The Thirst for Speed

By Erin Lettera | Will Blunt


Erin Lettera
Will Blunt
Bartender Jessica Johnson creating That Tingly Sensation
Bartender Jessica Johnson creating That Tingly Sensation

You walk into a bar on a Friday night. It’s packed. There are five bartenders behind the stick. Each has in front of them a lineup of shakers and a variety of glassware. One hand stirs or swizzles, while the other shakes and strains. The bartenders are smiling, leaning in ever so slightly to listen to a guest’s order. A flick of the wrist here, a spritz of lemon oil there, and suddenly they put up six, precisely garnished cocktails. A quick change of barware and glasses, and they start again. That’s Wooster’s Garden, the sprawling, 150-seat Midtown Houston cocktail bar that is home to a wall of tap beer (no bottles of lonestar here, sorry diehards), a wine list, an ambitious food menu, and, most notably, a lengthy scroll of house cocktails. Bar service averages a head-spinning pace of 600+ cocktails a night.

The service style at Wooster’s is simple, but strict says General Manager Jessica Johnson. “Customer service comes first, followed by accuracy, technique, then speed. Guest feel welcomed and acknowledged. Our team strives to be warm and friendly, even when we’re at our busiest. Jokes are made, laughs are had, it’s a good time.” 

The bar team at Wooster’s is expected (and accustomed) to mixing 6 cocktails at a time plus highballs, while pouring beer and wine and taking food orders. There are 47 original house cocktails on the menu, in addition to seven rotating seasonal drinks. Bartenders are also required to know a set of more than 50 classic cocktails. 

Every bartender also has taken a speed test. They’re given six original Wooster’s cocktails to mix: three shaken, one shaken with egg whites, and two stirred. The set must be completed in seven minutes or less. Each drink averages about six touches and bartenders must work clean. The drinks also are judged on taste, of course. The training program at Wooster’s lasts about a month during which speed, technique, and exemplary bar practices are tested and retested. The current best time for a speed test? Six minutes and four seconds. “Cocktails are not batched, every cocktail is built and served a la minute,” Johnson says.  

Here are the average times posted by Johnson’s team for four of the most popular cocktails at Wooster’s. How would you rack up?    

White Truffle Yuzu 75
Ingredients: White Truffle-Infused Citadelle Gin, Yuzu Juice, Sparkling Wine 
Touches: 5
Average Time: 90 seconds 


Jessica Rabbit
Ingredients: Pickled Blueberry-Lavender-Cardamom Shrub (aka rabbit’s blood), Bourbon, Cognac, Mint
Touches: 6
Average Time: 2 minutes


Don’t Nori About It
Ingredients: Mango-Nori-Coriander Shrub, Vodka, Lemon, Axis IPA 
Touches: 4
Average Time: 90 seconds (which includes stepping away from the well to top off the cocktail with IPA from the draft wall)


That Tingly Sensation
Ingredients: Jim Beam, Szechuan Tincture, Apricot, Coriander-Cherry Bark 
Touches: 3
Average Time: 60 seconds

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