Have you ever wanted to see the world, find a way to get up close and personal with the locals, and make money at the same time? Maybe a career in international bartending is for you! Celeste Fortune, the main character in my novel A Dream to Die For, an international bartender with almost two decades of experience, can tell you about how to get started.
Susan Z Ritz: How did you decide to become an international bartender?
CELESTE FORTUNE: It all began as a whim, or maybe I should say, a dream. After my parents died, my life turned upside down. Though they left me a bit of money, it wasn’t enough to keep me in college. I wasn’t the rah-rah college type in any case, as my roommate Gloria pointed out. It was enough to get me to the other side of the world, though, and I high-tailed it out of Ohio for the big city lights of Tokyo, where I figured I could get a gig teaching English. It didn’t take me long to figure out that real money was in the bars. Every evening, Japanese “salary men” head to their special watering holes, eager not just for the booze, but for the attention of the hostesses—especially the European girls who served drinks and put up with a lot of shenanigans for some pretty good tip money.
SZR: So you were a hostess?
CF: No, I figured I was too tall and skinny to get in on that, but I did know how to mix a few mean drinks. Growing up with my drunken parents gave me years of experience pouring some pretty stiff ones. That got me in the door of my first bar, Café Absinthe, in Osaka. In just a few months, I’d made enough money to move on, travel to Southeast Asia, volunteer in a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border, do some freelance reporting. Every time I began to run low, I’d find another bar in some resort area or big city and save up, then take off exploring again.
I was living the dream!
SZR: How would someone get started in this business? Do you have you be a great bartender first?
CF: First, I’d take a quick bartending class, get a certificate, learn to make a few of the classics, like Manhattans, Old Fashions, Harvey Wallbangers. A very dry Martini is a must. You don’t need to be a fancy mixologist, but you should have a solid repertoire that you can mix up fast. Speed is the key in a busy bar.
SZR: But how can you legally work in another country?
CF: Believe it or not, some countries like Singapore and Korea where foreign, mostly Western, barkeeps are a big draw, offer Working Holiday Visas for young Americans between 18 and 30.
SZR: What did you like best about bartending overseas?
CF: Have to say, the money and tips. But hanging out with the local barflies taught me a lot about the countries I was in. And I even made a few friends. I’d tell anyone ready for a grand adventure, bartending is a great way to see the world. And when you get ready to go back home and settle down, you know you can find a job like I did at the Broken Gate in Riverton Falls!