Charitable Donations Snapshot: Legs 1 and 2


This is the ongoing tracking of your charitable donations to CORE. As part of our charitable efforts on the Bar Institute Econo Tour, we are asking for $5 donations at the door (just like you would have paid at an all ages show in 1993) and $5 per drink (ok, we added this. There weren’t many cocktails at straight edge shows).

The generosity of our friends in the midwest (Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City) brought in:


Our friends in Oklahoma City and Texas (Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston) brought in:


If you haven’t heard of CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees), please take the time to get to know them and the good work they do. CORE offers grants to hospitality professionals who are struggling with injuries or illness. Applying for a grant could not be easier, so head to the website and please refer anyone you know who might need the help.

This post is brought to you by our partners at Crown Royal who remind you to live generously. They’re also running a really fantastic campaign to #crownyourbartender where you can nominate a bartender for their generosity. You can find out more here:

Stay Humble, by Amie Ward

I just flew in from Texas and boy, are my arms tired. (wakka wakka wakka)

Back in Baltimore I am finally unpacked and reflecting on the incredible adventure I was fortunate enough to be a part of last week, driving through Texas with the Lush Life crew on the second leg of their Bar Institute Econo Tour. The theme of this leg centered on Mental Health and Wellness. My role, aside from leaving a trail of bright red hair and talking incessantly about flamingos, was to speak on functional movement and physical self-care for bar industry folks. Each stop brought a diverse crowd and vibe, but the reception was consistently enthusiastic. People wanted to make habitual changes to prolong their careers, but most did not know how to go about it. We talked about simple, economical, and practical approaches, and many shared their own remedies, helping add to my teaching arsenal when I speak to future bartender populations on this subject.

Through these classes, getting to know the Texas bar community, and my time in the van, one theme stuck with me that could also be seen emblazoned in gold at Juniper Tar during our San Antonio stop—Stay Humble. I am not sure any other ethos can properly capture this experience. Determined to promote social justice and its myriad of forms, the Lush Life squad has taken to the road to bring day long education to 25 cities at a suggested donation of $5. Where the hell else are you going to see that? And while this is fiscally approachable education at your doorstep, do not think for a moment the quality is diluted. The classes are downright baller.

I acted like a giddy child listening to a distilling legend (twice), learned advanced bartending techniques by both well-established and rising bar professionals, had frank discussions on “comp-ing”, got to geek out over spreadsheets for costing cocktails and tracking financials, discovered what some of our respected community members consider essential for owning and operating a bar, and reviewed how to execute an effectual charitable event (such as the one I was immersed in). There were more classes, but my word limit for this blog must be abided by. I engaged with bar owners who cared immensely for their team members, struggling to ensure they could send them to educational events to grow, and relishing in their achievements like a parent would their child. I met a dear friend of the van’s occupants, who drove all the way to Austin, then back with us through to his home in Houston, just to support his pals’ endeavors. Each night after the classes had ended, Lush Life threw a fundraiser in conjunction with the host bar of the day. The proceeds from this and the education portion earlier in the day went to benefit Children of Restaurant Employees (C.O.R.E.).

What are the habits of humble people? At the very base of it all, they put other people first and focus their energy on those who need it. They are conscientious, assume responsibility, and possess emotional and situational intelligence. This crew is living out of a van with a duffle bag’s worth of worldly possessions, sleeping a maximum of 4-5 hours a day, sacrificing personal time for seven weeks, and eating a less-than-wholesome diet (though I am happy to have met up with the team in Texas, where the diet consisted solely of tacos). But why be a glutton for punishment? Is social justice in the bartending community their burden to bare? That is a loaded question for sure. What I can say with certainty is this group not only recognized the role of the bar in reproducing and challenging the major social issues each leg of the tour centers on, but also their dynamic position within our community and ability to highlight and facilitate the discussions surrounding them. Through this tour, and calling on the respected leaders of our community to engage, the Lush Life team is helping to disseminate empowering forms of knowledge and understanding related to social injustices.

It was an honor to be with you on this journey, friends. See you again on the East Coast. And stay humble.


Blake the Snake

Question: What’s the average length of a cobra?

Answer: 6 ft.

There it is. The question that turned average Blake into Blake the Snake. And the moment we learned to never challenge him to animal trivia.

I’m sure you can imagine how boring it gets in the van some nights, and after a busy few days we weren’t really feeling any sing-a-longs. So, a gauntlet was thrown. Blake and Amie. 5 random animal questions. The most correct answers wins. Loser gets the winner’s favorite animal tattoo. The stakes were high and game faces were on. Questions were fired off, one after the next. By question 5 they were all tied up. Amie missed her question, so if Blake got his it was game over and Amie was getting.

Question: What’s the average length of a cobra?

Answer: 6 ft.

Game over. Lesson learned: never underestimate Blake the Snake.


Flip and Flop

We’ve all seen those dumb videos of the insufferable frat boys flipping water bottles and landing them right side up. Holy shit dude, your ability to throw a plastic bottle in the air and stick the landing is impressive, said no one ever. But, that still hasn’t stopped a member of our #squad. Tables, bars, headboards, roofs, cars, nothing is off limits. A day doesn’t pass without him trying to land one. Though it may seem innocent for most, we’re at our breaking point. It’s like when your kid brother is constantly poking you so you tell him you’ll break his finger off of his hand. How do you tell someone that if they throw that bottle again you’ll break their hand off of their body?

It wouldn’t be so bad if he actually landed it sometimes. But we’re working with a success rate of about 6%, and practice doesn’t always make perfect. I would never tell someone to give up on their dreams, but when it interrupts my nap, then we have problems.


Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real

Although we only spend an average of 5 hours in our hotel rooms a day that’s plenty of time to really find out how these people operate. Let’s just say in the Real World house I wouldn’t make it past week 3 before I was thrown on a plane and sent back to Louisville. Between the excessive bathroom time, the 27,000 alarms that start 10 minutes after I finally fell asleep, and the snoring that is not of this earth, I just can’t. I get that everyone has their quirks and through this trip we’re going to get very comfortable with each other but please say “no” to that 3rd cheese enchilada if you know you’re sharing a bathroom with me later. Finally, TV. If you want to watch your Bachelor or CNN or Kardashian, great, but the second you fall asleep, that shit’s going off and I’m taking the remote hostage. Silence is golden, especially while I’m counting sheep. Takeaways: pray for a single room.


Make me a bird..



So, we are finishing up this leg of the tour soon with the main focus being mental health and wellness and I found myself with many thoughts about this subject. While wandering around this city today (Houston) I had my headphones in, listening to one of my favorite records and suddenly realized that I had walked quite a few blocks without really recognizing my surroundings at all. I then realized how big everything was around me and looked up.

At that moment I saw one bird fly overhead and it hit me. In this industry it is easy for us to fall short. It is easy for us to make excuses for how we feel or how we act. It is easy to blame other people or the bottle for our problems but in the end, there are always solutions. Did you really have a bad day? Or did you have a bad twenty minutes? We all have bad times or hard times. We will always have them. So, in that moment I saw more than just one bird, I saw its surroundings and my surroundings and was able to see such a beautiful connection.

In a way we are all this bird sometimes. Flying around, alone, to our next destination. Sometimes we have people leading the way, other times they may follow. Even though you may feel like you are flying alone or maybe you feel lost, someone will notice you. Someone will be there to help you find your way, and someone will be there waiting for you. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.


Headspace, man. 

I’m going to let you all in on a secret. I see a therapist. There. I said it. Okay, now let’s talk.

With 1 in 5 adults experiencing mental illness in a given year (, it seems like saying “I see a therapist” wouldn’t be such a big deal. Like bracing yourself to deliver bad news, praying that the person on the receiving end isn’t too weirded out or disappointed. 

I put off therapy for a long time because I was worried about what people would think if they found out. I didn’t make my first appointment until it started to affect my work, which is super fucked up. But, what if its the other way around? What if the way we work is contributing to a decline in mental health? That’s what I want to talk about here.
In an industry where we are expected to work when we’re physically ill or injured (because how else are you going to pay the bills?) and we’re applauded for the number of clopens we can work in a week, taking time for mental health seems laughable. This business pushes you to your limits everyday, but taking a break is a sign of weakness. We often wear our exhaustion as some sort of badge of honor, but what are we really winning?

How many people in your life are struggling, burned out, because they’re afraid of being out worked — or worse, being labeled as the weak link? How much talent are we wasting because we’re pushing ourselves and each other to do more in exchange for being well? There are many other factors that contribute to the decline of mental wellness (Hello, lack of affordable treatment options.), but I only have this one smoke break.

I guess what I’m trying to say is something I really need to hear myself. Go out there and crush it, but remember — whatever you don’t get to will be there tomorrow, get some rest and call your therapist.

Alright, smoke break’s over. Back to work. 

#mentalhealthawareness #barinstititeecono #wejamecono 

On houses and homes (and the storms in both).

Home is a loaded word. For some of us, home is a fondly remembered place where we grew up, where our family still lives and where we know we can always go. For others, home is a complicated place loaded with complicated memories and serious triggers. And, there are many who can’t or don’t recognize a place they call home.

For me, home has always been a flexible concept dictated by the people more than the place. As a kid, my family moved every few years to a new city with a new home, which, for many, might seem like it would make me rootless, make it feel like I didn’t have a home. But, in moving, my family taught me how any place can be home, any place can house support and love.

I recognize that I come from a place of extreme fortune and privilege. My family unit is supportive and strong. We never wanted for anything (particularly when it came to emotional support), and I was (and still am) given more love and care than many experience over the course of entire lifetimes.  This unconditional love and support is something I try to bring with me to every discipline in my life — particularly in the consideration and care we put into growing and building communities. And, my sincere hope is that the work we do at Bar Institute (and Camp Runamok, Cane Camp, our daily lives, etc.) is that by bringing everyone together we can lay the foundations for these homes. The simple action of getting together, learning and sharing viewpoints opens up conversations and builds support systems. And, those support systems, ultimately, are what make a house a home.

Structurally, these places already exist. In fact, I’m writing this post from a place I recognize as one of my homes, Bad News Bar.  This place, like all of my homes, is a place of warmth and support, friendship and care. All of our hosts for Bar Institute Econo share this common thread. They are all my homes in their respective cities, and I’m so grateful that they exist in this transient, nomadic life I’ve chosen.

But, not all of you live in a van with six of your favorite people (aka our seven week home). Some of you are fortunate to have carved out space that’s yours, a more traditional home, a more traditional community. I challenge you to think about how you can help coalesce and build out your communities to accommodate those who might be struggling with the support systems you enjoy. You already know how to make spaces inviting, how to make people feel welcome and comfortable. Find ways to apply those skills to your bar community. It could be as simple as hosting a game night like our friend Steve Yamada does in New Orleans–making time and space to be together and connect over something other than work, other than alcohol. It could be something more complex like starting and maintaining a thriving USBG chapter in your city. But, the call here is action. You all have the power to impact and build your community, and we hope that our visit to your town is a reminder of that.

So many of you are already doing the work. You’re already successfully building something that matters for the people you’ve chosen as your community. Those actions are not going unnoticed. Know that you’ve provided shelter for people who may not have it otherwise.

The Minutemen song we picked for this leg of the tour is “Storm in my House,” which of course, has very little to do with an actual physical structure. It refers directly to the storms we all find within ourselves and the challenges we face whether they be in taking care of ourselves either in mind or body. And, that’s what we’ve focused on during our educational portion of this tour.

Amie Ward offered up advice and best practices for self care for bartender bodies. She got us up out of our seats and stretched us out, got us thinking about how we move and think about the space we take up behind the bar. These classes were incredibly valuable in starting the conversation about self care and offered real, tactical advice for movement pre- and post-shift.

We also brought in mental health experts from organizations like NAMI and Mental Health America to help identify and demystify mental health issues that are often ignored or swept under the rug. Understanding mental health and taking preventative steps to keep your mind as healthy as your body seems to be the most pressing issue facing the bar community on the whole at the moment. We’ve seen awareness and empathy around mental health mitigate serious problems from overwork, high stress and preexisting conditions.

But, how do we quell the storm in our personal homes? I think the answer is simple: we build a house big enough for all of us–where empathy and understanding meet education and support. You already have the skills and framework to successfully make this space, but now it’s time to get to work.

If you need help, I’m here. The house I built is small, but it’s mobile and it has plenty of room for all of you.


The irony of kicking off a 5000+ mile road trip with a focus on environmental education is not lost on us. We’ve printed paper zines, handed out brochures from our amazing charity partner CORE and offered up cocktails in a variety of vessels which have included plastic (biodegradable, of course). Our list of environmental sins is not small, and I know that no amount of repentance here will fix those transgressions.

But, I do know that we spent some time considering how to optimize our travel and weigh our footprint against our other options.

Francisco Paso Fino Craig Rocinante, Bar Institute Econo Van (Photo by Blake Jones

For example, we rented a van that gets pretty incredible gas mileage. The Ford Transit (2017) is the Car and Driver top ranked van for gas mileage in its class-beating out the Mercedes Benz Sprinter and Chevy Express by fairly wide margins. This choice should save us roughly 273 gallons of gas over the course of the trip, which is no small amount.  Let’s also consider the option of flying versus driving. If the 6-8 (depending on the day) of us opted to fly instead of drive, we would have not only been at the mercy of the airlines, weather and a number of other factors we could not control, but we would have also been staring down some fairly serious environmental implications too. Let’s first look at the CO2 footprint of this trip as it stands today. Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 6.45.25 PM.png

3.19 tons of CO2. That’s not a small amount. But, we’re also not traveling a short distance. Now, let’s put that up against the carbon footprint for ONE of us to fly the same distances. Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 6.38.47 PM.png

That’s 5.68 tons of CO2 for just one of us. That does not consider all 6-8 of us and our cargo. When all is said and done, we’re looking at 3.19 tons of CO2 vs. 39.76 tons of CO2. Needless to say, the van was an easy choice.

The environmental concerns were certainly at play when we were considering the logistics of this project, but it would be disingenuous to say it ended there. As we’ve mentioned (ad nauseam) this tour is inspired by The Minutemen and the exploits of DIY and indie musicians in the late 80s and early 90s. And, as you can guess, those bands traveled by van. Of course, their vans were not this nice. They were not this new, and they certainly were not vacuumed or cleaned as often as this one is (old bar habits die hard). But, they traveled in a van nonetheless.

There is something inherently American about traveling this way. There’s romance in packing all of your earthly possessions and seeing the country- connecting to the vast expanse that is America. This idea is well documented in films and song, art and literature. And, while very little of it is actually glamorous, the idea of the open road and freedom are so intrinsically linked. These ideas are hardwired into the American psyche as living the idyllic life.

Personally, I’m incredibly susceptible to this idea. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade traveling from city to city-learning what America has to offer, and I can genuinely say I am a better person for it. But, this is the first time I’ve dedicated seven whole weeks to the road, not an airport. I’m stopping in every city along the way and connecting with the communities that make up our always growing bar world. Traveling this way ensures you miss less and connect more. You see the space between. You experience the land, the economy, the climate and geography and interact in a more personal way. These places are now a part of my consciousness. And, I look forward to understanding the rest of this country in the same way.

There’s a lesson here in wastefulness and American consumerism. There’s another in pursuing freedom at the cost of the greater good. But, for now, I want to focus on the good that this travel has done for me and my team.

As we look forward to the next week (where we will be taking a closer look at mental health and wellness issues), I will keep the lessons we learned with me. Whether it’s practicing what you preach and triple checking that every drink served goes out without a straw and beverage napkin or just making sure we hold onto our hats (literally and figuratively) as we look out over a scenic overpass in Kansas, the last week will stay with me and will inform every decision I make.

I’ll leave you with this playlist of songs from the road. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy seeing all of you out here:



We all know the unspoken road trip rules. Driver: Pilot, Captain. Front Seat Passenger: Co-Pilot, First Mate. Everyone Else: Audience. This means it’s on the front of the van to keep the passengers not only safe, but entertained. With that said, I’m sad to report that there have been some performances falling very flat. Mellencamp and Springsteen are always safe bets but apparently someone didn’t get that memo. Look up Mondo Cozmo. Do it right now. Listen to any of the songs, I promise they all sounds the same. Now, the fact that I know all of the words to even one of those songs is a problem. For some reason a member of the team has recently become their #1 fan and won’t let us forget it. I mean, they were on Kimmel so good for them. But enough is enough. I’m sure I’ll have their basic boy lyrics shoved down my throat in a Pepsi commercial at some point in the next 4-6 months, so let’s lay off until then. Thanks.

Budding Bromance

Love is in the Cheeto scented van air. The tattooed photographer and the less tattooed trash horse have been exchanging glances, sharing laughs and have even been found bunking in various La Quinta’s and Sheraton’s across the midwest. That’s fine, you do you, but not when the rest of us are forced to suffer. Between the constant bottle flipping on each others backs and the Creed sing a longs it’s really starting to take a toll on the rest of us. I never want to judge the love of others but when you’re living in a 15 passenger van you become part of their story, so here’s my truth. This is great for now, but will inevitably end in heartbreak or a tuck and roll out of the van. We shall see.

Give Me Taco Bell Or Give Me Death

If you say you don’t enjoy at least one item off of the Taco Bell menu, you’d be lying. There is something for everyone: classic hard or soft tacos, burritos and quesadillas, some dessert options, and even salads for the psychopaths that go to a fast food restaurant and order those. So why should my sassy southern vanmate and I be made to feel like criminals when we take the van out for some late night TB? The answer is we shouldn’t. We’re hauling around a 36 pack of strawberry Pop Tarts for our annoying kid brother that takes the pictures but god forbid I go get a cheesy gordita crunch after a hard day’s work. So the next morning I received this text. Oh shit, the jig is up. I can either deny it or accept it. And how can I go around preaching to #liveaunthentically and not fess up? So that’s what I did (after denying it first).


The Church of Bar Institute

Camera Canon 6d, Lens 17-40L 17mm @f4 iso 640 at 1/250 processed in lightroom with VSCO tmaxx 3200 filter added


Me being a not-so-religious person, I have my own beliefs on life and why things happen the way they do. The beauty of everyone is that we are all entitled to have different beliefs. Not being a person that goes to church, I found this photo especially interesting for many reasons. For someone who wakes up on a Sunday morning to attend a sermon, you are listening to someone’s story, experience and knowledge. Maybe it pertains to one specific lesson or verse, or perhaps it is more centered to one idea or thought.

When we do these pop ups in different cities, it’s almost like a church. People who feel left out, the ones who feel they might not fit in, the leaders and the followers all show up. They show up to listen and learn and have an experience. They leave feeling different or more rejuvenated, much like one feels when leaving a church. The foundation that we have created here within such an incredible community is something to be proud of. To preach the gospel that is hospitality is a beautiful thing to preach. This photo represents all of those things to me, 4 different people from 4 different walks of life under the same roof. Sharing their stories with everyone. Being completely vulnerable even if for only a day.




Our Band Could be your Lush Life v.1

Musical Tales from the Econo Van… Our van’s musical adventure didn’t truly start until we passed John Mellencamp Way somewhere on 65N driving from Louisville to Indianapolis.  We were filled with energy and excitement to finally hit the road after months of planning the Econo tour.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out Liz Porter knows the lyrics to pretty much every classic rock song that has ever been written.  We started with classic Americana sing-a-longs, post-Cougar Mellencamp, The Boss, Tom Petty, and after a lot of digging and downloading we finally arrived at Bob Seger’s Night Moves, just in time to check into our first hotel.  Our entire tour ethos is based after the Minutemen’s We Jam Econo way of life.  Do it yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you, do it on a budget and get your friends to help.

There’s been a heavy rotation on our speakers from bands featured in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and bands inspired by them.  If you’re in our van and weren’t already a fan of The Replacements, Husker Du, Mission of Burma, Big Star, Fugazi, Archers of Loaf or Pavement, you will be soon.  And let’s not forget Minor Threat.  At some point on our rainy drive to St. Louis Miss Liz Porter was driving, and David Kwon was supposed to be her co-pilot. The trusted co-pilot is the driver’s hype-man, navigating, keeping them awake and entertained with jokes and a Spotify DJ set.  At some point during the winding drive, our co-pilot fell asleep. After the third time through the Minor Threat discography I had to speak up! I couldn’t handle it anymore, I was Screaming at a Wall.  I was exhausted, and Ian MacKaye was keeping me up, forcing me to sing along and finger point in my mind.

Earlier in our drive we stopped off at a gas station to refuel on gas and snacks.  We see a bunch of ragamuffins wondering around doing the same.  They we clearly in some band, but not a band of bartenders.  Many of the residents of the Econo van toured with bands in our younger days, so it’s easy to spot other traveling vagabonds.  Arturo walks up to one of our shaggy haired musician friends and asked if they ever got mistaken for “touring bartenders.” It fell flat with them, but I thought it was hysterical.  Blake asked the guys what band they were in, they mumbled something that sounded ridiculous.  Liz asked where they were from: LA. Of course, they were from LA.  Our attractive young friends’ laminates boasted that they were on tour with Bastille, so I did some internetting and figured out our run in was with their opening act MONDO COZMO. So now we go straight to our trusty comrade Spotify for a listen. “Let ’em get high, let ’em get stoned, everything will be alright if you let it go,” the chorus belts out.  Pretty moving stuff guys.

At this point, we’ve stalked all of their social media.  I tried to order us some merch, but they don’t have a web store up.  Get it together COZMO!  It was one of those things that started as an inside joke, something you’re making fun of, but we now we can’t stop listening to this wretched song. Liz Porter has moved into full on trolling, and we’re not quite sure if her new love for Mondo Cozmo is a joke, or if she’s suffering from a bit of Stockholm Syndrome.