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November 17, 2010

Announcing the Midnight Sun Mix-off

When I wrote about Maryland Bartending Academy last week, a big debate erupted in the comments over who's better, a bartender with school training, or someone who's had real-life experience.

Some commenters said bartending is all about attitude and character, and training counts for diddly squat.

While Mark Russell, who runs the bartending academy, argued the school gives budding bartenders a primer on the trade.

So who's right? To settle the debate, Jason Zink, manager of No Idea and Don't Know taverns, proposed a contest, a mix-off.

Well, after calling Russell up, I'm happy to announce: It. Is. On.

The mix-off will consist of both a speed and a taste test to be judged by three impartial judges. Zink will volunteer Don't Know tavern, and agreed none of his bartenders would participate. All contestants will have the same ingredients and will make the same drinks.

Russell will pick three contestants from all his graduates.

And for the "School Sux" team (tentative name!), Midnight Sun is now officially recruiting participants.

Anyone is invited to throw their hat in the ring just as long as they don't have any school training. Though, remember, it is my prerogative to choose who the three final contestants will be.

We haven't settled on a date yet, though it will probably be after Thanksgiving or in early December.

Why is this worthwhile? Well, for starters, that primer Russell talks about costs $540, and it doesn't guarantee a license (there isn't such a thing as a bartending license) or a job (though the school promises to help students finding employment).

The mix-off won't just settle once and for all the debate, but it might also help budding bartenders figure out if going to school is better than just training in the real world.

Photo: Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun 

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Posted by Erik Maza at 4:31 PM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Yeah, this will solve nothing.

Where are the "impartial" judges coming from? I think it's an interesting idea but I think the point that the anti-bartending school side is trying to make is that you can become a great bartender through experience, working at different style bars and learning from others who have also gained experience. You can learn knowledge about origins of liquors, mixers, etc by reading about them....execution comes with true experience interacting with guests. And i like how Don't Know doesn't even try to suggest any of their bartenders!! lots of faith in your staff...geez.

@Chris-the reason that Don't Know won't have any bartenders is because they are familiar with the setup, this was proposed by the owner of the MBA.

I think Sam Sessa, should be a judge and possible someone like Chris Furst and maybe a commenter or two like Evan or ECommerce Consultant, or howabout Tif.

I think some of the staff of Don't Know, or perhaps the prettier No Idea be a commenter with Evan.

I can't judge because I'm verypartial but I will particpate cheer and jeer. My issue is- can we all go and just order drinks at once- see how the bartenders handle that- or a sexy chick with big boobs orders a mojito and a stinky dude counting crumbled ones orders a bud light and a guy in a suit orders scotch all at the same time-how do you handle that?

I'll judge blindfolded so I am not partial. I'm very willing to be proved wrong about bartending school people.

Lets just go ahead and change the schools team name right now to team MBA. However, sux the urban noun form of the verb "sucks" certainly fits Maza's bias, sarcastic reporting much better than the schools tentative team name he wrote. Even If the school's team does well in the "mix off" it's doubtful he would write anything positive about them. Sorry, but that's the impression his stories gives me.

I volunteer to be the obnoxious jerk asking questions about idiotically obscure beers and ordering preposterous cocktails that no one has ever heard of, such as the Phillips Screwdriver: OJ, vodka, and milk of magnesia......

Wouldn't be much of a stretch ADMIV, haha. I think you should also try to hijack the bartender's time by giving a long winded speech about the difference between organic hops versus fertilized ones or the like.

Cheers, Maza, for putting this together. See you all there.

Interesting concept, worth of stopping by Don't Know.

For some reason I thought Jason owned No Idea and no longer managed Don't Know.


*WORTHY* of stopping by Don't Know

Get John Reusing from Bad Decisions. This is going to be like curb stomping puppies. We all know what will happen, and its not pretty.

Post Prohibition's Libation Lounge has the best cocktails in Baltimore. Hands down. Check out this drink menu.

John Reusing would be a great judge, I would have to say he is a little over qualified. This contest would be fun with graduates vs. Power Plant bartenders or maybe staff from Mad River.

Jason, thanks for the nomination... I think Sam would be a solid judge and i'm sure everyone would like to see him out. I also like Tif's idea of throwing all of the most common sterotypical "types' of customers...

Hey, I thought this was my suggestion. Hows bout a little credit?

Ill go against the students, message me for my credentials, I am not a seasoned vet by any means. Is there any type of prize?

I will find out more information about the prizes tomorrow. I can personally guarantee

1st Place $250 worth in prizes and cash
2nd Place $150 worth in prizes and cash
3rd Place $100 worth in prizes and cash

I will do my best to make sure that if you win that you will be happy with the prizes.


Let the games begin!

Prizes? I thought this was for pride.

Didn't the guy from Bad Decision already win the best bartender contest less than a month ago?

I Brendan Dorr offically would like to be part of the Skool Sux Team. Learn-ed folk are going down!!!

As I was contemplating this bartending competition that Erik Meza wants to organize, the more I thought it would ultimately prove nothing at all. I'm sure Erik Meza wouldn't have any trouble finding some experienced and talented bartenders that didn't begin their careers by going to school, to compete. Similarly, I don't think the MBA School would have any trouble finding talented graduates with just as much experience behind the bar. In his proposed competition, the bartenders would be judged on speed, is there anyone out there who thinks a graduate, with five years experience, working in a high volume night club, competing against a non-schooled bartender with the same experience, would some how be slower just because they went to school? No. Taste is the other category the bartenders would be would be judged on. The way a drink tastes is often determined by the ingredients a bartender has to work with. Wouldn't an orange crush taste better if it were made with fresh squeezed oranges? How many bars do that? Not to mention the number of recipe variations out there is mind boggling. Isn't it true, when you order your favorite cocktail, from different bartenders from different bars, they usually come out looking and tasting differently? Some good, some not so good. Does this mean the not so good tasting drinks were made from a schooled bartender? No. For every good self taught bartender out there I'm sure there is a not so good one. Just like the schooled bartenders, some are better than others. The most important ingredient that goes into making a "great" bartender is personality, and believe me, you'll not learn that form either on the job training or a bartending school. With that being said, I have decided it would not be a good idea to enter into this particular competition. I have absolutely no desire to participate in anything which could further benefit Erik Meza and his column. Why would the bartending community allow it to be "his perogitive" to choose the non-schooled bartenders? In my opinion, he is far from qualified to be selecting bartenders. When he visited the school to participate in one of our classes, it was obvious, he would have been quite a challenge for us to train and place as an actual student. Maybe sometime in the future, we can arrange some sort of "contest/challenge" that Baltimore's bartenders can showcase their extraordinary talent and skills. Taking the time to set the rules and guidelines to create a level playing field is a must. If planned properly, I am sure we could generate a lot of interest from a variety of publications such as the Beverage Journal, Baltimore, Magazine, Bartender Magazine, Maryland's Restaurant assoc., etc... I think we would all fair better having these other organizations and publications involved than just the Midnight Sun. Cheers!!

@M.B.A.- somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The "contest" would've been great marketing for your school. However you are right, a bartender's job has more to do with personality than actual speed and quality of drinks. I feel like you were taking this contest a lot more seriously than it was intended to be. Good luck with your business.

Anytime there's a reporter, who we feel is out to discredit our school and students, you're right, it's taken very seriously. Maza's participation in is this event, is truly the biggest factor, behind our decision, to sit this on out.

M.B.A. -- I think you're missing the point of this contest, which is a fun way to get everybody mingling together at a bar and have a few drinks and laughs over a contest. It's not intended to "ultimately settle the score" over who has better bartenders. It's all in good fun, and it helps promote both the bartending academy, the bar and the blog.
I don't think you should be worrying about a level playing field. I've reviewed tons of bars and drinks over the years for The Sun, and I was planning on being one of the judges. A blind tasting with predetermined ingredients and competent judges is about as fair as you can get.
I think you should reconsider before making any final decisions. Cheers!

MBA, no one is going to read a 30 line paragraph. It gives the appearance of a rant, of someone mentally unhinged

cr/lf -
MBA's 'rant' is very well written and makes many good points. I completely agree with him. Sorry if a 30 long paragraph is hard to read.

MBA- I don't think Erik was out to give your school a bad image at all, actually, I think the schootenders would've one. They know how to pour an ounce and a half shot, I don't know if I have a bartender that knows what an ounce and a half is, j/k.

Let me know if you want to do it, I had sponsorship lined up as well as prizes.

This would be a great marketing tool for your business as well as a fun time had by all. Good luck either way.

Actually, that was probably a smart decision on the part of MBA. Maza's stories regarding the school, and it's students did sound as if he had it in for them. Calling the contest, Midnight Sun's Mix off, and giving the name "School Sux" to his team, sounds like he would be able to continue his smear campaign had this contest happened.

Why not just have everyone write in who their current favorite bartenders in baltimore are. Figure out which (if any) went to MBA and BAM there is your winner.

Honestly I can kind of see why MBA wouldn't want to involve themselves with this. I think it would definitely discredit the school and prove that going to bartending school is basically worthless (sorry, just my opinion.)

OBVIOUSLY the bartender with more "behind the bar" experience is going to make the better drink, faster.

What MBA does is give people the opportunity to get behind the bar and make some drinks.. since getting a job as a bartender isn't the easiest thing to do.. when you have NO experience.

It's like...

Applicant: "Hey, I want to design websites"
Manager: "OK - have you ever built a website before?"
Applicant: "Nope."

and he's not getting hired. Whereas...

Applicant: "Hey, I want to design websites"
Manager: "OK - have you ever built a website before?"
Applicant: "Yeah, I went to school for it and made a bunch there - as well as practiced at home with my family."

Much more likely to get hired, no?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not an advocate of school whatsoever.. I say, IF YOU CAN, just start working right out of high school... experience is much more valuable than school --- BUT I DO SAY: College taught me how to learn.

So now that I know how to learn, I can learn anything a lot faster than others.. and I'm happy to have gone to college and have that experience.

School or not, make me a cuba libre straight up and I'll give you tip ^_^

Applicant A - I went to school for designing websites

Applicant B - I didn't go to school but I've have expereince building websites here, here and here.

who would you hire?

Bartending is more about making drinkings, you have to know the establishment, menu, etc inside and out. and you need to be able to often wait tables at the same time as tending the bar which is why most bartends get the job by working their way up not by playing pretend bartender for $500

I have to agree with dr. cox and disagree with Arsham. I have been building web apps for over 10 years and of the hundreds of people I’ve worked with very, very few have went to school for web dev. S*** I went to school for Communications and AA Studies and I’ve been in IT for over 15 years, my wife went to school for engineering and we both do the same crap and they have these schools for what we do and I HATE working with those schooled fools- it’s a complete waste of my time 99% of the time and I get p*** off and start FB’ng in the middle of their “fact finding sessions”. Half the web was built before they even had schools for it.

I also have bartended by this method: “hey Tif you wanna bartend a few shifts?” sure.

You were Finger Banging in the middle of their fact finding sessions?

Beav stop watching Cinemax late a night- that stuff does not really happen in real life lol

Thanks for the shout out Zink!

Dr. Cox & Tif - I completely agree with you both. The person with more experience pouring drinks (or building web apps) is going to be the better candidate almost every time... I'm sure you agree with that statement, no?

What I'm saying is that for the majority of people who don't have connections, don't have a way of getting in the door and picking up a couple shifts (in order to gain experience to where they are hire-able) - MBA might be a good route to take.

Sure - if you already work in a restaurant, and you're a cool person.. your manager or bartender will like you and offer you the opportunity.. but otherwise, paying $500 to get a "jump start" may not be the worst route.

You guys are already doing well for yourselves because you're smart and know how to get ahead --- All I'm saying is some people aren't at your level and need to start somewhere.

People who take the MBA course gain confidence in themselves to go out there and try to get a job. Imagine if you have ZERO experience - you're naturally not going to be as confident as the next person.. that's all I'm saying :)

If it's between someone who went to school and someone who has real life experience -- I pick experience every time (just as you would).

What it comes down to is who has the most heart, drive, and talent -- IMHO.


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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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