Tips of the trade: How to get a bartending job in NYC

What’ll it be?

In today’s economy, the bartender has it pretty sweet. He’s gainfully employed, doesn’t wake up early, wears whatever he wants, and probably has more Twitter followers than I do, all dying to know what kind of bitters he’s hand-making today. While it is a sweet gig, with tip money rolling in, ranging from a $100 to thousands a night from certain big spenders and a plenty of of hot drunk people to flirt with, the job seems to have become all-but-impossible to get without that New York City experience that you can’t get without already having it. So what are your best odds to landing a job on the other side of your glass? We asked the experts:


While you can definitely wiggle your way into a low-end dive with enough service experience, to move up in the ranks to where the real money is you’re going to have to know your craft. This means studying up on all the classic recipes (buy/google yourself an old cocktail book with the standards and memorize it) and coming up with some of your own. You’ll have to know at least the basics in order to get any job, though, so learn martinis, sidecars, manhattans, negronis, old-fashioneds  (though the recipe for these does tend to fluctuate wildly between bars) and a few other simple 3-ingredient mixes. Of course, unless you’re at a cocktail bar, a good portion of the drinks requested will have the ingredients in the name, and then it’s just about knowing how much of what to add. Keeping up with star cocktail movers on their blogs and Twitter will also keep you up on what’s fashionable, and keep you one step ahead. Oh, and bartending school is a very bad idea (one second of pouring with a pourer on the bottle= ¼ of an ounce, here’s a book of cocktails you can find on the internet. $600 please!).


The number one rule when it comes to getting jobs as a bartender is “experience or get out.” Most places won’t consider a stranger if they have anything less than 3 years bartending at a place the owner recognizes instantly. This, of course, makes the industry as easy to get into as Jay-Z’s baby shower, so it means you’re going to have to take experience where you can get it at first. Some bartenders start as waiters and are lucky enough to know someone with the power to hire them, while others, like Ellis from UES, start out in Long Island or similarly far-off lands for a kind of “technically it’s New York” experience on their resume. You can also barback and jump in when there’s an opening shift (if you make friends with whoever’s in charge), or bar back at a nice bar and parlay that into a bartending job at a significantly worse establishment. Just remember, experience is key, especially when going for the giant mega-clubs where the atmosphere is tense and the payout is ridiculous (at some large venues you can pump out your rent in a night, if a few athletes walk through the door), so take the jobs where you can get them, at least until you’re serving P. Diddy.


To get a job being paid to hand out booze and be in the middle of the party every night, you’re gonna have to work for it. Some people, like Kendra from The Library, say scouring the web helps, while others insist on hitting the pavement and handing out resumes. Once the resume is in a bar’s hands, don’t just leave it at that, Ellis says. Ask when you can come in and train and ask when you can start after that, or make sure to ask for the manager and hand your resume to them. Be aggressive, but not off-putting, and demonstrate charm, because that’s going to be deciding factor if you’re hired or not. Some people are so determined to get the job they even lie on their resumes, saying whatever the owner wants to hear, but if that’s the case, Ben from The Wren warns, be sure you’re ready to hit the ground running, since you’re going to have to back up every claim made.

Here’s some more advice, straight from the tap:

Ben – The Wren, 344 Bowery, (212) 388-0148

Current Job: “I was friends with the owners, we played soccer together and I worked down the street from where one of the owners lived.”

First Job: “I lied about my experience. I worked as a waiter first and learned bartending, and when a chance came up I went for it.”

Advice for aspiring bartenders: “Start in not the most ideal (aka shittier) places and work your way up.”

Kendra – Library Bar, 7 Ave A, (212) 375-1352

Current Job: “I found this job through Craigslist and came in and interviewed.”

First Job: “I worked as a server and begged them to train me to bartend.”

Advice: “Don’t take those stupid courses. Become friends with all your local place’s bartenders and take what you can get.”

Ellis, Swanky Hotel on the Upper East Side

Current Job: “I made sure I was knowledgeable. I know my cocktails more than most other people here. I can’t stress enough, do your research and know your history. No bartending schools either.”

First Job: “I started as a barback in Long Island and built up from there.”

Advice: “Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. No Craigslist, get out on the streets, and take anything. Know people or ask for the right people, owners or managers. Get any New York City experience and be aggressive. Not off-putting, but aggressive.”

Brett, Madame Geneva, 4 Bleecker St (212) 254-0350

Current Job: “A friend of a friend worked here, and the timing all seemed to work out.”

First Job: “ I begged an establishment in Boston for one daytime shift and moved up from there, getting more and more shifts.”

Advice: “If you want to get into gourmet cocktails, make sure you research techniques and know your spirits. This profession takes certain breed, it’s definitely not for everyone.”


After you get your job, make sure to know your stuff and keep up with the bar community as a whole, since that will help you climb your way to the top. Also, keep up with the bar community because it’ll be tough to keep up with anyone else, as people on service schedules can attest. Lastly, when working be sure to build up a loyal client base, because there are a lot of bars and a lot of bartenders, and having people like you is a big part of the job. So go forth! You’re now armed with a blueprint to lie like a champ about your time slinging drinks at the White House Tavern.


  1. Bartender Joe

    This is the most idiotic plan of action, unless you’re 17 years old. What if you have a full time job and want to bartend weekend nights for extra cash?
    Paying dues is for people that have no edge and no insight. Here’s an inside tip too – it’s rare when barbacks move up to bartenders. If so, it takes forever.
    If you want to learn the important elements -upselling, expediting, drink etiquette, memorization techniques, using a POS system, beer pouring, wine knowledge, alcohol awareness training, time management, speed and jigger pouring, etc. – then it’s a smart investment to get a baseline by going to a bartending school.
    It’s a small investment considering the long term pay out and the self confidence you gain related to your capability is invaluable. Whoever wrote this blog isn’t well informed.

  2. Dave Anderson

    I agree that there are a lot of social skills needed to become a bartender. Like you said, as a bartender, you are basically the host of a party, so it is important to make sure that you are keeping the people entertained and in a good environment. I think that it would be a good idea for bartenders to have certain lines or jokes that they bring out throughout the day to keep people laughing and drinking.

  3. Sharon Wajswol

    Well, as a female who has had a Wall Street career and an MBA behind her, there is still chauvinism in this business. I built a home bar, took a mixology class (passed with 93%), memorized about 100 of the top recipes, learned how each type of spirit is distilled, wine flavor profiles… and apprenticing (for no money at a whiskey bar). With all of this, they don’t let you in so easily. Now they’re just taking advantage and using my skills and not putting me on a shift yet. But no worries… I’ll get there.

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