Minnesota School of Bartending celebrates 45 years

ark Lange, owner and manager of the Minnesota School of Bartending (Park Bugle photo by Roger Bergerson)

There are privately operated career schools around that teach a variety of skills, among them, cosmetology, horseshoeing and piano tuning.

And just east of Highway 280, there’s a place where you can learn to make mood-altering concoctions like chocolate martinis, purple hooters and peach kamikazes.

The Minnesota School of Bartending is celebrating its 45th year at 2426 W. University Ave., the only such school in the state and one of a very few in the Upper Midwest. It’s licensed by the State of Minnesota and has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

The school was founded by Dick Lange, a bartender at Luigi’s, a popular downtown St. Paul watering hole, who conceived of a new approach to bartender training.

“My dad had been to bartending school in Los Angeles and found the experience unsatisfying,” said Mark Lange, owner and manager of the Minnesota School of Bartending. “His idea was to use one-on-one, behind-the-bar training, rather than group or class teaching.”

The school has remained true to the hands-on vision of Dick Lange, who died in 2008. Students train at one of 30 professional bar stations under the tutelage of instructors who are all veterans of the bar business.

It’s self-paced learning, although students typically finish the course in 25 to 35 hours. The test for graduation—there were 800 graduates last year—includes filling multi-drink orders quickly and efficiently.

Nearly 40 percent of enrollees are college students, working their way through school, Lange said. “It’s really the ideal part-time job, because you can structure it to fit your schedule.”

Some people who are employed full-time use bartending to supplement their income. Others who have been laid-off try it as a second career. And there are those who make it a full-time profession from the beginning.

The Minnesota School of Bartending offers lifetime placement service and several hundred taverns, sports bars, restaurants, hotels and country clubs rely on it for references. (By networking with counterparts elsewhere, the school can place students in jobs around the country.)

“Private events and parties also present an attractive opportunity and many people choose to work them exclusively, because the tips are great,” Lange said.

Besides the basics of drink making, the school offers training in bartending-related skills such as mastering the latest cash register technologies. Students are also instructed in alcohol awareness and dram shop liability issues.

“We emphasize friendly but professional customer service,” Lange says, “and we set the bar high, because we want the bars to keep calling us.”

The drinks mentioned early on in this story are popular with the younger set, so students at the Minnesota School of Bartending learn how to make them. But Lange said the school doesn’t teach the kind of bottle-juggling, cocktail shaker-flipping showmanship popularized by the 1988 Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail.

“Some bars encourage flair bartending, as it is known, though most don’t. People can learn that elsewhere,” he said, making it clear his enterprise isn’t going to be renamed the Minnesota School of Mixology any time soon.

Find out more at www.mnschoolofbartending.com.

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