Steve Schneider, a former United States Marine turned world champion bartender, holds a wooden mallet. It’s his signature tool, and he uses it not only to crush ice for cocktails, but also to serve as a symbol of strength.
“I wanted to help people, you know? I wanted to make a man of myself and make a difference,” he says, explaining how he volunteered for a deployment after Sept. 11, 2001.
“In the Marine Corps I excelled, physically, academically, mentally,” he continues, reflecting on his sense of invincibility after graduating top of his class in boot camp.
But Schneider, who later built his future at a bar, almost died after a night out on the town during training for this elite unit that was headed to Japan, then Afghanistan. “I got in an accident,” he says, as the picture behind him transitions from clean cut military man to a hospital patient in a coma with two purple eyes, three plates in his skull and 52 stitches that left a scar framing his face. “I got my ass kicked, to be honest.”
Feeling lost, and thinking about his friends who he was supposed to be leading overseas, he stumbled upon a Washington, D.C. bar with a “Help Wanted” sign posted. What started out as a way to make a few extra bucks evolved into so much more — leading him to enter — and win — several speed bartending competitions and develop confidence in his craft.
Now, Schneider is one of the principal bartenders at “Employee’s Only” in New York City. “And that’s when everything started to take off for me,” says Schneider, the central character of the 2013 film Hey Bartender. “It gave me a platform to be the best at what I do.”
Watch his talk and prepare to be inspired by a veteran who is a walking, talking, mallet-bearing example of turning adversity into opportunity.