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Lessons learned running NoiseBar during events
TODO(Shields): add menu and mixed drink cheat sheet here
Ideas that were better than expected
Simple syrup in squeeze bottles. This was essential. It would be nice to find some squeeze bottles that don't leak, though.
Speed-pourers on the 750 mL bottles. I used the cheapest available ($0.75 at City Discount) and they were great. Pouring from the 1.75 L bottles into a jigger was much slower and less convenient; we should only buy 1.75s if they're really a lot cheaper.
Dark and Stormys. This is now for sure my favorite party drink; it's a little sweet, a little stiff, a little tart. And it's not critical about proportions, which means with the speed-pourer you don't need to measure anything at all and can do several at a time.
Manhattans; they're relatively labor-intensive but it's not a real bar if you can't make a Manhattan. I put the "very fancy Italian cherries" up front and mentioned them on the menu. These cherries are $18/jar but they spiffed up drinks by way more than the per-cherry cost. I served lots of Manhattans and lots of repeat Manhattans—in one case, four times.
Tiny cups for drinks that are stirred and strained (i.e., no ice). It's only about 3–4 fl oz of drink; that looks normal in a tapered cocktail glass but would look puny in a regular plastic cup.
Limited menu. It was as long as is practical. I'd probably try to make it shorter.
The nyan cat table.
Things that needed improvement
Most of all, MOAR ICE. We should have filled a whole freezer with bags of ice. We almost ran out several times, and running out of ice would have nearly shut down the bar.
A few people just wandered into the bar area, confused about whether I was the official bartender or if there was just an open table of alcohol, like it was a frat party or something. I put a red Noisebridge sticker on my shirt which helped more than I expected it to. It would be a good idea, seriously, to have a velvet rope at each end.
People were also confused about where they should order; we should make better signs.
People kept asking for cups of water and for paper towels. We should have made these self-service.
I had a pocket full of $1 bills for change, but a pocket full of $5 bills would have been much more useful. Nearly every change request was someone wanting $5, $10, or $15 back from a $20. If we go to $6 suggested then we should have $5s and precounted four-$1 packs.
The bar needs its own trash and recycle bins; preferably open top, step can ok, not the type with a lid. Also, hand sanitizer.
What to buy
I think we mostly bought the right things, mid-range level.
- 1 keg Racer 5 IPA
- 6 bottles wine (two chardonnay, two syrah, two merlot)
- Maker's (we finished a 1.75 by midnight)
- Bacardi (1.75)
- Stoli (1.75)
- Jameson (1.75)
- Gosling's (two 750s)
- Fernet (one 750)
- sodas in descending order of quantity needed
- Ginger ale
- tonic water
- 7-Up or Sprite—didn't have this, but we should have
- club soda
- Diet Coke
- Dolin sweet and dry vermouths
- very fancy Italian cherries
- olives for martinis
- Angostura bitters and Regan's orange bitters, unless we have them around
- maybe some Bundaberg ginger beer for Fernet backs (don't get their root beer by mistake like Ben and I did)
- some short straws for tasting drinks (put your finger over the end, remove from drink, then taste that)
- a lot of limes, cut the long way into 1/8th wedges
- lemon juice (300 mL)
- sugar to make simple syrup (2 lbs)
- cups, in two sizes, as many as you think we might need
- now, more than that many cups
- a mountain of ice
Equipment we should have around now because I donated it:
- two Boston shakers
- two Hawthorne strainers
- two julep strainers (not really necessary)
- two bar spoons
- two Oxo jiggers
- small tongs for cherries (should get another for olives)
- squeeze bottles
- speed pourers
- ice scoop
Things we correctly didn't bother with
Fruit juices (except lemon for mixing); we had orange juice but barely used it, and one request for a vodka cranberry. Skip.
Tequila or any other spirits besides what we had. Pretty much every drink with tequila also requires triple sec or some other ingredient we decided to leave out. If people want a margarita they'll probably be happy with a Dark and Stormy or Cuba Libre anyway.
Squeezing lemons on the spot. It does make a better drink but this isn't the Alembic.
Multiple beers; the one keg of Racer 5 was just about the right amount, and we don't want to deal with bottles.
Any sort of "top shelf".
Whiskey in general was more popular than anything else.
About 5% of people weren't donating or were massively underdonating, and about 2% were overdonating.
Some people had brought their own alcohol, which is fine. Some of them wanted to borrow a bottle opener, which is also fine except that I worried about getting it back. I'll put up one of those wall-mount bottle openers.
If you use set notation incorrectly on the drink menu, someone will call you on it.
Don't fill the cups all the way when making highballs; it won't taste strong enough, and it's more likely to spill.
Any drink with ginger ale or tonic water or rum gets a lime. Squeeze it and drop it in.
Put bottles in known locations so you don't have to look for them.
Grab bottles by the neck.
Try not to handle money; if people don't need change, it's faster and more sanitary to have people drop donations in the jar themselves. I kept repeating "donation jar to your right" and taking the next order.
The speed-pourer is sensitive to rotating the bottle around its axis. It will pour well with the bottle held vertically if you start in the correct orientation. Use a jigger for the first few times until you figure out what you need to count to for a 1.5 oz shot.
If you're stirring drinks, it will block other work for 30 seconds, so don't hide it behind the bar. Look busy.
If you wear a tie, a vest or tie bar is really practical.
Work out in advance who is taking over the bar and when. Stick around for a few minutes so they get oriented.