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Whether you spend your time behind the bar or in front, the new documentary “Hey Bartender” (opening in New York City on June 7 and around the country in the coming weeks) from filmmaker Douglas Tirola is one you won’t want to miss. It offers an intimate glimpse into the world of cocktails and the people who pour the drinks, including the personal journey of Steve Schneider from Employees Only in New York City. Recently, Schneider chatted with us about why he thinks the world needs a movie about bartenders and what we can take away from it all.
And to watch the film's trailer, click here.
Imbibe: From apprentice bartender to central character of a feature film—are you ready for it?
Steve Schneider: I’m honored to be one of the faces of this movie. It was four years in the making, and it’s really cool to look at where I was then to where I’ve grown to now. It’s almost like watching a different person on screen.
How did you get involved in the project?
I was an apprentice at Employees Only and Doug [Tirola], the director, came in and sat at my bar. I just chatted with him, took care of him and he left. He came back later and said, “Hey, I’m making a documentary about bartenders—can you be in it?” I was like, “Sure, man, whatever you want.” I didn’t think anything would come of it. Boy, was I wrong. I’m really happy with the way the film came out. It offers history, an ode to some of the pioneers and really celebrates the cocktail. And the ending credits where people from bars all over the world are just smiling? I love that. It just sums it all up.
Why a movie about bartenders, and why now?
I think it’s overdue, to be honest. Bartending is a funny world, and not everybody drinks, so it’s hard to capture that mass audience like a chef would. But it’s growing and evolving unlike anything else. I go by the amount of fruit I cut before a shift—a few years ago I would cut lime and lemon wedges for highballs like g&ts and vodka sodas, and now I’m cutting lemon and lime wheels for garnishes for actual cocktails. People are drinking more cocktails, and it’s time to introduce our small corner of the bar community to the rest of the world.
What did you learn about yourself and the bar industry while filming?
I grew as a person in a short amount of time. I got to meet the Sam Rosses, the Jeff Bells and the Joaquin Simos of the world, and I gained an appreciation and respect for all different styles. It’s like we’re martial artists and I practice taekwondo and you jiu jitsu—we’re eventually going to fight and preach our styles, but we have to respect each other or we’re going to get knocked out. The more styles you understand, the better you can adapt to a situation. And as bartenders, we’re all in this together. It’s not a competition, it’s a celebration, and the more we stick together, the more we can grow together.
What’s on thing you wish people understood more about a career behind the bar?
We got to hear a brief part of my story during the movie, but I’m one of thousands and thousands of bartenders around the globe with stories to tell. When the doors are open, I’m here to serve you. The wild, rockstar lifestyle goes out the window. It’s like you’re Batman and I’m Alfred—I’m here to serve you. But I also want to be respected. It can be difficult to demand respect from a larger audience, but if I give respect I expect get it in return. It all starts with the bartender and ends with the bartender.
What do you hope people take away from the movie?
I think it all comes down to celebration and growth, respect and appreciation. And an understanding for what we do. What the guys at 4th Row Films did to showcase our craft, industry and culture is really pretty remarkable.