The Midwest Bartenders School in Indianapolis offers lessons in drinks, flair

Visions of Tom Cruise flipping bottles in "Cocktail" come to mind among the students at the Midwest Bartenders School.

The school offers a two-week, 40-hour course to anyone interested in the art of mixology. Students attend class Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 6 to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Classes cost $495.

Richard Devlin, director of admissions, started the school 10 years ago but has been in the business for 23 years. He started bartending when he was 18, the legal drinking age in New York at the time.

He put himself through college with the money he made. He then worked at several bartending schools and eventually owned one in San Antonio, Texas, before coming to Indianapolis.

"Each day or evening the students get a drink lesson for 45 minutes to an hour," he said. "After the lesson they get behind the bar, so it's on-the-job training. The next day they take a quiz over what they've learned.

"They've got to learn their sweet and sours, and then they progress to their highball juice. That's where the flashcards come in."

Many students gain a respect for bartending because of the memorization involved. As they pour the drinks they keep count in their heads in order to have the right amount for a recipe. The quizzes contain such questions as "The recipe for Amaretto Sour is?" and "What is on your speed rack?"

An average of about 15 students attend each of the classes. Instructors like to have only a few at a time so that they can devote as much one-on-one attention as possible to them. Most students are in their 20s and 30s, but some older individuals have also taken an interest.

"For some crazy reason, I thought this was something I wanted to learn how to do," Terry Green, 50, said. "I'm in telecommunications and have hardly had one minute to study since I've signed up for this class. I've been so busy at work."

There are also college students taking the course. Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis visual communications major Heather Spangler found out about the school from the Internet and sent an e-mail. She is currently taking night classes. Kyle Willis, an accounting major at Marian College in Indianapolis, said he has learned about 15 drinks during a three-day period.

Behind the bar, students pour colored water from the speed rack, which represents the cheaper liquors that are most commonly ordered. A bartender always asks what liquor they want in their drinks, such as gin or vodka and then try to upsell them to a more expensive brand. Students take turns ordering off their students and picking drinks from a recipe book.

The school has three instructors - Ben Goodman, Margaret Langendorf and Kyle Houk. Houk also offers an eight-hour flair class on how to flip bottles.

Langendorf also put herself through college by bartending. The most she made in one night was $1,700, when she worked at a wedding. She currently works at Sangiovese Ristorante, 4110 E. 82nd. St., Indianapolis. She said she makes a lot more money than she did in the corporate world and has had much more fun without the stress headaches.

"One of the great things about being a professional bartender is that once you can do it, you can do it anywhere," she said. "The variety of drinks, the way you deal with customers, the confidence you get from a school like this travels with you, so you can work Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, any kind of private party or a professional bar, because your basic liquors don't change, or how you serve your beer or wine."

The school has a 97 percent placement rate for graduates, who have worked at such places as the Indy 500 Motor Speedway suites (One graduate made a $1,500 tip off a single drink). Even in times of economic trouble the business thrives.

"Bartending is a job that's recession-proof, because the worse times get, the more people drink," Devlin said.

"Bartending is so much about the personality you bring to it," Langendorf said. "We get a lot of shy people in here, and they say they do stuff at the bar they would never dream of doing because it's your job to interact with customers.

"We've had Eli Lilly chemical engineers, teachers and a radiologist from Wishard Hospital taking this class, along with every race and nationality, because it is individual. The bartender goes with the bar, and there's a bar for everybody."

In the last five years the school was voted the No. 1 bartending school in the Midwest, and one of their graduates was voted bartender of the year by Nuvo magazine.

The school is fully accredited by the Indiana Commission on Proprietary Education and is also a member of the Better Business Bureau.

The school is located at 5759 E. 86th St. in Indianapolis and can be reached at (317) 577-2727. Their Web site is