Bartenders spend much of their time, well, behind bars. They make drinks, make jokes and make you feel welcome, even when you’ve had too much. The good ones do, anyway. In the same tradition as the Bartenders Bible series, we’re proud to introduce Behind Bars, which gives barkeeps a chance to speak their mind. In this first installment, we catch up with Ranstead Room’s John Miller, who gives us the lowdown on the proper temperature of ice for a cocktail, the beauty of simplicity and the horrors of licentious patrons.
Name: John Miller
Where he is serving: Ranstead Room, 2013 Ranstead Street, the dimly lit cocktail nook behind El Rey.
Time served at Ranstead Room:
I’ve been here the seven weeks that we’ve been open. I also did two weeks of training with Sasha Petrosky from Milk and Honey in New York.
How did the training go?
It was great. It was like going to bartender grad school.
How long have you been behind bars?
What is one unexpected fact about you?
In addition to being a bartender, I am a photographer. I studied that in college. It’s my passion. I don’t know if I can make it my full time thing, but I still try to shoot pretty regularly.
Do you have a favorite beer?
I love Boddingtons, porters and Newscastle, but if I’m going to walk into a bar and just get a shot and a beer, it’s going to be a Budweiser.
How about the shot?
If I’m just shooting it, its’ probably going to be Powers. If I’m sipping, it’s going to be Scotch.
Bartender or Mixologist?
Definitely a bartender. I’ve always tried to keep things simple, use the freshest ingredients, simple spirits and make a good cocktail that doesn’t need to have much more to say for itself besides the flavor profile it puts forward.
Do you have a favorite liquor?
Being in this line of work, you kind of have to love all spirits, and I luckily do. It makes it a lot easier - you know what goes with what, and how to put it all together.
How about a favorite cocktail?
I’m a big fan of a Sazerac. I’ve been drinking a lot Fitzgeralds lately, which is a gin sour topped off with Angostura bitters and it’s just amazing.
Describe your ideal customer:
Respectful of others and themselves.
Describe your worst customer:
Anyone who is disrespectful of others.
Most bartenders know a good joke, do you?
I do know a few, but none of them are that great. My problem is I forget them all. I have a joke about a three-legged pig that’s kind of long. If anyone wants to hear it, stop by and I’ll tell it.
Have you ever had to break up a fight?
Not at this particular bar, and not since way back in my days at college.
Do you think its okay to hook up with customers?
In the past I have, but now I think my girlfriend might have a problem with it.
What’s the best tip you’ve ever gotten?
A one-hundred dollar bill on a glass of champagne.
What’s the best part of being a bartender?
Providing hospitality, making good drinks that are simple but done right.
What’s the worst part?
When people don’t know how to regulate themselves.
What’s the worst thing you’ve witnessed in the line of duty?
Every so often you get that one couple at the end of the bar that thinks they’re at home and there’s lots of heavy petting. I’ve seen it too many times.
How do you deal with unruly drunks?
Being assertive but not rude works. Sometimes it takes a laugh for them to realize that maybe they’ve had enough. Other than that, I try offer them a glass of water and maybe some food to help slow down their pace.
Do you have any tips of the trade you can offer?
Your ice should be as cold as possible. It should feel dry to the touch.
Where can we find you on the other side of the bar?
I have people I like to see at bars. It’s the bartenders as much as the drinks sometimes that do it for me. I like to go to Southwark. I’m making it point to go to the Franklin more often.
Why should I come and get a drink from you as opposed to the guy at the next bar?
I think you should come see me because I’m going to make you great drinks. I’m going to do it with a smile. If you want to know, I can provide you with a little bit of knowledge on a number of subjects - food, wine, books or whatever. I think people should see as many as bartenders as possible. Share the love. We’re all here to make some money, make great drinks and enjoy some good company at the same time.
What’s the secret to being a great bartender?
Matty Gee, one of the bartenders at Milk and Honey describes it best as the holy trinity: Pride, a sense of urgency and attention to detail. That and a smile are definitely going to take you a long way.
Know someone who’s spent time Behind Bars? Tips gladly accepted here.