Unique school looks to fight inequality with bartending course

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB)-- Louisville's bar and restaurant scene is booming, but that's left some business searching for qualified staff. A new bartending course wants to solve that problem by training the best bartenders in town, while also giving people a chance at a better life.

"We need to come to grips as a city that we're going to need people to leave with the same joy that they anticipated coming," said Joe Heron, owner of Copper and Kings distillery and creator of the Ideal Bartender School.

The school is a course designed to teach students the essentials of bartending, which is an in-demand skill in the Derby City.

"There is such a large shortage of especially good bartenders. I don't see an end to this program anytime soon," said Heron.

Heron developed the school by taking a cue from history and one of Louisville's most famous bartenders.

"That book is still being used today and that bartender happened to come from Louisville, Kentucky," said Heron.

100 years ago Tom Bullock published "The Ideal Bartender," a book full of original drink recipes and making him the  first African-American bartender in America to publish a cocktail manual.

"Someone who developed a craft that could be used to make a really solid to upper middle class income for himself and some fame and fortune through writing a book," said Heron.

That legacy inspired the school of the same name with a mission to provide opportunity, thorough education, for people in need.

"We sit with a lot of opportunity so we need to bring people along for the ride. Bring people across the 9th Avenue divide," said Heron.

While the industry expands in Louisville, diversity has not.

"There are not a lot of ethnicities represented as bartenders. There are not a lot of women behind the bar," said Eron Plevan, an instructor with the Ideal Bartender School.

But by seeking out those facing economic hardship, The Ideal Bartender school hopes to change the scene.

"I hope it changes the culture in Louisville. I hope you can go to any bar in the city and see a lot of diversity  and a lot of interesting and skilled people behind the bar," said Plevan.

The class is free and students meet once a week for a bootcamp in beer and spirits. By the end of the 15 week session, students can go from having no bar knowledge to a full foundation in hospitality and spirits. 

"I wanted to dive in with both feet," said Darci Stuhlman who was part of the first class that graduated in May. Now she works as a bartender and tour guide at Cooper and Kings. 

"If you have financial need, if you've hit a dead end in your career path if you're excited to learn and dedicated to learning self disciple in the bartending aspect i would definitely recommend that," said Stuhlman.

Students in the first class finished the session with either an interview or a job. James Chaffins is now working as a bartender at Red Herring.

"It covered pretty much everything i feel like i would need to prepare myself for a job in the city," said Chaffins.

The next session of the Ideal Bartender School will begin on Wednesday, February 28 and run every Wednesday night until May 30th. The final deadline to apply is Friday, January 19.  A link to the application is available is here: https://www.idealbartenderschool.com/

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