Wayne W. P. Radowski was gloating. His long black bar was nearly full, students mixing highballs to a rock and roll beat and getting ready for New Year's Eve.
"We've been going crazy to get bartenders qualified and out there for the holidays," said Radowski, president and general manager of the Bartenders Academy, a storefront college of mixology on Vermont Avenue NW.
As Christmas needs Santas, New Year's demands bartenders. At holiday time each year, Radowski said, candidates for his liquid degree came in droves, hocking blow driers and gathering savings in a last-minute play for their share of the seasonal boom. The spirit is in spirits, they figure, and someone has to pour.
For $345, Radowski said, he will make a professional out of anybody in one to three weeks. A member of his "certified staff of experts" will show you how to mix 158 different drinks, from screwdrivers to pousse-cafe. You'll get pointers on lighting cigarettes and a bag of bar-top tricks guaranteed to bring in tips, he said.
"We tell them not to discuss major issues like politics and religion . . . and if someone asks if you've seen a movie, tell them you haven't and ask them about it -- it might have been a racist film that the customer didn't like," said one instructor.
Sitting behind his desk in an imitation wood-paneled office, Radowski, 30, is the businessman with a plan -- a fast-talking dreamer in a three-place suit.
"Every corner in this town has a bar or restaurant," he said. "They all have triple shifts and are loaded on weekends. My phones ring all day long with calls from the owners: "Help,' they tell me, 'My bartender just walked out' . . . 'Help, he stole from me . . .
"There are enough bartending jobs here that I could go to the unemployment lines and give those people jobs within three weeks."
While Radowski handles public relations, his staff is instructing. His background is education, really. But when he couldn't find work during the teacher excessess of the late 60s, he went into "vocationals."
He started out at the Robert Fiance Hair Design Institute in New York, but he finally found a future inbartending, going with a national school for three years and then opening the academy here on his own in August.
As Radowski spoke, Susan Salis, 19, and the sister of Academy head instructor Mark Salis, was one of a dozen students at the bar, taking a crash course.
She had flown in from Long Island the night before to study for a new year's job at home. Between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m., she had learned 48 drinks. Glasses were scattered, her eyes glazed.
"I'm doing it for the money mostly," said the former secretary. She aimed a bottle labeled Jack Daniels at a glass, splashing caramel-colored water on the ice. "It's really easy."
Brother Mark, licensed to teach bartending by the New York State Department of Education, nodded approvingly. "You have to teach fast," he said, "so I use a lot of Army techniques. I use word and color associations, and simple math. I've had blind and handicapped students.
Sails, 25, said that many drinks can be taught in groups. "Take the cream drinks. They all start with stem cocktail glasses, cream and cream de cacao. From there, one ingredient changes the drink."
For a grasshopper, think green and use creme de menthe. For a squirrel, nuts and creme de almond. A brandy alexander gets brandy, and so forth.
An important part of the training is "bartender decorum." Said Radowski: "The better you get along with the customers, the better tips you get." Between wages and tips he said, a bartender at a "high class" club can make $500 a week or more.
Salis explained: "If you see that old Joe gets a new suit, tell him how nice it is and he feels good. He'll repay in kind . . . We teach our people to listen to people's problems but never to advise them. If your advice should backfire, they won't come back."
Radowski said that about half of his hundreds of students have asked to be placed in jobs, but some are still unemployed. "Sometimes you can't take the beast out of the animal," he explained.
Others, like 27-year-old John Carbonaro, a real estate agent, are just looking to make some extra pocket money. Carbonaro was at the Academy lost week, looking for a piece of the New Year's Eve action.
"It's always nice to make that extra change," says Carbonaro, a veteran of the Alaska pipeline, a Tampa, Fla., shrimp boat and the District's metrorail construction gangs. "There's no way Uncle Sam can ever know exactly how much you make."
And, added Salis, "Everyone knows that drunks make the best tippers."