And now we introduce you to the Columbia Bartending Agency. Here we have Managing Director Talia Savitskaya, Operations Manager Ethan Fudge, and Agency Manager Tom Reidy.
Bwog: CBA is basically completely student run, yes?
Talia: It’s run by the Center for Career Education. They do it to provide jobs for the students–students run it and it employs students itself.
Bwog: The classes are all taught by students?
Bwog: How many times does the class meet?
Ethan: It’s a 5-day class structure. It either meets five days a week for an accelerated lesson or 1 night a week over 5 weeks. It’s two hour classes, usually from 8 to 10.
Bwog: What do people learn over the 5 classes?
Talia: Class 1 is general knowledge, safety, and highballs (really basic drinks like vodka cranberry, tequila sunrise. Class 2 is shaken drinks (margaritas, Long Island iced teas) and shooters (shaken shots). Class 3 is slightly more sophisticated–lowballs, classy cocktails (martinis, etc.). Class 4 is everything that’s not in Class 3–layered drinks, cream drinks, flaming drinks, after dinner drinks. And Class 5 is the exam!
Bwog: That’s a lot of information in 5 weeks.
Ethan: Well it’s very like Columbia–information intensive. If you want to succeed, you have to work and study and practice outside of class.
Talia: But it’s a lot of fun! Especially if you’re taking it on a Thursday or Friday night. It fills up that time where you’re too tired to actually do any work but it’s too early to go out.
Ethan: And why not learn about what you’re going to drink when you’re going out afterwards?
Bwog: True. Just starting college, it’s really hard to know anything besides the basic drinks.
Ethan: That’s why it’s great to take this as a freshman. I actually wrote about it in the “Why Columbia” part of my application! I took the first session once I got here.
Bwog: Once you go through the class, do you all your friends are asking you to make drinks?
Talia: Ohmygosh, always.
Ethan: Absolutely. You’re the resident mixologist for all your parties.
Tom: Especially because you’re highly encouraged to get the merchandise. So I have the merchandise sitting on my shelf in my room and whenever anyone sees it they want me to make a drink.
Bwog: How much are classes?
Talia: It ranges. It can be as low as $175 for last semester seniors, $250 for people who register in advance. The price goes up if you wait longer to register. There’s also a group discount, if you get a group of 8 it’s $200
Ethan: Plus then you get to do it with your friends and have more fun.
Bwog: Who can take the class?
Talia: Anyone! It’s open to anyone, so there are a lot of non-Columbia people who do it. It’s one of the cheapest courses in the market. The majority cost $500 and don’t use real alcohol. We do.
Bwog: What happens once you’re in the agency?
Talia: Well, to join the agency you have to pass the exam, then do an interview. Only about 20 to 30% of people make it through the interview, it’s pretty intense.
Tom: We want enough people in the agency to book all the events that come through, but not so many that it’s too difficult to get jobs, which is why it’s more competitive. We only take the best of the best. Generally we get about 1200 event requests a year. It can range from pouring beer and wine for an art gallery opening to full bar set-up at a wedding reception.
Bwog: How does training work?
Tom: After everyone’s accepted into the agency, we have a whole day of training. It includes TIPS Training, so when you graduate you can find work really easily at bars and restaurants across the country. We also teach a little about procedures and how to act with clients. But you really learn a lot on the job, which we encourage.
Ethan: When you first join the agency, you can’t work a gig on your own. You have to work an event with a more experienced bartender before you can go on your own.
Talia: The money you pay for the class gets made up so fast.
Tom: I made mine up in my first gig… And if you don’t think you have the time for a more consistent job, it’s as flexible as you want it to be. If you wanna work a lot, you’ll make yourself more available. But if you wanna do just one or two events a semester, that’s fine too. There’s no expected number of hours to work besides one event a semester.
Bwog: When’s the next session?
Talia: Session 1 is a 5-week one and starts September 16. Session 2 is an intensive and it starts October 21. Session 3 is another 5-week and it starts October 28 till December 6. And we account for breaks and long weekends and stuff.
Ethan: But if you’re in the agency and stay over break, the rates basically triple for events.
Talia: Christmas is like…Christmas. They pay so much for holiday events.
Bwog: What else should we know about CBA?
Talia: Working for the agency is kind of like an underground club. You mostly don’t know everyone else who’s part of it. Sometimes you meet someone and weeks later you find out you both work for CBA and it’s amazing. There are people from all different communities across campus. It’s not like a frat, it’s like an underground community.
Ethan: I’ve worked with so many different people—soccer players, playwrights, so on—and we all just share this bond of alcohol.
Tom: Plus one of the major parts of getting into the agency is being outgoing with a good personality, so they’re all awesome people. It’s just a huge group of people with big personalities who can get along with anyone.
Talia: Sociability is one of the main things CBA promotes.
Ethan: But not everyone has to join the agency. There are a lot of people who just want to take the class and learn about drinks.
Tom: I had a great time taking the class. I didn’t know if I was even going to pass the exam, I just had fun learning about drinks. But I guess I passed the exam.
Ethan: …did you?
Talia: We’ll have to go back and check the records.
Interview edited for brevity and clarity.