Shaken not stirred

On weekend nights, when GW students dress up and take cabs to their favorite neighborhood hot-spots, they rarely bother to notice who is behind the bar. But look again – the person checking your wristband and twirling glass bottles may very well be in your 8 a.m. calculus class.

GW students get involved with bartending for a variety of reasons – ranging from decent money to the opportunity to work where their friends party. Although the job isn’t all glamorous, it has a certain allure compared to the average work-study.

“Honestly, I’m sort of living out my Coyote Ugly dream,” said Stephanie Robichaux, a GW senior. “I figured I could learn how to dance later, but first I had to know how to bartend.”

Robichaux, who was a writer for The Hatchet, embarked upon that path by signing up for classes at the Professional Bartending School in Arlington, Va. The school opened in 1968, and has certified several GW students who now work in the D.C. area. Robichaux completed the course in one week by taking two, four-hour classes per day.

“It was a lot of fun,” Robichaux said. “Half of the session was learning drink recipes and the other half was actually practicing – pumping up the music and bartending behind the counter.”

And just like the name denotes, bartending school really is work. In a class called “mixology,” students memorize cocktails, shooters and dessert drinks, eventually learning upward of 100 recipes. At the end there is a written and practical test. Classes run about $300, and GW undergrads might be interested to learn that the minimum age to take the course is only 18.

But not all bartenders take that route. While bartending school can certainly help land a job, it is certainly not required. Work experience is considered equally valuable.

Jenna Burnett, a GW alum who graduated in May, just started bartending at the Hawk ‘n Dove. She did not take a bartending course beforehand and instead jumped right in.

“My first night was a little stressful – I had a 21st birthday party,” she said. “But so far it’s been fun.”

There are hundreds of bartending jobs to be had in D.C., ranging from sports bars to clubs to wedding catering. Students take jobs all over the city, finding them through classifieds, word-of-mouth and Web sites such as Craigslist. Even the bartending schools themselves place graduates and line them up with job interviews.

“The interview was pretty straightforward – a lot like any other job,” said Robichaux, who works at the Bay Leaf in Crystal City. “Then there is a one-day orientation and you’re behind the bar.”

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