It’s a lot of really sexy pics of cocktails that doesn’t reach out and touch anyone in our industry.

‘A bartender’s least favourite question is “What’s your real job?” However, if you ask those same bartenders where they see themselves in five years, not enough say "Right here behind the bar".

‘Success has been redefined for the industry, when you see excellent people like Simon Ford go from being a bartender to a renowned global brand ambassador to setting up your own drinks company that they gets bought.

‘This sends a message that in order to be a success in the bar industry, you need to get out from behind the bar.

‘There’s a narrative about tending bar that’s pervasive in our industry. There’s a lot of myths to debunk:

  1. It’s physically impossible to tend bar for more than 10 years. I’ve been doing this for 23 years. I don’t feel… great. But I don’t feel like I’m dying.
  2. You can’t have meaningful, loving relationships if you’re a bartender. I’ve got nine staff. Two of them are married, one of them is engaged, I’m going to marry the love of my life… everyone is in a long-term, healthy relationship. It’s not impossible.
  3. That you have to be the best bartender in the world every single night, or just get the fuck out. I have bad nights, I have really good nights.
  4. You can’t do all that other stuff like write books and be on TV if you’re behind the bar. That’s fucking horseshit. Because I’ve done it all. What drives me is I want to contribute. I don’t think that contributing for the industry happens at the hour-long gin masterclass that you’ve given for your brand. Contributing happens in these moments where you connect with people and your staff. Who gives a shit about flying to Singapore and doing a guest shift?

‘I would encourage all of you to stay behind the bar, and share your knowledge, your experiences, your time.We need you to stay behind the bar so badly, you’ve all got a tremendous voice.’ 

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