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Bartending - A True Love Story

In Earnest Hemingway’s classic novella ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, the Old Man, Santiago, struggles with a marlin, engaging in a biblical tug of war with the fish before developing a spiritual bond as he attempts to defend his catch from hungry sharks.

You could substitute this story as an allegory for any number of life’s battles that involve 3 parties, two of them respected opponents who are drawn closer by a common enemy. Whilst a stretch and certainly not as poetic, I can manage to squint and see similarities between myself (Santiago), bartending (the marlin) and a ‘proper career’ (the sharks).

At first there was love. The whirlwind love of youth, when everything is exciting, fresh and infinite possibility exists. Kings Cross was still alive, and the mirage of a small bars licence was beginning to take the solid form of an oasis. The nights were long, the work hard, the parties wild. We were in the trenches with luminaries who would go on to have their names up in lights in years to come, but then they were just our co-workers, our friends. It was the beginning of the second Golden Age of Bartending but we didn’t know it then.

Each night I sailed out to do battle with my profession, the joy and elation wrapped up in the pace, instant gratification from happy guests and the fun we were having intrinsically linked to the stress on our bodies and minds.

The sharks were circling. My degree almost finished, my mind started drifting to days when the sun didn’t rise as I climbed into bed, when fast nights ensured lethargic mornings, the excitement of the catch to be substituted by a slow descent into corporate oblivion.

I stayed tethered to the industry even as I pursued avenues outside of bartending, the sharks offering the promise of salvation from the untethering of my bonds; corporate cards, lunch meetings, a 9-5 lifestyle to fit in with my ‘normal’ friends. But something about it felt hollow, lacking in those connections that are only built in the third space, that endure and seep into our lives and shape us.

The pull too great, I stepped back into hotels, bartending expanding to include all facets of hospitality, the marlin expanding to the sea. I was left with the bones. They’ve been with me ever since.

It's a hard profession at times, full of the ups and downs that leave you both crying in a shower and floating an inch above the ground. But at its heart it is a deeply rewarding one, one that no matter how much I tried to pull away from I found that I couldn’t, nor did I want to.

This World Bartender Day, whether you’re picking up your first bottle to pour a gin and tonic or winning awards on a global stage, let’s all reflect and celebrate what may not be the oldest profession, but in my eyes at least certainly is the best.