I’ll be honest: I’m not feeling very inspired this month.
My list of favorite cocktail places in the Coachella Valley hasn’t changed much this year. With the exception of the Del Rey (sorry for not covering you yet—it’s coming), it’s pretty much still the same seven or eight places. While there is no shortage of earnest people trying, I would like to be able to get a proper negroni or daiquiri before I can get something with beet juice and cachaça. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk, people.
We’re also in the middle of a ton of retrogrades and astrological horrors … and while I am not using that as an excuse, I think many of you can relate. So this month, you’re getting a thought piece on what it means to be a bartender—specifically, a bartender in the Coachella Valley.
I realized two insane truths recently: 1) Some guy named “Joe Pizzulo” sang “Never Gonna Let You Go” when I was certain it was James Ingram. 2) I can host an event, and people will show up. Seeing a crowd actually turn out for something as weird my “Tarot Workshop” at the fabulous Dead or Alive bar in Palm Springs was great … and exhausting.
This got me thinking about bartending, and the role of the bar and the bartender. I had a bar in front of me at Dead or Alive—as I always do at work. Could I have addressed a crowd without a bar in front of me?
What is the bar? Is it a stage? Is it a barrier? What is a bartender? What am I to you? When you look at me at the grocery store, like, “How do I know that guy?” it’s a little freaky. You don’t recognize me? Honestly, I talk to you three days a week for hours at a time. It must be like when I used to see a teacher out in public. She buys milk, too?!
The bar is like a sacred space, with the bartender as the shaman or priest. When one attends religious services, one (hopefully) leaves worldly problems at the door while walking into a sacred space. One does the same at a bar. The bar is a place of freedom and camaraderie, with the bartender being something like a friend—but a little removed, like a priest, or an actor, or something like that. I suppose this is why I wave at you, and you think, “How do I know that guy?”
It can be a lonely life, but luckily, we have other bartenders. Bartenders mostly hang out with bartenders, or other service-industry folk—maybe chefs here and there, or the server or host we’re dating … anyone who “gets it.” Is it any wonder that so few of us can make it long in this business … and if we do make it for a while, we never leave? It’s both a support system and a vicious circle. We spend a lot of time absorbing energy from everyone who walks in the door, and the rest of our time drinking over-proof rum and burdening other bartenders. We’re mostly introverted, and the question is: Were we introverted before we started? In my case, I can say “probably” … I was definitely the fat, nerdy kid, but I have always had a big mouth.
Of course, being a bartender in the Coachella Valley can be a little … different. Why does nearly every new-to-town entrepreneur seem to think you can bring in a consultant from San Francisco, an architect from Los Angeles and a manager from Brooklyn (who are all going to leave within six months) and succeed? Why not see what the local talent pool has to offer? There are many talented locals who would jump at the chance to take on a project. You want the good local people to work for you? Well, we take care of each other around here. No disrespect to the consultants—a lot of you are friends—but not everything that is a hit in the Meatpacking District will be a hit here.
The Coachella Valley could also use a more-robust nightlife scene. The number of questions I get every weekend in the range of, “So, what is, like … fun to do around here?” is in the dozens. Perhaps the tendency to drink by the pool all day or have bottomless mimosas is the real problem. That’s a pretty wicked combination. The fact that people occasionally bristle when I suggest a “gay bar” on a weekday (even if it’s a welcoming little spot like Retro Room—come on, people!) doesn’t help.
But there is hope. We have a new music venue, The Alibi, bringing cool and exciting acts to town (which you can read more about here), and an arcade and nostalgia bar called Glitch just getting rolling. (They’re both working on their cocktail programs as of writing, this so forgive my not talking about their drinks.) I am also aware there are new venues slated to open all over the place in the fall and winter … and that’s just in Palm Springs proper! In fact, the number of events and things to do has never been greater. FOMO is a real thing these days, and I hope to contribute to that in a small way.
So … get out there, people! If you’re a young bartender, it’s time to shine. Make your mark! The Coachella Valley needs you to step up—and I am just an email away if you’re in over your head.
Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at CrypticCocktails@gmail.com.