The Subtle Art of the Bar Uniform
When Sasha Petraske opened Milk & Honey in New York City at the end of 1999, it wasn’t just Prohibition-era cocktails that he reintroduced to drinkers; it was an entire culture with its own rules of conduct and a distinct sense of fashion. In the decade that followed, that speakeasy wardrobe—suspenders, vests and the optional mustache—would be replicated a thousand times over, so much so that the “hipster bartender” became a humorous trope.
Today, as cocktail culture becomes ever-more relaxed and genre-defying, bartenders have lost a button or two, let their hair down and started wearing whatever the hell they want. (I’m particularly a fan of the Hawaiian shirt trend.) But there’s still something to be said for a thoughtful, stylish bar uniform, so long as it’s authentic to the identity of the bar and doesn’t distract from the overall experience. If you’re serving Tiki drinks, you can stay on-brand with a tropical print. If you’re a fancy Japanese bar, why not rock those super-sharp blazers? And of course, if your bar is a classic 1920s speakeasy, forget the haters and go for the suspenders if that’s what you like.
But don’t feel like you have to choose any of the traditional styles associated with bars. Many of the best cocktail bars today are creating all-new uniforms that function as a visual calling card for their brand—case in point, the straw fedoras and orange guayaberas at the Havana-inspired BlackTail in NYC.
So how does a bar create a uniform, or even just a general theme for employee attire, that speaks to its concept? We spoke to restaurateurs, bartenders and bar managers around the world to get some insight.
The Three Dots and a Dash offers to staff five different floral uniforms that riff on the Hawaiian shirt.
4. CONSIDER AN UNUNIFORM UNIFORM
Chicago Tiki bar Three Dots and Dash riffs on the Hawaiian shirt with custom-made floral uniforms by Stock Mfg. Co., a workwear design company. But rather than stick to a single design and silhouette, the bar provides team members with options. This creates a loose collage-like theme that maintains a few constants while offering some stylistic freedom.
“Each team member is given five different uniforms that reflect the Tiki theme created with bright colors and florals,” says beverage director Kevin Beary. “We schedule which is worn on each particular day of the week for uniformity, but the dresses and outfits come in a few different styles and patterns, so each server can wear the design that’s most comfortable for them.”