Exclusive: Bartenders Reveal How to Drink When You’re Broke as a Joke


Liquor taxes are going up all over the country, just when you’d think the Man would give us a respite and let us booze on the cheap to get over economic woes! Flavorpill asked the peeps on the other side of your Yuengling and Wild Turkey $5 happy hour special what exactly we need to do to keep our habits viable on the dole. We also wanted to know what it takes to become a bartender’s bud. After the jump what a few bartenders in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Miami had to say about keeping your buzz on without breaking your bank.

The Bartenders:

Clockwise: Nell Mellon – Otto’s Shrunken Head, Manhattan; Erica Nieves – Sekai, Miami; Frog Greishaw – Angels and Kings, Chicago; Montana Masback – The Charleston, Brooklyn

Flavorpill: Why do some people seem to get buybacks and comps all the time?

Nell Mellon: It’s at the bartender’s discretion and never a good idea to ask for a buyback. I believe the standard is that about every 4th drink is [a buy back]. However some bars give regulars and neighbors more frequent buybacks. Sometimes the person sitting next to you may also have an affiliation with the bar that you are not aware of or they work there. However, I’m sure if you’ve been ordering and not tipping, you won’t be seeing a free drink anytime soon.

Frog Greishaw: As far as buybacks go at [Angels and Kings], freebies are usually up to the liquor companies. PBR and Absolut have been very generous in donating product to charity nights we hold. Jameson has done two-hour giveaways. I personally can’t comp anything. If I want to buy a drink for someone, I have to put it on my tab so don’t take it personal. But as long as I keep my tab reasonable, ($30 to $40) I don’t have to pay for [comps] so be nice. Most bars around here allow 10 percent of your [cash register] ring as a comp.

Erica Nieves: In Miami it seems like the only people who get hooked up are the people who have an overabundance of money. Our regulars are lawyers and business owners and they are the only ones we’re allowed to discount. The rich stay rich for a reason.

Montana Masback: I give buybacks to people who are tipping well. If you’re on your 4th drink and I’ve only seen a dollar don’t even ask me for a napkin. As far as people who get buybacks all the time they are coworkers, people who are bringing new faces into your establishment and promoting your bar, girls that are there that are keeping dudes drinking, and sometimes just people that are just down right fun adding to the vibe of the night, helping everyone feel welcome.

FP: How do I find out what’s cheap at your bar and not look like a loser?

NM: Some people are uncomfortable asking what’s cheap the same way some don’t haggle at flea markets. Assuming you are not already intoxicated and can see, you can look for a listing of specials written behind/near the bar. Or just ask the bartender what the most “economical” drinks specials are. Everyone has a different budget and that’s OK. I respect a customer who tells me, “All I have is $5. What can I afford and still have a buck left to tip?”

FG: I agree. The best way to find out the cheapest drink is to ask if the bar is having any drink specials. Times are tough right now. You could absolutely say “I want to get as fucked up as possible on a tight budget and still be able to tip you.” No problem.

EN: But if there are any “specials”, beware! The specials usually come with a hangover around here. Flavored Bacardi is the devil!

FP: What’s proper tipping etiquette? Do fancy drinks warrant a larger gratuity?

NM: A dollar per drink had been standard but at some point in the last few years people are starting to recognize that $2 is more reflective of the cost of living increase. With the current economic climate, drinkers are starting to backslide towards $1 again. The more ingredients and work that a drink takes the more you should tip. Anything fancy, Martinis, frozen drinks, etc. should always get at least a $2 tip. You are paying for the bartender’s knowledge, skill and time. The longer it takes to make your drink, that’s 2 or 3 other drinks and tips I’m not able to make because yours is more involved.

FG: Usually a dollar a drink is still a good standard around here. If you run up a giant tab, twenty percent is good. If you order a bunch of high maintenance drinks, don’t be a dick! Tip accordingly! This includes saying to the bartender to “surprise me”, when you order. I have a friend who always says “if I am using a shaker, there better be a better tip in it for me.” If you can’t afford to tip, please, stay at home. We don’t get paid by the hour.

EN: A dollar a drink or 18 to 20% of the total bill. That should cover the fancy drink issue. Consider this: muddling limes and mint is a pain in the ass but if that is the best Mojito you’ve ever tasted please by all means, throw a dog a couple of bones.

MM: Personally, I think it’s better to give a fat tip on the first drink. That tells the bartender this: I know you may not want to be friends with me, but I’m here to drink – or – make sure as soon as I’m done with this beer there is another one ready to go right in front of my face. It puts you in my good graces. That’s around a 5 to 10 dollar tip right off the bat. That will put you ahead by leaps and bounds in any bar.

FP: How small is too small a tip?

NM: If it is in coin form, that’s unacceptable. Please don’t leave a quarter on the bar. It’s insulting and if that’s really all you have left over after buying your drink you need it more than me. It’s better to be the non-tipping jerk than the one that left pocket change.

FG: Yeah pretty much anything involving pocket change sucks.

MM: One Dollar per drink is standard. Anything below that just makes the bartender feel as though you’re an asshole.

FP: How will even get the biggest spender get 86ed at your bar?

NM: Disrespect the bar, the staff or any other patron.

EN: If a customer touches me the wrong way or makes anyone, the guests or staff, feel uncomfortable.

MM: It doesn’t matter whether or not they are a big spender, an asshole is an asshole. Stealing someone’s belongings, bringing in your own booze from somewhere else, being creepy — but I really don’t want to make a list because I’ll miss something and some idiot will come in and say, “But that’s not on your 86ed list, Montana!” You can’t kick me out!” Then of course I will anyway.

FP: What one drink you make will make me forget that I lost my job, I live on Ramen and I am probably going to have to sell my Wii to make my rent?

NM: A few well-made Martinis will always make you forget something, but if you want to forget you’re in NYC, a classic Mai Tai will make you think you’re in Hawaii where you won’t need that Wii. At Otto’s we use 3/4 oz gold rum (Bacardi), 1 oz light rum (Bacardi), 1 oz dark rum (Myers), 1 oz fresh lime juice, 1/2 oz Triple Sec, 1/4 oz Orgeat Almond Syrup, and 1 or 2 splashes of seltzer.

FG: We have a few drinks that will erase your woes. The Gunclip is an excellent choice. It’s basically a Jameson Sidecar. 2 oz of Jameson, 3/4 oz sour mix, 3/4 oz Couintreau. Serve with an orange twist in a sugar-rimmed martini glass. It will give you amnesia for the night. My Sex On The Beaches will have you cursing my name the next day, but you will be feeling no pain the night of. It’s equal parts Malibu and Midori, pineapple and cranberry juice on top with a cherry.

EN: My Stoli Peach Apple Martini. It’s girly but lethal! Two parts Stoli Peach, 1 part Apple Pucker and a tiny splash of sour mix. For the whiskey lovers, try my Washington Apple. 2 parts Crown Royal or Makers Mark, 1 part Apple Pucker, and 1 part cranberry juice.

MM: The Brunch Bomb. A Mimosa in a pint glass with a shot of tequila. Drop the tequila shot into the glass and chug.