I was born in Oakland, California, when at the age of 3 my parents moved my family to Europe. Although I have lived on every continent, but Antarctica, I will always call San Francisco home.
The bug to live abroad took me to many countries, but it was my internship in Tokyo that first put me behind a bar, My Japanese internship didn’t pay, so a few coworkers took me to the busiest nightclub in Roppongi, the club district of Tokyo, where I got the courage to ask for a cocktail serving position. I started the next day. This vodka-soda kinda bar had one rule - you MUST have a drink in your hand to stay there! I spent my night tapping empty-handed dancers, pointing a flashlight to my chest where a laminated sign in six languages had the “menu”.
A month or so later I had an accident that left my arm with third degree burns and had to miss a week of work. My return was during the hottest week that summer. My bandaged arm started to bother me, so I removed my wrap and continued with my shoulder taps. To this day I will always hate Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”: as it played, people started jumping around and some guy spilled his drink on my arm, misunderstanding my screams of pain, he took the back of his hand and graciously wiped the drink away, along with my blisters. This was the first time I ever kicked someone out of a bar. I immediately went behind the bar to tend to my arm, as it was during the busy time of night, I started helping making drinks. Upon my return to work, I found my sign was replaced with an apron and I had my first bartending gig!
I will answer this with a letter to my younger self:
Keli, as much as it pains me to say, you will never be one of those bartenders, you know the ones, so save yourself a few years and a few more horrible two day hangovers and make your own path. Embrace your strengths, don’t worry about missing out on things, if they don’t know who you are - that’s their loss, not yours. You will never be too old to follow your dreams. Bring others up with you, remember Miles Davis - “surround yourself with greatness and you’ll always look good”. Listen more than you talk. You don’t have to finish every drink. You will learn all you need to know about recipes, techniques and day to day operations over time, most importantly, geek out about everything, wear your heart on your sleeve, make everything count, be sincere, be gracious, always be kind.
my favorite quote
If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs.