There’s a lot of talk about tipping these days: how much is appropriate, when it should be withheld, how it should be divvied up. But a bartender in Brooklyn is throwing a kink into the conversation by giving his tips to charity. Brian Floyd of the Vanderbilt created the Barman’s Fund earlier this year. Now, he has roughly a dozen fellow barkeeps donating a shift’s worth of tips per month to various worthy causes. He explains how he got started.
How did the Barman’s Fund come to be?
The Barman’s Fund has been going since April. My dad had been very active in supporting Haiti after their tragedy. After the tsunami in Japan, he challenged me to do something, and I said, “Well, I’ll take everything I make at work tonight and I’ll send it to the Red Cross.” My roommate, who is also a bartender, loved the idea and said, “Hey, I’ll do that, too.” Then, another guy that I work with volunteered and, before I knew it, we had six guys. I realized that this was an idea that really appealed to bartenders. We raised a good chunk of money. We raised enough to split it between a local charity, the Greenpoint Soup Kitchen, and the relief efforts for Japan through the Red Cross.
And it has grown since then?
It has spread like wildfire. For September, I’d anticipate we have 12 or 13 bartenders. People drop in and drop out, depending on the month, vacation, or whatever money situation. Some bartenders only work eight shifts a month and one shift is a sizable chunk of their income. The interesting thing is if you asked someone to give me $200 or $300 a month, they’d probably say no. But bartenders pick up shifts much more regularly than people in other jobs. Like, “Hey, it’s my girlfriend’s birthday, can you pick up a shift?” or “Hey, I want to go to the beach, will you pick up a shift?” So, one shift for the greater good isn’t a big deal to a lot of bartenders.
How do you approach new bartenders to join?
Everybody that’s been in the fund so far has volunteered. I don’t approach people. They realize they’ve got a good job and they’re doing well and a lot of people right now, especially locally, aren’t doing so well. We only have a couple of rules: Nothing we give can be political in any way. It has to be people charities. It has to be as tangible a donation as possible. I’d rather give an A/C unit to a first-grade class in Harlem than just give chunk of money to a foundation somewhere.
Have you thought of growing it beyond New York?
Right now, I’m just amazed that it’s doing what it’s doing. It’s completely grassroots, completely informal. It’s just a citizens group. I’m thrilled with what’s it’s doing so far. If what it’s doing right now is all it ever does, I’m perfectly fine with that. We’re bringing between $3,000 and $5,000 and putting it right back into the community each month.
What other charities have you given to?
We actually found a donation request; someone sent it to me, on Craigslist. It’s a shelter on Fourth Avenue and 2nd in Park Slope, called CHIPS. They put out an urgent request for diapers and wipes. We went to target and dropped about $600 on all the diapers and wipes me and the other dude could carry and took them down there that afternoon. We had a great picture of that, by the way. Two hungover dudes buying a truckload of diapers at Target. We sponsored a new free antibiotics program at the Brooklyn Free Clinic. We started to contact local nonprofits and ask them if they have wish lists.
So, you weren’t tempted to call it the Mixologist’s Fund?
I’ve had two more guys in the past two weeks volunteer to join up. What’s great is we’ve got great guys and girls from great dive bars like Freddy’s and Spring Lounge, which are some of my favorite bars in the city. And we’ve got guys from Dram and Prime Meats and some of the more highbrow cocktail bars, as well.
What’s going on with the cocktail list at the Vanderbilt right now?
Now, in midsummer, I try to keep it fresh and refreshing. The cocktails I try to keep simple and crowd-friendly. I try not to intimidate anyone with anything too complex or unfamiliar. We make fresh hibiscus syrup; I make orange bitters. I try to be really creative without alienating anyone that wouldn’t normally walk into Milk & Honey or Death & Co.
Yeah, I abhor pretense in quality bars. It’s something we don’t do here.
There are so many new cocktail bars opening these days. Is it overkill?
I bought my dad a really nice single-barreled bourbon for Christmas a couple of years ago. He was in a smaller town in Mississippi and he called me up mockingly gruff and said, “Son, I’m mad at ya. My Knob doesn’t taste good anymore.” His Knob Creek. As new restaurants like Prime Meats and new bars like Dram and Weather Up become more popular, people start to realize how great a good cocktail can be. How much difference freshly squeezed juice and good ice and really good booze can make.
What are some of the new bars that you’re most excited about these days?
There are a lot of new bars that I need to go to that I haven’t been to. I love the old standbys. I think that Dutch Kills is one of the best bars in the city. The new Weather Up in Tribeca is big and beautiful and is offering food, as well. That’s an outstanding bar.
What’s the most exciting thing in bars these days?
The thing I like the most is that bartenders — even bartenders that aren’t at cocktail bars — are learning the craft. You can now walk into dive bars and ask for a good Old Fashioned. It’s something that’s trickling down as the knowledge spreads. It’s not exclusive to upscale bars anymore.
Any drinking trends you’re sick of?
Well, most of the cocktail bars, myself included at the Vanderbilt, don’t carry much vodka anymore. Weather Up gets away with one vodka and I get away with two.
So, no Cake Vodka?
Um, no. I’m afraid I haven’t seen that one.