Passing the Bar

A drunk, horny guy hits a drunk, horny town -- to learn how to make people drunk and horny

Tuesday, July 3, 2001
11:48 a.m.

American Airlines flight 2042 from Dallas, Texas, has just arrived at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Pale, pasty Southwesterners file out like a flock of happy sheep, wide-eyed and excited at the prospect of trading the prairie for the beach.

But one new arrival lacks his fellow travelers' enthusiasm. Jeff Hoferer shuffles listlessly down the Jetway, dragging his New Balance sneakers across the carpet, clutching his copy of Mötley Crüe's The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band as if it were scripture. His half-closed eyes tell the world that he's not just reading it, he's living it: Nikki Sixx never looked half this wasted staggering off a tour bus.

Jeff Hoferer moseyed on down to Fort Lauderdale's ABC Bartending School from Dallas, Texas, to learn how to make a mean cocktail
Joshua Prezant
Jeff Hoferer moseyed on down to Fort Lauderdale's ABC Bartending School from Dallas, Texas, to learn how to make a mean cocktail

Yet given his destination, Hoferer's stupor could almost count as research. For the past two years -- ever since he graduated with a marketing and international-business degree from Kansas State University in 1999 -- the 24-year-old Hoferer has worked as a bar and concert promoter in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. And like many people who have been doing the nine to five for any prolonged period of time, he's burned out. His prescription for his sad state has, until recently, consisted of large amounts of liquor -- mostly vodka -- and aimless dreams of a career change.

A few weeks back, though, he had an epiphany. Staring down the barrel of a shot glass he had just drained of Jägermeister, Hoferer saw his future: He'd move to Los Angeles and make it big as an actor-model, but not before jetting to South Florida to earn his license to kill... brain cells, that is.

Yes, Jeff Hoferer is here to attend Fort Lauderdale's ABC Bartending School, the Harvard of mixology. Sure, there are other bartending schools, but this is the big one -- and besides, it's close to all of South Florida's great tourist attractions.

"I heard Miami has a great zoo," Hoferer begins, then lets out a snort of laughter. "Fuck no, I came here for the chicks!"

Wednesday-Sunday, July 4-8, 2001

Hoferer has a few days to kill before the first day of his one-week course; he spends that time (and altogether too much money) at various watering holes between Delray Beach and Key West (including, but not limited to, South Beach). Night after night he and his South Florida host reprise Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin's "Swinging Czechs" sketch: stumbling around South Florida, drinks in hand, catcalling anything in heels. But Hoferer's tippling is not all in jest. With each new drink he orders, he carefully notes the amounts, the counts, the sights, the smells, and the tastes.

When there's a lull at the bar, Hoferer quizzes his barkeep. "Pardon me, but why'd that Crown and Seven get a four-count of liquor, but my Jack and Coke only got a three-count?" he inquires of one, referring to the length of time the bartender keeps the alcohol bottle tipped. (Four counts equals one ounce or one shot.)

"How the fuck should I know?" the bartender responds.

"Does this place not have a standard pour?" Hoferer retorts.

"Yeah, the standard is you eating a dick, how's that for a standard?"

Hoferer files this guy's behavior under "bartending don'ts" -- and stiffs the jerk.

Such episodes notwithstanding, he does pick up some rules of thumb to take into his first day of school: The more drinks you serve, the more tips you earn; a guy on a date is a bartender's best friend; and no real man ever orders a Tom Collins in public.

Monday, July 9, 2001
8:32 a.m.

By the first day of school at ABC's North Dixie Highway location, Hoferer's "research" has begun to take its toll. Instead of resting up, he spent the night before at Dada in Delray Beach, checking out the local ladies and slamming high-octane concoctions with a water back. But at least this former economics student understands the demand side of the equation.

ABC has been schooling the supply side since before Hoferer learned to read. The largest chain of bar schools in the country, ABC boasts 13 schools nationwide (and five more on the way). It's a multimillion-dollar venture, granting 7000 degrees a year in cities coast to coast -- and Broward County is where it all began.

When Tony Sylvester opened his first bartending school in Broward County in 1977 on the corner of State Road 7 and Coconut Creek Parkway, he knew there was no guarantee. "It was a gamble," Sylvester says from behind his desk, resplendent in his great tan, gold ring, gold bracelet, gold crucifix, gold Rolex, khaki Dockers shorts, boat shoes, and well-manicured chest hair showing through the half-open front of his martini-glass-and-shaker- print silk shirt. His desk sits front and center of the establishment, flanked by framed thank-you notes from various bars around the country. "But just like the American Dream, a little hard work still pays off in this country," he adds.

This Bill Gates with a twist of lime grew up in an orphanage; his father was in prison before Tony Sylvester had reached barstool height. He has no more than a ninth-grade education, but despite his accomplishments he keeps his ego mostly in check: He doesn't want to forget his Passaic, New Jersey, roots. He keeps his reminders close at hand: His GED, crusty and faded, dated December 19, 1975, stands on a filing cabinet behind his desk, while a picture of him in the orphanage graces his desk at home. He still works ten hours a day, seven days a week.

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