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Family Values (or The Under-Estimated Virtue of Giving Them What They Want)

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Family  Values (or The Under-Estimated Virtue of Giving Them What They Want)
October 04
12:56 2015

( – Charlie McCarthy, Editor in Chief) – Welcome to the first in a series of what promises to be a host of horribly overwritten, aimlessly picayune, relatively rococo & moderately meandering musings on the world of great drinks, inexcusable drunkenness, legendary drinkers, and eggs.

The bartender community is a rare thing indeed.

There’s the Brotherhood. That exhilirating first tequila-soaked realisation that no matter where you find yourself, you’re most likely no more than a block or two away from a  brother / sister / friend of a friend behind the stick. It’s all too seductive to recline into those first fuzzy stirrings of belonging to the ‘Global Brotherhood of Bartenders’, when you realise that the three degrees of separation that bind us mean that the world of fine booze is yours to explore. And of course you push it too far. And of course you wake up with the few horrors of how you probably over stepped the  shared acquaintance protocol of, ‘Yeah Dave, what a legend/dick/delete as appropriate’. But hey, you’re a real bartender now, so it’s all shits’n’giggles’n’rinse’n’repeat.

And then there’s your Bar Family. Because once you find the right venue, you do indeed regard the team you’ve pushed through the Hearts of Darkness weeds with shared blood, sweat and beers as your kith and kin.

While these communions we weave are indeed unique to our industry and certainly to be cherished, that ain’t the kind of bar family I’m talking about right now.

No, I’m talking about something even rarer, and dare I say it, something a bit more special.

The families, the lineages, the dynasties of bar folk.

I recently had the great good fortune to be in attendance at The London Sessions when the great Tomas Estes held forth on his joyous adventures in tequila. There were so many pearls of wit and wisdom that we were privileged to glean that day. But what shone through was his love. Of the crazy people, the unrepeatable stories, the delectable liquids, and most beauitfully the great love he has for his kids.

In London everyone who has spent significant time behind, in front of and on top of the best and most fun bars in town knows a Blanch, a Bessant, a Bradsell, a Calabrese, or an Estes or two.

These are the fathers, brothers, sisters and mothers who share a passion for the tender craft. They range from the venerated forgers and midwives of the rebirth of the cocktail, to the greenest of horns affectionately kid-gloved into the crazy community of cocktailians.

They are generous souls, who share knowledge and who learn continuously, and we are blessed to have them amount us. Maybe there’s something to be said for this breeding malarkey.

My parents were estate agents.

Now don’t get me wrong, Ma & Pa McCarthy are amazing parents, and I’m lucky to be able to FaceTime their faces regularly. So why do I bring this up you may ask?

Well, it strikes me that the vast majority of bartenders wend their meandering journey to the business-end of the bar from so many varied backgrounds. And these rambling routes rarely stem from a bar tending family.

The beautifully considered Cocktail Lovers magazine, earlier this year, ran a revealing feature on bartenders with a background as Artists. And if they so choose they may well run a series of such articles on erstwhile actors, accountants, salesmen, musicians, linguists, designers, philosophers, and any number of sundry professionals who all eventually migrated stickwards. Indeed I struggle to think of another occupation with such a magnificent menagerie of misfits.

So far so irrelevant to the title of this post, perhaps?

And I apologise, dear reader, if this shambling preamble has been my poor way of drawing your attention to a couple of the best life lessons ever bestowed upon me by Daddy McCarthy.

The first was a function of my old man’s naturally affable and generous nature. Every Christmas Day, directly after midday mass, a horde of friends and family would descend on our family home for a few social and often raucous hours. I later figured that by hosting an afternoon Christmas party, my folks were not only cementing community, family and business relations, but of more immediate import, they were providing their guests with a temporary sanctuary from the exclusive company of their own families during those insidious hours when the seeds of seasonal discord are most wont to be sowed.

My yearly job, from as soon as I was able to steadily perform the duty, was to weave in and out of the forest of legs and ensure that no glass was ever less than half full for want of asking.

Daddy Mc drummed into me that the guests would not always ask for a drink when they wanted one, but would always have the choice of not finishing the drink in their hand. I’m not sure how that guidance would gel with modern responsible service of alcohol guidelines, but back then it mattered not a jot to me.

I was a proper wine-peddling pusher boy; the Artful Dodger schooled by Bacchus himself.

As the other kids ran riot upstairs (exercising, and occasionally wrecking our Christmas presents), I was granted a grasshopper’s view into the utter fun that the grown ups were having on the ground floor, revelling in each-other’s company. And as I passed between them, sometimes noticed, mostly not, I saw what ebullient effect my largesse was having on their mood.

So What is Value?

As the keen of retention among you will recall, the sale of property was the family business.

McCarthy Snr. however would not fall in to the archetype of the conniving London Estate Agent. Not by a country mile. For you see, word travels at the speed of light in a small town.

‘Keep em happy and they’ll come back.’

As a whipper-snapper my mind would sometimes boggle at the figures exchanged  for properties.

So this impressionable youngster asked his old man, ‘How do you value a property?’

‘It’s a complicated equation, son…’ came the facile reply, but then a pause, and I could see him weigh up whether I was ready for a glimpse behind the curtain.

‘Bottom line is , Charles,  anything’s worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it. No two properties are truly worth the same if they have different meanings to different people.’

Years later as I slugged back a Rum & Coke in the Student Union pub, I scoffed knowingly with my mates that some suckers were paying nearly ten times more for an identical drink in nearby swanky hotels.

Any now that just as many years have again passed, I find myself training bartenders in those swanky bars. And occasionally I am that self same sucker.

And how do I justify this discrepancy, not only to myself, but as a key part of my job?

Now of course there may be material differences in the liquid contents of the glass. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the liquid ingredients are identical.

What are the other elements besides the product itself that makes punters happy to fork out the supermarket price of a bottle of Rum for a Rum & Coke?

The glassware, the décor, the music, the lighting, the ambience… Sure these things are vital building blocks. But forgive me if I stray into bartender pathos here, but the warmth with which the guest is welcomed, the care poured over the pouring of the drink, the attention taken in proferring a ‘complimentary’ glass of water and bar snacks, the pains taken to elicit the precise thing that will make that person happiest in that moment. The anticipation of the perfect moment to suggest the next drink. The knowledge of why the same drink is called a Cuba Libre, and the tact of knowing whether, when and how to share that knowledge.

The profound giving of a shit.

These hospitable elements make us feel welcomed, cared for, valued.

This is what we humans crave.

And it makes us happy, (yes Happy!) to pay handsomely for the pleasure.


Where and how we drink matters. It matters deeply.

Drinking booze is, at its best, enormously enriching to body, mind and soul.

Alcohol, when done right, is the best goddamn drug we’ve ever contrived to enjoy in one another’s company.

And the same can be said in reverse.


So if you can be the curator who builds the transcendent experience, the navigator who guides proceedings, effortlessly, past treacherous waters to the sea of dreams, well then my friend, you are the value, and you are truly worth your corn.


So maybe growing up in a house of estate agents wasn’t the worst preparation for a life in hospitality. And while I remain in awe of the cocktail dynasties that have enriched our lives so much, perhaps lessons from outside the bar world can also serve us well.


Anticipate your guests needs, and be ready to give them what they want.

The value of the experience is far more than the just the item you’re selling..

Keep them happy and they’ll keep coming back.


Thanks Dad.

*For those of you with a keen eye and a sharp memory, the stuff about eggs will be in the next post.


Industry Expert

Charlie McCarthy

Charlie McCarthy

A seasoned veteran of the international drinks scene, our Managing Editor, has spent the last decade opening new venues across the globe, consulting for key drinks industry groups, running A-list parties, and advising major spirit and beverage brands. Charlie is a respected figure in on-line, televised and print media for the global drinks industry. If it involves making drinks, chatting about drinks, thinking about drinks, writing about drinking, or drinking drinks, Charlie has been 'biting that bullet' since 2005.

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