Many Montclair State University students are stuck attending online classes from their dorm rooms or homes due to COVID-19 this fall. As a result, students have ended up with a lot of free time on their hands. Some have picked up new hobbies or started exercising more, but many would never think of learning a new skill such as bartending.
Bar Academy 101 is a bartending school located at 5 S. Willow St. in downtown Montclair, New Jersey. Robert Troisi has owned the establishment for over nine years and has mastered the art of great customer service and, of course, making drinks.
Before opening his business, Troisi was working in downtown Manhattan and bartended on the weekends. Shortly after 9/11, he realized he wanted to escape the stress of corporate America and pursue something he truly enjoyed: making people happy.
“Sometimes you’re stressed out or under pressure, but when you walk into a bar and get a drink served to you, it goes away,” Troisi said. “I took a lot of pride and pleasure in making my customers forget about their problems, getting them to unwind and have fun.”
String lights, pennants, high-top tables and model bars are scattered around the main room. With music blasting in the background, the room resembles a real bar atmosphere. The only “fake” thing about it is the water and food dye mixed in the liquor bottles on the shelves.
Bar Academy 101 offers several types of classes at reasonable prices, such as craft beer tasting, a sangria-making class and bartending certification courses. Occasionally, there are special events like champagne and chocolate tasting, wine and cheese pairing and more. There is something for everyone to enjoy.
Unfortunately, these classes came to a halt in early March when COVID-19 forced Troisi to temporarily shut his doors. He was not sure he would reopen because of all the uncertainties surrounding the situation.
“I remember the first weekend of March, the weekend before I shut down. I had 27 people in my room for a sangria-making class and I was on top of the world,” Troisi said. “And then boom, life just changed.”
According to Troisi, the most valuable skill to have to become a great bartender is patience. He said that patience is what was needed the most when bartending, but also is important to have in a COVID-19 world.
When Bar Academy 101 eventually reopened, Troisi was greeted with an overwhelming amount of support from his local community.
“It’s all affected me in a positive way because I realized how much I’m appreciated and loved by the people that come in,” Troisi said.
Elaine Rizzo participated in the sangria-making class and appreciated how accommodating and flexible Bar Academy 101 was. Rizzo and her husband made about 10 different sangrias and said they enjoyed learning how to pour the wine bottles, sometimes even two bottles at once.
“It’s nice to know these places exist. Everyone knows that bartenders can go to ‘bartending school’ but you don’t really know what it is,” Rizzo said. “They offer so many different classes and it makes a great gift.”
Montclair State alumnus Jack Rizzo and I attended the four hour bartending certification course.
Troisi was reasonable and worked with our schedules to set up a date for the class. With COVID-19 regulations still in effect, Bar Academy 101 requires face masks upon entry and limits the class sizes to around seven people.
During our certification course, we learned basic knowledge about bartending from proper pouring techniques to learning how to mix margaritas and green tea shots. Troisi taught us how to make around 50 old and new school drinks. Jack Rizzo and I were stationed behind our own individual bars and Troisi watched us from afar giving us advice when necessary.
“I liked using the food coloring and water mixture to make different drinks because you don’t have to worry about messing up,” Jack Rizzo said. “You can keep going until you get it right every time.”
Bar Academy 101 also offers a two-day bartending certification course almost entirely hands-on where clients can learn extensive knowledge about the art of bartending and receive help with job placement afterwards.
“Now, when some people leave they tell me, ‘Rob, thank you because you made me feel normal again doing something like this,’” Troisi said.
Montclair State students looking to escape the stress of being a college student and monotonous Zoom calls can look no further than Bar Academy 101. In the era of COVID-19, this a safe and socially distanced activity where you can learn a valuable skill and still have fun doing it with your friends.