Not all bars are created equal.
When stepping into a new workspace for the first time, bartenders will hope for a large speed rail with enough room for all signature cocktail ingredients. They’ll hope for one ice well per bartender, and a sink next to every station for quickly washing shakers. Personally, I always hope for one of these handy glass rinsers. But we can’t have everything we want. Space constraints, novice designers and financial issues often lead to bar designs that, upon first glance, will look nearly unworkable. But if we let difficult design determine whether we keep or leave a job, trust me, there wouldn’t be so many bartenders in the world.
For problems of functionality, savvy bartenders have come up with workarounds that allow them to do their jobs quickly and efficiently, despite constraints of the space.
Problem #1: Small speed rail or back bar
Solution: Pre-batch cocktails.
Amanda Van Nostrand, a bartender at Camperdown Elm in Park Slope, Brooklyn recommends batching in an effort to save time and room. One mixed drink might have as many as five or six ingredients depending on the intensity of the cocktail program. Keeping each ingredient in a separate bottle in your speed rail is sometimes just not possible. Instead, mix large batches of your most popular cocktails before service, so when an order comes in, all you have to do is pour, shake and serve.
And if batching isn’t your speed, transferring some spirits from large 1 liter bottles to smaller bottles, sometimes called “cheaters,” will help save workspace.
Problem #2: Not enough storage behind the bar
Solution: Rethink the use of your space.
“I declutter as much as possible because often unworkable spaces can gain a lot more functionality by minimizing and rearranging,” said Jessica Dawn, a bartender at the Hive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “This can be as simple as clearing out some shelf space, switching out bulky cheater bottles with smaller, uniform ones, or moving rarely used items to a different shelf or area.”
Problem #3: No dump sink for shakers and used glasses.
Solution: Make a dump bucket.
Dumping glasses and shakers with muddled herbs and used garnishes into the sink can lead to clogs, fruit flies, and unsanitary workspaces. The best solution for this issue is to find an old kitchen strainer, and place it in a bucket, or directly in a sink, if your bar sink has multiple compartments. Here you can dump ice, used garnishes, straws, and anything else that might muddy your waters. If you don’t have a strainer available, you can always dump directly into the bucket and strain later, creating some potential art along the way.
Every bartender is different, so things that work for some won’t work for others. But the most important thing is to make it work for you. Just because a design looks impossible at first doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions. You just have to think outside the box — or in this case, bar.