Bartenders Confess Their Most Embarrassing Mistakes

Professional bartenders are wizards of mixology that never fail to deliver the perfect drink to their customers, right? As it turns out, that’s not always true, and even the mightiest bartender can fall victim to an off night. Here, top bartenders from around the country reveal the most cringe-worthy errors they’ve made over the years, proving the age-old adage that pobody’s nerfect.

Dane Nakamura

Beverage Director of Bryan Voltaggio's restaurants

“I once had to play cocktail server instead of bartender because someone called out sick at the DC Improv. As soon as your section gets full, it’s a race to get that first round out because if you don't, you'll get stuck behind 300 other orders. In order to expedite the process we stacked trays of drinks on top of each other. Bill Burr was performing that night, and he said something hilarious; a guest threw their hands in the air and legs out and I tripped. I tripped hard. About $500 dollars worth of cocktails and glasses fell on one singular person—it was an epic tragedy. The whole section was drinkless, thankless and now getting heckled by Bill Burr.”

Rory Toolan

"When I first started out bartending, my simple syrup was kept in a squeeze bottle next to my well. In the last hour of my shift, a customer mentioned that her Mojito tasted 'off.' I went through and tasted each one of the drink's components, when I realized that my simple syrup had been replaced with pickle juice for picklebacks! The scary thing is it took about seven hours before a customer was like, ‘this isn't right.’”

Jane Danger

Mother of Pearl and Cienfuegos, New York, NY

“Sorry to everyone out there that ordered a Martini from me 12 years ago. Extra dry means less vermouth? What?! That messed up my first few Martini orders. I'm still firmly opposed to the phrasing for ordering a Martini.”

Mike Jones

Sable Kitchen & Bar, Chicago, IL

"I was just starting out in the cocktail world and a guest ordered a Sazerac. This guest was a regular at the bar and well respected within the bartender community, and this was my first time making him a cocktail. At the time, this cocktail terrified me. It is simple with few ingredients, but each ingredient is a major player in bringing this cocktail together. The rye whiskey should be carefully chosen, the amount of sugar should be just right, dilution has to be perfect and it should have just the right amount of bitters. I had forgotten one very important ingredient: the garnish of lemon oils expressed over the glass. He immediately pointed out my mistake and I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. He schooled me on the Sazerac that afternoon, and I will never again forget a garnish or overlook its purpose and how it is an essential component to any cocktail."

Rael Petit

Delilah, New York, NY

“My most embarrassing moment was when I was dry shaking an egg white cocktail on live TV, and I was so stressed out from being live that instead of opening my shaker gently, I smacked it hard and the shaker flew off the bar.”

Colin Jensen

Russell’s Tavern, Seattle, WA

“I started out bartending doing banquets. I was setting up for a banquet one day and putting pour spouts in the bottles I was going to use. One particularly difficult bottle to squeeze the pour spout into was one filled to the brim with whiskey. So to muscle the pour spout on top, I leaned over it and pushed hard. What happened next was a bit of a blur, since whiskey shot out of the pour spout and straight into my eye. My eye burned from the alcohol and the velocity with which it struck my eyeball. I was unable to open my eyes for the rest of the day and had to go home before the event even started. It must have been a sight to see, as I crumpled to the ground after getting stung like that. I never really lived it down.”

Christian Molina

Rogue Tomate Chelsea, New York, NY

“Years ago, I worked in a very fast cafe and we would practice free pouring using a Bacardi bottle full of water. Well, somehow, the bottle made it to my speed rack. I was making virgin Mojitos for at least an hour.”

Victoria Canty

Dante, New York, NY

Once when I had been bartending for only a few months, my boss asked me to get on top of the bar and make a flaming Martini glass tower. The base was supposed to be rocks glasses, but I used wine glasses not thinking about the fact that they had stems too. I asked my coworker for six parts butterscotch schnapps to one part Sambuca, which is the flammable part, but she did the opposite ratio. I poured this onto the top and lit it on fire, which made a huge fireball with all of this burning liquid traveling down the glasses. It kept traveling down the stems of the wine glasses, instead of stopping like they would in a rocks glass. I caught my hand, a towel, and the bar on fire on a Friday night, and almost caught a few guests on fire as well. I never made another Martini tower again.

Morgan Zuch

Datz, Tampa, FL

“I was trying to make a special foam for a cocktail and I had to borrow a CO2 canister from our bakery next door that was already full of whipped cream. It was screwed on extremely tight and was full of pressure. I had to ask another bartender with ‘bigger biceps’ to help me out. Meanwhile, we had a full bar of people who were already enjoying the show of us struggling with this whipped cream canister. Tim, the ‘muscle’ of the story, began to empty the whipped cream out of the spout into the trash. Once he thought it was empty, he unscrewed the top and the result was a giant explosion of whipped cream all over the crotch of his pants, which continued all the way about six feet over to our liquor display wall. I felt terrible but our guests were wildly entertained.”

Sarah Neve

"Like 12 years ago when I was very first starting to bartend, I made one of those shots that you top with Bacardi 151 and light on fire before taking. I ended up catching a receipt on fire which then managed to catch the rum that spilled on the bar on fire. I popped the empty metal cocktail shaker over the fire to try and smother it, but the metal got hot and suctioned onto the bar top. There was a permanent dark brown ring burned into the bar. I got really into wine after that."

T. Cole Newton

Twelve Mile Limit, New Orleans, LA

“I was bartending at a chic downtown hotel bar late on a weeknight when a group of four men came in and ordered drinks. They seemed vaguely familiar, and I should have let it go, but after a few minutes I couldn't help myself. I asked, ‘Where do I know you guys from?’ It turns out they were a rock band whose heyday had been about 10 years earlier and they were playing a gig in town the next day. I then said something I've regretted ever since: ‘Oh yeah! I remember you guys! You used to be famous!’ I learned a lesson that night: If you know a guest is kinda famous, but can't figure out why, don't ask. I imagine most celebrities would prefer a night of quiet anonymity to some nosy barkeep reminding them of how they aren't as famous as they used to be.”