Month: October 2007

Wanaka, New Zealand: Who Knew So Many Hours In Front Of The Bar Would Mean So Little When Behind It

First thing in the morning on Sunday, I went to the internet café and downloaded some more bartending tips. I reviewed the basics once again and wrote down recipe after recipe of cocktails and shots. I was supposed to report to the bar at 6:30 that evening.

As 6:30 drew nearer, I was visibly nervous, which actually prompted the others at the hostel to reassure me and try to calm me down. Louise said she would come by the bar and see how I was doing at some point.

Finally, I got dressed and headed out. I wrote down as many drink recipes as I could in my little spiral pad and carried it in my back pocket. When I got to the bar, Gary, the poofy-haired person I gave my CV to, was busy cleaning up and getting everything ready for that night. He told me I could help by getting ice from the machine upstairs. I was still nervous about making drinks and about what they expected me to already know, so I cautiously asked Gary what type of drinks people ordered around here. “Well, mostly it’s things like rum-and-cokes, beer and wine, but every now and then you’ll get some cocktails. And even then, people just want something that’ll taste good.” OK, that didn’t make me feel any better.

I suppose I should clarify the reason for all of my anxiety. You see, in order to secure a position as quickly as possible, I did a little bit of … elaborating on my resume. I wrote that I had worked in a bar before, as well as waiting tables, and that I had experience serving wine and cocktails. I’m not proud of it — and I assure you I’ve never done it before — but I felt it was necessary given my current situation, and the work-culture of the town.

When Garth arrived, he showed me around the till system. “This should look pretty familiar to you,” he said as we stood in front of one of the registers. “Oh …. um, actually the place I worked at before designed their own unique system. It’s similar, but it was pretty different too.” Ha! Well played, Gopinath. The beauty of Barluga’s till system is that most of the beer and spirit buttons had pictures of the actual bottles on them, so there was little thought left to it. And even better, the cocktail list was set up so that if you held down the button for a certain cocktail, a recipe would pop up on to the screen, telling you exactly how to make it. I began to feel a little better …

I tried to absorb as much as possible as he gave me a crash course on the tills, where all the beer, wine and spirits were located, and the preferred method of serving people. Thankfully, Garth is very pedantic about how he likes his customers to be served, so he made sure to explain every little detail to me. For example, when making a mixed drink, fill the cup all the way to the top with ice, and place it on the bar in front of the customer. If fruit (lemons or limes) is required, rub the flesh of the fruit around the rim of the glass before squeezing and dropping it in. Next, add your spirits by holding the neck of the bottle and with one finger curled around the pourer, and try to hold it so that the label is pointing outwards. Finally, add any sodas or juices.

Customers finally started arriving and fortunately, at first, all that was asked of me was to open bottles of beer and pour wine. A couple mixed drinks were ordered, but those are very simple to make.

And then it happened, the moment I had been dreading.

An older gentleman approached the bar and asked for the cocktail menu. He looked it over for a while and then finally looked at me and said, “Let me get a Raspberry Springtini.” Say what?! I looked it up on the till and realized it was a monstrosity of a concoction, requiring you to muddle raspberries with sugar syrup and lemon juice, and the garnish is a strip of orange peel that you squeeze and flame over the cocktail glass. Fortunately, Garth talked me through most of it. I walked over to the fridge to grab a chilled cocktail glass, and was closing the sliding door when the glass knocked against part of the fridge and shattered. Jesus. I had been there less than 2 hours and had already broken something. I started apologizing and looking for a pan and brush, while Garth simply said “Are you hurt? Then everything else is OK.”

I stumbled through the drink and proudly placed it in front of the guy. I had made my first cocktail.

Here’s what you do (now that I know what I’m doing): Drop some frozen raspberries into a shaker and muddle them with 20 ml of lemon juice and a dash of honey sugar syrup. Add two shots of gin, some ice, shake and pour into a cocktail glass. Take a strip of orange peel and rub it around the rim of the cocktail glass, then while squeezing the rind, hold it next to a lighter so that the exiting oils ignite. Cut a wheel of orange and run a knife around just the inside of the rind, before the flesh, until you have a circle of orange peel. Cut the circle in one place and wrap the strip around a straw. Weight that down with a rocks glass so the strip takes the shape of a spiral. Now, believe it or not, you finished making the drink about 4 steps ago, everything since then was making a perfect orange peel spiral, which you then balance on the edge of the glass and let it extend into the drink.

My happiness would quickly disappear when I realized that the guy was out to drink every cocktail on the list and for some reason, I would have the misfortune of having to be his server . It go so bad that I would see him coming and move away just to avoid having to make another cocktail for him. Though I was successfully serving people with no complaints, I would often sneak into the bathroom and review my list of drinks, just in case.

A woman approached the bar and asked for a caipirinha (say cay-pirin-ya … i think). @$%& me, whatever happened to a simple beer??! I asked Garth — something I had been doing frequently all night — and he educated me on this Brazilian specialty. You take 3-4 wedges of lime and muddle it with white sugar. Then you drop in two shots of Cachaca 51, a sugarcane rum, and a scoop of crushed ice (must be crushed!). Shake the hell out of it and dump it all into a rocks glass.Of course, now I can speak of the caipirinha like a seasoned pro, but at the time I went all cross-eyed. I managed my way through the lime-sugar muddle and added the alcohol. But we didn’t have an ice crusher at the bar, so Garth tried to show me how to wrap ice in a bar towel and smack the shit out of it with the muddler to create crushed ice. His explanation of how to use it in the drink was a little … muddled … and there were several people waiting to be served, so in the end, when Garth turned his back, I just chucked regular ice in it and served. It was the first and last time I ever took a shortcut on a cocktail.

Earlier, when Garth was giving me a run down of how the bar works, he addressed the topic of drinking while working. “I don’t mind if you have a few drinks, but keep it under control and don’t get sloppy.” However, by the end of the night, Garth himself was quite drunk. When we had closed the bar and were cleaning up, Garth approached me, and with a slight slur, said, “BJ, I liked the way you work tonight and I want to offer you a job here.” My heart skipped a beat as all those hours worrying and waiting finally ended exactly how I had dreamed. Garth asked me if I would be in town for the long term – meaning the duration of the winter season – and I said yes. Although I wasn’t certain just how long I was going to stay, I knew that any employer here would only hire you if you stayed for the season.

Garth told me to come by the bar the next day to fill our paperwork. He also told me to bring along my work references, just to keep on file. Um … sure (I had no work references).

I walked home at 4 in the morning in utter delight. I actually did it. I walked into a job I had never done before with a huge amount of expectation on my shoulders, and succeeded. I promised everything and forced myself to deliver. It sounds silly, but securing a job at that bar immediately ranked up there among my best achievements in 3 years with the space program.

I went to bed restless with the anticipation of announcing to the hostel that I got the job. Things were finally falling into place in Wanaka. Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of my arrival in Wanaka, and after that I’ll take you around the room and introduce you to some of the characters in town (and the mischief we’ve gotten into).


Wanaka, New Zealand: Does It Pay? Then Yes, I Can Do It

I’m going to backtrack for just a moment to tell you about our dinner at Gayle and Robert’s house the Sunday after Stu’s friend’s dress-up party.

Katie, Justin, Dan and Phil and I headed over to Gayle’s house with some beer and wine in tow. We sat around the fire in the main room with some soccer on the TV, talking about travels, family and friends back home, and plans for the future.

We watched Justin’s skydive video, which had become a bit of must-see TV back at the Lodge. It was his first time doing a skydive, and he was visibly nervous. The climax was his fall out of the plane. His tandem jumper did a bit of a forward flip when jumping out of the plane, and when he looked forward again into the camera, there was a priceless, unrehearsed look of complete and utter terror on his face. The video was so hilarious we watched it about 5 times after they got back from the skydive. Robert said he wanted a copy.

Robert was busy getting us all beers, and I felt the need to help him out. As he came from his beer fridge with 4 beers in his hand, I offered to help and took them. Unfortunately, before I got a grip on the fourth, Robert let go and I watched it fall and crash into the ground in slow motion. I quickly helped them clean it up and apologized profusely.

Dinner was roast lamb with roasted potatoes and pumpkin, and steamed veggies. Desert was something called a Pavlova, which is a meringue-type cake/pie thing. Whatever it was, we ate it with ice cream, and I loved it. The dinner was delicious, and was arguably the best meal I had had on the road.

During dinner we somehow started on the topic of cats. Dan launched into a story about how he ran over someone’s poor cat, then I followed with my story of running over a cat back in high school. Then Gayle told us about how recently one of her cats had gone missing, and when she saw a dead one on the road, refused to believe it was hers until Stu confirmed it. Phil was dying with laughter in the car on the way home.

Now, back to my work week. I had gone to every cafe and bar on the waterfront looking for work, but was told by everyone that they weren’t hiring yet. The witner season was still far off and most places didn’t need any more staff for such a quiet time of the year. There were only a couple places I hadn’t gone to yet, and one of them was Shooters, a dive pub on the main street right near the lake. The manager said they weren’t looking for any bartenders yet, but as I was walking out of the bar, back on to the lake-front street, the manager ran after me and said, “Oh, I should’ve asked you … can you work the door?” “You mean security?” “Yeah, I think we need someone for that.” “Yeah, I can do that.”

She grabbed the head doorman, who was in the middle of a meeting, and I talked to him briefly about my previous experience doing security work. That experience included making sure people who came into our random college parties actually went to the school. That demanding, highly-professional, job came with 1-2 hour breaks for beer pong and keg stands, and my primary responsibilities included identifying and letting in good-looking women. I think I did it about 3 times in 4 years of college.

Brent told me that they would need someone part-time now, mostly for the weekends. Security is staffed at Shooters from Wednesday through Saturday, and I would get at least 2 days out of that. He said he would get back to me that weekend about whether or not he would need me.

Christ, what the hell have you gotten yourself into.

I told the guys back at the Lodge about it and they all bowled over with laughter. Everyone was impressed with the lengths I would go to for work, but they also agreed that I was gonna get my ass kicked. Brent called me a couple days later and asked if I would work that Saturday night.

In the mean time, I visited the last two bars in town where I thought I could get a job. There was a guy with hair like Sideshow Bob behind the bar at Barluga and although they weren’t looking for anyone immediately, they would be hiring in couple weeks and he’d pass my resume along. Mike at the bar next door, Woody’s, said they weren’t hiring anytime soon and that I should ask at Barluga.

Because bars aren’t allowed to sell alcohol on Good Friday, many businesses work around the law by having a “ticketed event”, such as live music, and somehow that allows them to continue trading for a limited amount of time. Most of the bars in town were closing, however we found out that Barluga was having live music at the bar on Friday night. That afternoon we stopped by and bought a couple wristbands. Dan, Phil and I headed to the bar that night and found a great atmosphere. The bar was a little hidden, but had a huge fireplace both outside and inside, and a well decorated interior. It was my turn to buy a round and I went up to the bar to order a few Monteith’s, a South Island beer. A guy behind the bar gave me the beers then asked me if I was the person who handed in my resume. I said yes and he introduced himself as the manager, Garth. He said that he’d take a look at the CV and get in touch with me. I wrote down my number again and asked him what I owed him for the beers. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said, “I got ’em.” Bonus!

When I told the boys about the exchange they laughed, shook there heads and asked how I do it.

The next day I got a call that would throw me into a nervous frenzy for the next 36 hours. Garth rang me in the early afternoon and asked if I could do a trial on Sunday night. Basically, I would work behind bar the entire night and he would evaluate my performance. “Usually I’ll have someone come in for a couple hours on a regular night so I can also watch them work, but I’d also like to see what you got, so I was thinking you could work during our entire Easter Sunday party.”

Of course I agreed, and with nervous excitement I notified the others that my week of insanity would culminate in a trial for a position of barman. This announcement was greeted with questions like, “Do you know anything about bartending?”, “Can you even make a drink?”, and “What the @#$& are you gonna do?!” All of which was answered with “I. Don’t. Know.”

I immediately headed to the internet cafe and started reading up on bartending: the tools, the methods, the drinks. I wrote down as many drink recipes as I could and committed them to memory. Although my nervousness and anxiety made me forget them about 20 minutes later. I couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted on it since I had to work that night. In fact, the excitement of that afternoon had made me forget briefly that I had told people I would be a bouncer that night.

I reported to Shooters at 9, and after taking me around the place, Brent gave me a shirt and coat. He explained that one of us would stand outside and watch the front, making sure we ID and watch for overly intoxicated people, and the other person would walk around inside doing the same. Big Mike was the manager on duty and if he wanted someone gone, we remove them. Sounded simple enough, and by the time we were outside, it was still a pretty quiet night. Brent and I chatted and waited for the crowds to come. A short while later we were joined by two other bouncers, James and Keon (I’m guessing on the spelling, say “Ky-ooh-n” … but say it under your breath because he may tell you it’s wrong). The Shooters crowd seemed to be young 18 – 22 year olds and the rugby types, and soon they had filled up the place quite well.

Finally, it happened. There was a loud, brash guy who had come in with two of his friends that was acting like an asshole to the bartenders and the other customers. Mike told me that he wanted to guy out of there, so I buzzed Brent on the radio and told him to join me inside (we always chuck people out in pairs, in case there is some … unpleasantness). I asked the guy if he would speak to me in the lobby where it’s quite, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen, so I explained to him that the bar staff wanted him out of there. He argued with me and Brent for a bit, then said that he would leave after he got some cigarettes and finished his beer. Of course, we weren’t gonna let that happen. So as we shuffled him to the door, he started getting louder and angrier. His friends were quite under control and were at times trying to help us throw their friend out. Finally we got him to leave without an incident. Brent told me how close he was to getting physical with the guy, and told me I handled myself well.

Later, Brent and I were outside when we suddenly got buzzed by Keon. Brent ran inside while I watched the door. A little while later, he came out escorting a young lady with blood on her face. It seems that this girl and another bumped into each other on the dance floor, and the other girl popped this one in the face. The fight continued and finally Keon and James pulled them apart. We kept the other girl inside while Brent talked to the one who got hit outside. The cops eventually came and took statements. The girl outside kept complaining that we let her assailant stay in the bar while we kicked her out. I joked to Brent that he should let the one inside leave so we could watch them go at it again.

At the end of the night, Mike gave us a couple beers and we sat around chatting about the night. We helped the bar guys clean up and then I headed home. Brent would later tell me that Big Mike was very pleased with the work I did.

I was pleased with my performance that night. I had never been a doorman before, but I stayed on my feet, learned quickly, and got to see blood that wasn’t mine. All-in-all a job well done. I stopped applauding myself when I realized that I still had an enormous amount of cramming to do the next day.

After all, someone was expecting me to be a bartender the next night.

Wanaka, New Zealand: Good Looks And A Winning Personality Will Get You Only So Far

Done. Settled. I’m staying in Wanaka. Before I left Brisbane I told Brad and Phil that I would be back in a couple months to finish the rest of my Oz experience. I figured I’d work somewhere in NZ for about a month, travel the country for another and be back in Oz by the end of June. And why not Wanaka? The view is magnificent, the people are really friendly, and from what I heard, this is the right time to be looking for work.

You see, Wanaka is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. With two mountains in close proximity, Wanaka is the home base for a culture of snow enthusiasts from around the world. So not surprisingly, all the businesses in town hire extra staff for the winter season. If I wanted a job, I would have to get in now.

First stop was the job agency. I filled out an application for general work, but specifically in the hospitality industry. Wanaka was a town of restaurants, cafes and bars, so there shouldn’t be a lack of work in that area. Unfortunately, many of those business didn’t register with the agency, so I would have to approach them directly. It was the harvest time at the vineyards, so the agency was in dire need of fruit pickers. I wanted to avoid grape picking, so I settled for general work around town. However, I resolved to work in the vineyards one day that week.

And so began the week that the other backpackers at the Lodge would never stop talking about. In fact, whenever a new traveler came into town and started inquiring about work, everyone would immediately defer to me. Many were in awe and few could recall witnessing greater dedication.

For the first two days of that first week I was in town, after helping Gayle with her garden, I worked for Robert — Stu’s stepfather — on his building site. Robert only needed someone to sand down the exterior of a garage before he applied a coat of varnish. It was easy work and it was outside, at a house right on the lake.

My next job was the next day, when the job agency notified me that the local home improvement store, Mitre 10, needed someone to work in the warehouse for the day. I reported for duty in the morning and was introduced to John. Again, the work was quite easy: move these boxes from the warehouse to the shop floor, load sheets onto this customer’s truck bed, tidy up the outdoor storage area and the warehouse itself. Most of the time, John would just chat while carrying out the manual labor. His is an interesting story: he worked as an undercover cop in London for 30 years, specializing in drug deals. He retired to the area with his wife and last summer worked as a liftie at one of the mountain resorts.

The day after that was my day at the vineyard. A van came and picked us up in town early in the morning. Although it was shaping up to be a clear day, it was still quite chilly. This, after all, was New Zealand’s autumn. They drove us out to the Mt. Edward vineyard and explained how the day’s activities would go: there were several rows of grapes to be picked; we would be supplied with gloves, shears and baskets; the game is to walk down the row, clipping off grapes and tossing it in the basket. We would have to watch out for grapes that had been picked out by birds and ones that had succumbed to a fungus disease that had affected a portion of the vineyard. The morning was spent picking in the shade, so after just an hour I was shivering and my hands were numb. To say the work was tedious would be insulting to both the word ‘tedious’ and the unforgivingly mundane work itself. The worst part was having to stoop down to pick the grape bunches; it was killer on my back. The best part was my ‘one for me, one for you’ approach to grape picking. We all would frequently pop several grapes into our mouths before sharing the harvest with the baskets. By lunchtime I had eaten more grapes than in the past several months. When we broke for lunch, I picked a sunny spot on a large rock to enjoy my sandwich. Now, I have a system with meals, in that I always eat some fruit afterwards. I had thrown together a sandwich before running out the door that morning, and grabbed the first piece of fruit I could see. When I opened my lunchbag and was reminded of that choice, I groaned: grapes. I brought grapes. The others had a good laugh about it too. Apparently the vineyard was on a tight picking schedule, and expected to have a certain amount complete by the end of the day. They had figured that the amount of work would take 8 hours, and *that alone* is what they were paying us for. Which means, if we took 9 hours to do the job, we would still only get money for 8 hours. They notified us of this fact after a stern talking-to about the speed of our picking. So after lunch we all picked up the pace and ended up finishing with about 45 minutes to spare (and NO, we don’t get paid for 8 hours if we finish early … greedy bastards …). They graciously paid us for 7 1/2 hours. Grape picking had really taken it out of me. I was tired, my back hurt, and if I never saw another grape in non-alcoholic form I’d be a happy man.

It’d probably be wise to take a break now and finish the story of that week in another post, as it could get quite lengthy. So stay tuned to find out what else Wanaka would have me do for her. Let’s just say a girl gets punched in the face, a 17-year old dressed as Duffman passes out in the middle of a soccer pitch, and a load of garbage is dumped on me.