Columbia Bartending Agency and School of Mixology

As you would expect from an Ivy League institution which strives for academic excellence, Columbia University has been training students to mix and serve drinks with aplomb since it opened its ‘School of Mixology’ in 1965.

Nestled within the hallowed halls of Columbia Uni in New York’s leafy Upper Manhattan, the Mixology class is part of the larger ‘Columbia Bartending Agency and School of Mixology’ which is an entirely self-run and self-sufficient business managed predominantly by current undergrad students, with assistance from ex-students and faculty. The Agency and School are geared towards supporting Columbia scholars, and provides them with an exciting, rewarding means of gaining employment experience and earning money during their studies.

While alumni and students form the core of the operating team, lessons – which are part of the official University program – are open to anyone who wishes to learn the art of concocting and serving delicious drinks, and given the prestige of the institution and the quality of training on offer the fees they ask are extraordinarily low: just $250 will see you enrol on their renowned CBA School of Mixology course.

Instructors at the Mixology school are all pro bartenders and graduates of Columbia’s program, and provide immersive, hands-on training utilizing the wealth of experience they have gained since completing the course, with many having worked around the world. Classes are fun and informative, with staff providing ongoing feedback in order to ensure students complete the program with the confidence and skills required to follow in the footsteps of previous graduates – many of whom have gone on to achieve great things in the hospitality industry. Although New York State does not require a license to work behind the bar, Columbia’s certification will lend considerable weight to your CV and give you the confidence and self-belief to succeed in the real world. Given the low cost of the course, Columbia could be excused for using coloured water instead of whisky, brandy and so forth for its training – as do most other, more expensive bartending schools – but, incredibly, the University uses real alcohol during its classes. They believe that a top bartender will know what flavors, garnishes and liquors go together and only by using real alcohol will they develop their palate and ability to taste what works for the customer.

The University’s ‘School of Mixology’ course costs $250 (although various discounts and special offers are frequently available) and is a ten hour program spread over a period of five weeks (a two hour class per week). Classes run from fall to summer, with around seven scheduled slots per academic year, and applicants must be eighteen years old to participate – with the caveat that you must be twenty-one in order to taste your own drinks! The course is taught by two professional mixology instructors accompanied by an assistant, and students will learn how to make classic and contemporary drinks using premium spirits, research recipes from the over one-hundred-and-fifty provided in the school’s workbook, familiarize themselves with bar setup and equipment such as shakers and strainers, and finally undergo customer service training and input on TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedure) for safely working with and around alcohol. A final test – a written exam and practical drink preparation in front of a panel of judges – will decide if you have what it takes to graduate.

Columbia also offers bespoke ‘At-Home Mixology Lessons’ for $25 per hour, which can be arranged via the University website, a ‘Hire a Bartender’ service where graduates from the course are available to attend your event or function for extremely competitive rates, and a ‘Party Planner’ where you can use the agency to estimate what you need to stock your bar to ensure your next party is a hit with guests. Added to this they have a merchandise section where anyone can purchase ‘everything you need to be a master mixologist’, from shot glasses to tee shirts and bartending kits at discounted prices.

Students who successfully graduate from the Mixology class also have the opportunity to sign up with the Columbia Bartending Agency, with the proviso that they are still a full-time student at Columbia University or one of its affiliates, and scored ninety-five percent or above on the final examination; the Agency’s staff are selected from the top fifteen percent of their classes, so the demands are high if you wish to join. More than two hundred certified bartenders are on the company’s books, and all work part-time in some of New York’s most fabulous nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

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