Moe Harris begins his class by pouring a whiskey sour, then a daiquiri and a margarita. His students watch and listen carefully as he continues making drink after drink.
Harris is an instructor at the Professional Bartending School in Arlington, Va. He will not only teach you how to be a bartender but will help you find a job.
A brief ride down the Orange line to Clarendon and a two blocks later, students arrive at a yellow brick building with neon red lights in the second floor window, on 3120 North 13th St.
Upon entering the Professional Bartending School and walking past the dozens of thank you letters hanging on the hallway walls, there is a door labeled “classroom.”
This is not your typical classroom. Instead of desks and chairs, there is a bar and stools. Instead of a chalkboard there are large mirrors behind four shelves of liquor. Instead of carrying textbooks, the 17 students carry mixology manuals.
Students come prepared to learn to make drinks, maximize tips and deal with customers in bars, restaurants, clubs and hotels.
Harris, the evening course instructor, has bartending experience that ranges from working at Ruby Tuesdays to nightclubs in Acapulco, Mexico. He allows the students to practice making drinks before he begins class. He then teaches a one-hour lesson, takes a break and then provides hands-on training.
Harris is laid back and humorous, yet thorough and clear. His lessons include valuable tips about making drinks on the job. The students practice with colored water.
“It is important to pour the non-alcoholic mixer first in case you screw up, so you don’t waste alcohol,” Harris said.
The school offers one-, two- and five-week courses in the morning and evening year-round. Each course is broken into 10 four-hour sessions that each have a different focus such as shooters, margaritas, garnishes, customer service and bar setup and close.
The school also provides unlimited practice time and complimentary refresher courses.
The average class size is nine to 10 people. The minimum age to bartend in D.C. and Virginia is 21, but only 18 in Maryland. The average student is 20 to 35 years old, and 70 percent are male.
The Professional Bartending School also helps to students make contacts in the business. Brass Monkey, Legal Seafood, Platinum and the Ritz-Carlton are just a few establishments that use the school’s graduates.
The school sends out 2,500 mailings to all kinds of businesses every three months advertising their graduates. Many local businesses use their students because they have the necessary fundamental bartending skills.
Director Tommy Hanavan said that after completing the course, students could have a job in as little as two weeks.
According to Hanavan, most bars and clubs have a base rate of $4 to $7 an hour plus tips, although they can legally go as low as $2.34 an hour. Hotels usually pay around $8 to $12 an hour plus tips. Most businesses use a system in which bartenders pool their tips.
There are many benefits, aside from tips. After completing the class, students are certified in Techniques of Alcohol Management, which is nationally recognized. The textbook they study has a section devoted to teaching the future bartenders about responsible drinking. It tells them how to tell if a customer has had too much to drink, by height, weight and amount of drinks consumed in a certain amount of time. This training allows companies all over the country to hire students that have had consistent training regardless of where they took classes. The Professional Bartending School has 90 other schools throughout the country that help students find a job at any location.
“Bartending is all about presentation and customer service,” Hanavan said.
Establishments are looking for friendly, honest and energetic employees, he said. Students do not have to be perfect bartenders to get hired.
The course carries a heft $595 pricetag. But Alissa Trapanese, a student at Argosy University in Arlington, said that although it seems costly now, she is confident she will make the money back quickly in tips once she begins working.
“The class is expensive, but worth it,” Trapanese said. She hopes to get a job in a club or martini bar once she has completed the course.
In addition to practice and written exams, the Professional Bartending School tests students’ ability to provide quality customer service with techniques such as role-playing.
“It’s not a liquor business. It’s a people business,” Hanavan said.