In the wake of some very public scandals in the drinks world, our contributor Nate Brown thinks it’s time we retired the word ‘legend’ and stopped putting bartenders on pedestals.
I don’t know about you, but hospitality as a career was never something offered to me at school. Which, with hindsight, seems strange in a country of drinkers. According to our betters, we could be anything we wanted, so long as it was a police officer, teacher, lawyer, tradesperson, journalist, or an accountant. The idea of a career in hospitality sat alongside creatives and self-employment as the scary unmentionables of the taboo section.
It’s hardly shocking, therefore, that when I, like many others, fell into this industry we were like rabbits in the headlights looking longingly for guidance and leadership. We found ourselves entering into a closed, unknown world, a magic circle of performers and actors. We were among kings and queens, filling their ice and polishing their glassware. We watched in awe as they enthralled the masses at lightning pace on nightly basis. They were the centre of attention, and the centre of our aspirations. Look at them go!
The bartending world is a world so full of heroes it could be an Avengers movie. But of course, they’re not really heroes, are they? They’re drinks-makers and they’re entertainers. Some are business-minded, most are chronically gregarious. The attention they receive is addictive. And we want some of that. The industry is fuelled by their social status, and the energy that it brings.
And so, as newbies, we watched on with dumbstruck awe as this microcosmic clique spewed out nano-celebrity after nano-celebrity, and we were desperate in our fawning cajolery to emulate them as protégés and prodigies. Bartenders who stuck it out passed some sort of invisible threshold to become industry furniture. Thought-leaders and disruptors are elevated as demi-gods to the bowing congregation. They are rewarded with praise and glamorous trips across the globe, brand merchandise and party invites. The career bartender is walking aspiration. Powered by big brand support, the idol factory that is hospitality continues with relentless abandon, some chosen few enjoying their fifteen minutes, others fifteen years.
Without a nurturing framework, the green look up, and the experienced look down. What else did we expect? But this is a much more dangerous situation than a first glance would suggest. Reputations deliver powerful personas. In the worst cases, they can absolve responsibility, enabling abuses of power and position, acting as a suit of armour against accusation. Much has been said in recent weeks about the awarding of an ‘industry legend’, one who has a history of misogynistic opinions. The result of which was a conflicting polarity of lauding of his career and despising of his character. Who is the judge, who is the jury, and who is the executioner? Accountability and responsibility have long since sailed into the sunset, I’m afraid, and much like the takedown of a similarly culpable London ‘legend’ in recent years, it’ll all too soon blow over.
This goes deeper. Controversies like these, at least momentarily, serve to usurp the facade our industry constructs.
I do not wish to undermine the achievement of owning and operating one’s own bar or brand, or the hard work and dedication it takes to become a thought-leader through merit. But for goodness sake, stop calling each other legends. The Minotaur, Medusa, King Arthur. These are legends. Since when did legends stop slaying dragons and start fucking throwing martinis?
Clearly, no one, no bar, no ‘legend’ is beyond reproach. If it’s heroes you want, you should have joined the police.