by Chris McKittrick

Bartending is often seen as one of those “between” jobs – you know, the type of job you have as a stopover between one job and another.  While for most bartending consists of pulling tap handles and mixing happy hour well drinks, for others it is an art.  This is the premise of HEY BARTENDER, an engrossing documentary by director Douglas Tirola featuring some of the world’s best mixologists.

HEY BARTENDER primarily follows Steve Schneider, a former Marine who turns to mastering cocktails in the wake of a nearly life-ending injury, and Steve “Carpi” Carpentieri, a Connecticut bar owner hoping to reinvent his struggling bar as a cocktail destination.  Schneider works at the Manhattan bar Employee’s Only where earning the bartender’s jacket is a trial by fire.  He hopes to focus as much determination as he did in the Marines on his bartending.  Meanwhile, Carpi is lovable as he immerses himself in the world of the cocktail with a mixture of confusion and excitement.

Interestingly enough, the documentary meanders from Steve and Capri’s journeys, which is a shame because both of them are really interesting people.   However, where it meanders to is equally interesting: the audience is taught the history of cocktail-making and introduces Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff, who pioneered the current cocktail culture while bartending at New York’s Rainbow Room in the 1980s and later founded the Museum of the American Cocktail.  We are also introduced to a number of key figures in the scene, with spectacular shots of them making drinks in slow motion that shows just how much effort goes into these concoctions.  One drawback of featuring so many bartenders is that they inevitably begin to repeat each other (mostly about how seriously they take their jobs), but other than that they are fascinating.

If you idea of a cocktail is a Jack and Coke, prepare to be surprised.  There is an entire world of advanced cocktails with prime ingredients out there, and HEY BARTENDER is spilling all the secrets.  It’s one of my favorite documentaries of the year simply because it gives the audience a key to an entire world unknown to those who frequent their corner bars for cold beers.   My only other gripe is that you really ought to watch this one with a carefully-mixed drink in each hand.  Then again, what’s wrong with that?

Rating: 4 out of 5  : See it ……. It’s Very Good

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