Israeli bartender Amit Gilad, 34, has triumphed over 42 contenders at the international Marie Brizard Cocktail Competition that took place recently in Bordeaux to take home a €3,000 prize and international acclaim.
"Of all the cocktail competitions that I have taken part in, this was the hardest, which is why the victory is so sweet," Gilad told Yedioth Ahronoth. What won him the crown was a concoction of anis, Jasmine liquor, passion fruit, grapefruit juice and mint – a cocktail that has grown popular in Israel in recent years.
With the excitement over the career-defining moment, and the respect that he has earned among colleagues overseas, comes the disappointment over the Israeli attitude towards bartenders. Despite the perpetual development of the alcohol and nightlife industries, tending bar is not seen as a legitimate profession but a temporary job taken on by the post-army and student crowds, who are primarily interested in earning fat tips for physical nighttime work.
Gilad, who has been mixing drinks for 17 years, belongs to an older generation of Israeli bartenders who treat the profession with high regard, just like their middle-aged counterparts in neighborhood pubs in London and New York.
"The primary reason that so many young people are attracted to this kind of work is the money," he said. An average bartender earns NIS 300 ($83) a night, while a good bartender can make as much as NIS 100 ($28) an hour."
'Maintaining a relationship tough'
Gilad calls the money earned by bartenders over the age of 25 'Blood Money' – for the all the stressful situations that they must deal with to earn it.
First, there's contempt from the family, as it is every Jewish mother's dream for her son to become a doctor or a lawyer.
"At first they thought that this was just a phase, but over time they grew scared and tried to stir me in the way of a normal person – studies, regular job, wedding, mortgage and kids," Gilad said. "Finally, when they saw that I treat this work seriously and professionally, they stopped lecturing and accepted my choice."
A bartender's love life often does not conform to the normal course, either. "It's difficult to maintain a relationship when one of the sides works at night," Gilad said. "You eventually get used to the many temptations that exist at the bar, but it's hard to live a normal life when the couple's time together is limited to a few hours a day. It's a sure recipe for an unhealthy relationship."
Despite everything, Gilad stays optimistic. "I know that the world of alcohol in Israel is marching forward, and I have no doubt that the bartender will eventually get the professional respect he deserves, even if he is over 40."
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