Watching the documentary Hey Bartender is like spending a night at a good bar: It's fun, easygoing, and lasts just a little longer than it should. And the conversation, while delightful in the moment, often seems banal the next morning. It's clear that director Douglas Tirola is passionate about cocktails and the art of tending bar and that he's as charming as the members of the hospitality industry he's convinced to tell their stories on camera. The bartenders themselves are a motley crowd, most of whom ended up in the service industry by accident — or without intending to stay. These ex-actors and military veterans have a dogged energy for performance and are often surprised by their enthusiasm for their own profession, especially when the reasoning voices of less-than-proud parents and weary partners threaten to drown out the din of clinking glasses and comfortable chatter. The film is more a love song, a Terrence-Malick-meets-Ken-Burns mood piece, than a narrative. But if there's a central story, it's how the craft cocktail, absent from American drinking culture since Prohibition, re-entered the scene, gaining popularity with cosmopolitan drinkers at bars such as New York's neo-speakeasy Employees Only (profiled in the film) and also in places like Westport, Connecticut, where Steve Carpentieri manages Dunville's, a neighborhood restaurant and bar. What carries the doc is Tirola's expansive, democratic spirit — his understanding of the value of bar as meeting place, not just a stage for bitters and booze. His friendly film goes down as easily as a well-mixed drink.
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