Tales of the Cocktail Foundation presents The Great Bar Race sponsored by GREY GOOSE® celebrates the often unrecognized acts of service and the industry professionals who execute them in a competition that puts their skills and teamwork to the test. For more information on how to enter and to attend a live event, see the Great Bar Race site.
“Our team was actually built on a total whim,” explains Alfie Spears, a bartender at San Francisco cocktail bar Trick Dog. Initially, he wasn’t aware he would be participating in Tales of the Cocktail’s Great Bar Race sponsored by Grey Goose and simply flew down to support his coworkers on BVHospitality’s official team. However, on the Uber ride from LAX to The Base facility where the Race was being held, Spears got a call from friend and former Trick Dog bartender Josh Jancewicz explaining that a team had just dropped out. Jancewicz thought they should quickly assemble a crew and compete. “Josh has always been like an older brother to me and can make the silliest ideas seem worth it,” says Spears.
By the time Spears got to the venue, Briggs Brown, another former colleague, had also been talked into joining the team. Yet they still needed one more willing player to complete the squad that would become known as “Too Fast for Love,” after the Mötley Crüe song that has frequently been sung at Trick Dog over the years. (Perhaps inevitably, “Too fast, too fast for love!” became the team’s sing-songy motto.)
Spears, Jancewicz and Brown scrambled around the The Base looking for anyone not already wearing an official Grey Goose competitor T-shirt. Just then, Raul Pool, the general manager of Echo Park’s Lowboy, happened to walk by. He was quickly enlisted.
Though the four had missed the walk-through of the course and generally had no idea what they would be doing, they weren’t intimidated. Working in bars is, after all, often about improvising through spontaneous challenges. And indeed, speed would prove to be Too Fast for Love’s greatest asset.
Jancewicz, the unofficial captain of this ad hoc team, is well-known for his hustle. People have described him as having a “great motor,” a quality and an ethic he picked up at Trick Dog. “Great service to me means having the unexpected ready for you at the drop of a hat,” says Jancewicz, who currently bartends at three bars in the Los Angeles area. “Being prepared for any situation is crucial for giving good service.” He explains that his tenure at the storied San Francisco institution taught him to be quick on his feet, an advantage that he believes catapulted Too Fast for Love to the front of the Race.
In the Relay Race, speed proved critical; tasked with creating three presentable cocktails while battling a ticking clock, the four had to simultaneously dodge a minefield of obstacles, including people trying to disrupt service and knock them off their feet. However, years of working in raucous, frequently packed, high-volume bars like Trick Dog had prepped the team, allowing them to pull off a win in such a tricky challenge. It wasn’t easy, though.
Behind the Team
“There were various times I came within a split second of spilling all those drinks all over myself,” says Spears. “I owe it to years of maneuvering around guests that I kept those drinks upright and intact.”
The lone teammate to never have worked at Trick Dog, Pool might have demonstrated the greatest poise. He performed with great aplomb in the final challenge, the Funky Cosmo. His teammates said he offered a stoic, calming presence throughout the entire competition. “Nothing fazed him at any point and he was constantly on it,” claims Spears.
Too Fast for Love’s eventual victory wasn’t simply about winning—Brown, Jancewicz, Pool and Spears were simply happy to be competing; none of them had woken up that morning expecting to win or even participate in the Great Bar Race. Brown, who’d gotten into a fender bender earlier in the day, said the experience was indicative of the attitude necessary to working in the service industry: When you get to work, you put everything else aside and join the team.
“The difference between service and great service is the experience you provide for a guest,” says Spears. He adds that it’s important to show up for each individual guest to keep them coming back. “Also, work your ass off and have fun.”
Scenes from the Competition