Chris Davis was at the top of his game as a bartender at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Berlin when he decided to try his hand at acting.
Having tapped into his high-end hotel experience for his old routine, Davis is now back to his roots, recounting his upbringing on the outskirts of Glasgow.
Before his Edinburgh Fringe show’Death of a bartender‘, Davis spoke to Euronews about her journey in the beverage and comedy industries.
The life of a Michelin-starred bartender
Davis started bartending when he moved to Berlin 14 years ago. Feeling like he had spent his whole life in education, he was ready for a break.
“I started out in normal bars, serving pints and making long drinks,” he says. “But then I started to get a taste for making cocktails and I was going from bar to bar every year or so. Eventually I went from high-end restaurant to high-end restaurant, and finally to one with a Michelin star.
When talking about Michelin-starred restaurants, the focus is usually on extreme dedication to creating incredible dishes. Often people overlook the work involved in the drinks they serve, which must be of an equally high standard.
“That’s where the expertise comes from. This is where the aesthetic comes from. There is no room for error,” says Davis.
It was an environment where Davis could constantly learn and develop his craft.
The bar ran like a well-oiled machine. Four people would work in the bar at any one time, the bar manager, two bartenders, and a bartender – the person who keeps the bartenders stocked with drinks and garnishes.
“The barback was the backbone of the operation. I would never have to leave my station. Every time the mint ran out you turned around to grab a shaker and the mint was already refreshed.
Even though everything was going well, the environment was still a good source of inspiration for the comedy.
With such a regimented environment, there’s not much room to joke around with some of the more uptight customers, Davis says. On one occasion, a woman asked him where a fish dish came from.
“With total conviction, I just said ‘the sea’,” Davis recalled. He received a disciplinary sanction.
The strict environment didn’t stop Davis from getting away with some of his most salubrious exploits.
“One time I was so hungover I threw up behind the bar,” he says. “Very, very subtly. But obviously, it is forbidden in this environment.
The comedy takes over
Davis’ limitless personality and growing list of bartending anecdotes meant that a sideline in comedy was a natural fit into his lifestyle. For a long time, acting was the hobby of his bartending career. But the bartender couldn’t sustain him forever.
“I got to 33 and those 12-hour shifts started killing me,” he says. “I was starting to get grumpy behind the bar.”
His colleagues eventually asked him what was wrong, and Davis blurted out; “I just don’t think I can honestly do that anymore.”
Not content with constantly packing his shakers, Davis instead incorporated it into a comedic routine. ‘The wandering bartender’ was born.
On his “Wandering Barman” shows, Davis would teach an audience how to shake and prepare the high-quality cocktails he had perfected during his bartending career, while laughing at his restaurant anecdotes.
Attendees were able to learn anything from a basic Negroni to one of Davis’ signature drinks, an upside-down cocktail that combines masala-infused rum and an egg yolk.
“It was about showing people that you can make these cocktails at home, but helping them understand the different spirits, letting them see how syrups are made and a basic understanding of how to balance citrus fruits and sweetness.”
Davis toured the show across Europe and noticed some funny differences in how different nations responded to her routine.
“The Spanish public is the most talkative. They want to interact with you. Germans can sometimes stifle their laughter a lot. They won’t laugh out loud but will tell you how good the show was afterwards. I was always like “where were you 20 minutes ago!” he jokes.
Davis brought in a lot of money for his ticketed events. It seemed like a simple future for him in comedy. Then the pandemic hit.
Find the comedian behind the bartender
Although he managed to stay afloat with online gigs, something was off about “The Wandering Barman” routine.
For now, Davis continues to perform “The Wandering Barman” for corporate events. But his focus shifted entirely to a more stripped down version of comedy as he realized the lifestyle he lived clashed with his sense of self.
“I come from a place called Cumbernauld, which is on the outskirts of Glasgow. It was voted the worst city in the UK. So I come from this difficult region and I’m very proud of it,” says Davis.
“But I found myself climbing that middle-class social ladder in Berlin, making cocktails and refining my palate and all that. Eventually I realized it wasn’t me.
Feeling like an outsider in the world of Michelin-star cocktail making, Davis poured his energy into a new show, “The Death of a Bartender.”
“I kind of sucked myself into the fake side of this bartending world,” Davis recalled. “And in Scotland, you know they would call me dry shit, no craic, and no jokes, for that.”
“Sometimes it looks like a tragedy. I’m sad, I’m disillusioned. But you must have this. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, so once you have that distance you can get a better perspective on it and then it gets funny,” he says.
One of the key elements of Davis’ act are his observations of class.
“I always exaggerate in my head what middle-class people do. As if they regularly eat Ferrero Rochers when working-class people only have them on New Year’s Eve.
“Or how they’re always giving advice, asking if you’ve ever thought about investing. You never get it the other way around, with a working class person showing someone at Waitrose how to block a trolley’s coin slot with their key.
While writing the show, Davis found he was able to harmonize his working-class roots with the tastes he had acquired as a posh bartender in Berlin. He could still be the Cumbernauld boy and he could enjoy a perfectly stirred martini.
“It’s that kind of cyclical thing to realize that it doesn’t matter who you are in the world. Everyone experiences what they want,” he says.
Reflecting on the validation he sought in his previous attempts to fit in with the middle classes and the validation of a laughing public, Davis was able to remove his ego from the equation.
“The service business is about giving strangers a good time. And that’s what I do too. But with stand up, I have a room full of people I don’t know and they don’t know me. personally.
“I don’t need them to like Chris Davis. I just want them to like the show “Death of a Bartender” which Chris Davis wrote. That’s the validation I’m looking for.
The ultimate test is yet to come as Davis prepares his show for a month-long tour of his home country at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Chris Davis will present his show “Death of a Barman” in Berlin in June before a month-long residency at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. You can find his tour dates here.