“It’s Not Just to Mix Coke and Jack Daniels” — A Week in the Life of a Bartender

February 8, 2022

A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject of today’s “A Week In the Life” mixes drinks for a living. He tells us about quitting his full-time bartending job to start his business, how his biochemistry degree makes him a better bartender and why Lagos restaurants sell shit cocktails.

Life of a Bartender

Thursday

My week begins on weekends when Lagos fires up with parties and events, so I must prepare. Every week is different for me, depending on whether or not I have a bartending gig. When I do — like this week — I spend a few days preparing. If I don’t, I experiment with new recipes and do some consulting for restaurants and bars. 

This week, I have a gig on Saturday at an owambe-themed party in Ikeja. It’s supposed to be big. I’ll spend today sourcing supplies, finalising my signature recipes and testing them to make sure that they taste great and that I can produce them at scale.   

Asides from mixing drinks, I also have to make sure the distribution of drinks goes smoothly, which is the most technical aspect of my business. It involves a lot of math and data analysis, especially for large events like this. I have to be sure that the ingredients are enough for as many estimated guests and any unexpected surge in demand. The worst thing that could happen to a bartender is a shortage of drinks or ingredients; that’s why I plan and calculate so much before an event. I’ll need to hire a bar assistant for the day, make a ton of calls to my suppliers, create a budget, etc. I have to make sure everything is in place by the end of tomorrow.

Friday

I woke up at 9 a.m. today with a heavy heart. It seems drinks get more expensive week after week. I have to go to the wholesale market at Apongbon because I still can’t believe the price quotes I got yesterday from my drinks suppliers.  Absolut vodka was ₦5k just last week; today, it’s ₦6k — and that’s even a cheap drink. More expensive drinks like Ciroc added ₦3k overnight. Inflation is a bastard.

I’m just thankful I no longer depend on only bartending at events for a living. It’d be crazy. Thank God for my consulting which brings in the occasional lump sum on the side. Late last year, a businessman was opening a restaurant in Lekki. He had posted on Facebook that he needed an expert to create unique signature drinks to make his restaurant stand out. Over 40 people commented, tagging my name, so he reached out to me. I designed the restaurant’s bar, set up a custom signature cocktail menu and trained the current bartender. That was my first paid consulting gig, which broadened my opportunities. These days, when consulting, I make at least double of what I earn from bartending at events, but consulting opportunities aren’t as regular. 

By 2 p.m., I’ve bought everything I need. I won’t buy fruits until the day of the event, so they’ll still be fresh.

The “Yoruba Demon” – one of the signature cocktails

Saturday

Today, I am once again thankful. This time last year, I was working full-time at a bar in Lekki which made me hate my life. My shift was meant to be 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday to Monday, with shared accommodation in a room near the bar. This setup made sense because I lived on the mainland. Imagine going to Orile from Lekki at 10 p.m.

One month after I started, though, they made us vacate the room. For the next few months, I squatted in the bar’s lounge, sleeping on a couch five days a week. They also made me work overtime as I was the only bartender and I was always around. 

This bar paid me only ₦60k monthly for all my effort, and I didn’t even have time for side gigs to fetch me extra money. One day, I just vexed and told them I wasn’t doing again. I left and started my own brand.

Nowadays, I love the flexibility of being my own boss, even though it has its downsides. For example, this business is seasonal — there are times when bartenders are in high demand, like during holidays. Then there are downtimes where you barely see any gigs. But freelancing puts me in the driving seat and has improved the quality of my life.

Sunday

Today was one hell of a day. The event went well above my expectations. My new signature palm wine cocktails were an instant hit. I sold out and got an outpouring of positive feedback, and so many people shouted me out on Facebook. That’s always good for business. 

I was nervous before the party because I’m usually afraid of large events. And this started after my experience one day in 2020. 

That day, I served drinks at the Lagos Social Hangout — an end-of-year party in Ikeja, Lagos. Guests loved the drinks so much that I made back my capital after just two hours. At around 7 p.m., when the party was in full swing and orders were pouring in, something unfortunate happened that ended the party abruptly. Seun Kuti, who lives on the street, got into a scuffle with some car owners at the event and fired gunshots. And the party scattered. The crowd dispersed and everybody scrambled.

By that time, I’d only made about 20% profit. This was supposed to be my largest party in a long time, and I was high on hope. I’d borrowed money to set up for the event and had to watch my potential earnings vanish in seconds. 

I’ve since moved on from the incident, but I still panic when I’m bartending at large events, which is why I’m glad I don’t have any other events until next weekend. I’ll spend the rest of the week relaxing with my family and looking back on today’s success.

Monday

As a first child to Igbo parents, it once seemed like an absurd decision to mix drinks for a living, but that’s the life I’m living now. 

People like to downplay this job. They say: “Is it not just to mix Coke and Jack Daniels?” I also used to think bartending was only about combining drinks. But there’s a science to it. I realised this when I started reading books on mixology. I saw references to entropy, enthalpy, thermodynamics and other things I’d learned studying biochemistry in school. Even the simplest things like why certain drinks are served in certain types of glasses and in specific quantities have scientific reasons. It all made sense.

I dived into the rabbit hole of mixology, exploring the science and art of it all. I even took a course. Those months I spent studying was the game-changer. To my parents, it didn’t make sense at all, because they expected me to graduate get a standard 9-5 job. But when they saw that I could make more than the average 9-5 wage from one bartending gig, it became easier to convince them.

My chemistry background applies to my job every day and informs the decisions behind each new signature I make. It’s very technical, and that’s what many Lagos restaurants get wrong. Only very few places bother to study how to mix drinks.

The path I have taken is somewhat unconventional — a long winding road, but I’m learning through every turn and becoming a better person with every step. My wrists hurt today. I must have made over 500 drinks last night, but I’m pleased.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 a.m. for more “A Week in the Life” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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