Build muscles tending bar
Pouring a bottle of liquor is a little bit like swinging a baseball bat -- you really need strong wrists. On the diamond, you're hoping to put a little white ball between two foul lines. Behind a bar, it's all about filling a jigger as quickly and accurately as possible.
The O Lounge Bartending Academy
Location: 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
Despite my experience as a barback, bartender and bar manager, I had forgotten the amount of time and preparation that goes into slinging drinks for a living.
But thanks to The O Lounge Bartending Academy, I've been reminded how lucky I am to have the privilege of serving as the Star-Bulletin's resident Barfly instead.
Getting paid to order cocktails definitely beats getting paid to make them.
CLASSES started earlier this week for the 40-hour program, which meets on Sunday afternoons and Monday and Tuesday evenings. Enrollment is ongoing, and private lessons are also available.
Students are required to attend two of the three weekly sessions and must pass a final exam before receiving a certificate of completion. According to O Lounge owner Elizabeth Watanabe, graduates will be given special consideration for positions at the nightspot.
Leading the way is bartender Taryn Ogawa, a 1995 Punahou graduate who got her bartending start with a local catamaran tour company. "The most important thing is hands-on experience," Ogawa advises, "but you also need to know your alcohol and your drink recipes."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
O Lounge bartender and instructor Taryn Ogawa, left, watches student Jill Shiroma pour a shot at the O Lounge Bartending School, where students get a 40-hour course on all things bar-related.
After a brief introduction and primer on Honolulu's liquor laws, Ogawa moves behind the bar and shows how to set up a well. It serves as a bartender's base of operations, where glassware and ice are within easy reach, and a "speed rack" holds the most frequently used liquors. And that's when the jiggers made their first appearance.
"No bartender likes to use a jigger," she admits. Used to measure volume and ensure accuracy, they're often replaced by a four-count straight pour to save time.
For the next 10 minutes, we hoist water-filled bottles and count silently as the liquid splashes into a rocks glass. We're supposed to end up with enough to fill a standard 1 1/2-ounce jigger. I keep flooding the rubber mat that sits atop the bar.
Swinging the bottle into an upright position is key, Ogawa says. A quick twist of the wrist to finish helps keep the liquor from spilling.
Finally, I nail three jiggers in a row, then attempt a pour with bottles in both hands. My weak wrists make another appearance, and I spill at least a shot and a half of water in the process.
"After a while, you'll notice that bartenders have muscles," says Ogawa, referring to the forearm and shoulder strength necessary to pour hundreds of cocktails during a typical shift. "Some guys can even get six bottles up at once."
THE REST of the first week of classes will cover highball and juice drinks, along with basics on pricing and the difference between well liquor and its premiumsuper premium counterparts.
Other topics of instruction include garnish preparation, opening and closing procedures, wine handling, the right way to call a drink order and general customer service. Memorization and repetition are key, with dozens of drink recipes filling the pages of a student handbook.
While the majority of students will probably be those seeking permanent employment at The O Lounge, kitchen-counter mixologists can also benefit from the program. At $300, classes are affordable enough for both the casual bartender and aspiring professional.
At the very least, you're guaranteed to gain greater respect for a job that many people hold, but only a handful are truly good at. The O Lounge Bartending Academy provides a fantastic learning experience in a real-world environment with a proven player on Honolulu's nightclub landscape.
Barfly appears every Friday in the Star-Bulletin WeekEnd section. Reach Jason Genegabus
with suggestions of neighborhood bars to visit.