As a person who has spent his fair share of time holding down a bar stool, it should come as no surprise that I’ve met a lot of bartenders in my day. I’ve run across a lot of cool bartenders, a ton of forgettable ones, a few dicks, and thus far only one that had the audacity to kick me out. Today, to keep 7 for 7 alive, I’ll celebrate the best of the best, my own personal Mount Barmore.
First off, I’ll name some honorable mentions: Travis at Louise’s. Al at Holiday Club, Jon at Holiday Club, the fat door guy at Spy Club, the guy at Polly’s Kettle House who lets me bring in outside drinks, Katura at Holiday Club, Lavinia at Stonehenge, the hot bartender that I fell in love with at my hotel bar in Copenhagen, Joe at JJ’s Cathedral, Aja at Danny Rock, Marcus at Louise’s, Oojoo at Dragon, Tora at Dragon, Lime at Suyu Dragon, Judy at No Block, Tony at No Block, Carlos on the S.S. Oceanic, Suzie at Mothers, Chris at V, Karen at V, Dana at the Replay Lounge, Haya at Metropolis, Jick at Metropolis, and every airport bartender the world over. You are all testaments to your craft.
Next, I will name the super near-misses, who certainly would make the mountain if more than four spots were available:
Rawb at the Replay, Lawrence, KS - Rawb’s overall rockstarness in all things needs no introduction, his reputation certainly precedes him. Really the only reason he misses the cut is that he works, I dunno, like 3 hours a week, so he’s never around.
Jaime, Duffy’s, Lawrence, KS - Jaime was both really hot, and the only bartender I ever successfully picked up, so she has to make this list.
Andy, Metropolis, Seoul - I just haven’t known him long enough, but he’s a cool cat.
Mean, Noblock, Seoul - It was tough to not include Mean in the top group, his presence at the bar always raises things up a notch.
Myself, Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, FL and No Block, Seoul - Why not? I’m always good about hooking myself up with free drinks.
Inga, JJ’s Cathedral Irish Pub, Florence, Italy. I really hate to leave Inga out. If Rushmore had 5 heads, she would be in. Really everything one would want in a bartender - friendly, beautiful, smart, Lithuanian, liberal on a pour, and the only bartender I’ve ever met that actually refused a tip here and there.
Anyway, on to the point: naming Mount Barmore:
Olivier, Autry, Dave, and Rain. That’s the order of faces on the “mountain” (and thanks to David Canter for the shoop. The poorness in quality regarding the pictures is entirely my fault, these were the only photos of these guys that I had), and it also happens to be the order that I met them.
Olivier is the manager/owner of L’Arambar, a small bar on a backstreet of the 11th arrondissement in Paris. I met Olivier and became a regular of his bar in 1999, when I was studying abroad in Paris. L’Arambar was down the street from Hotel du Monde, the 1 star joint that our study abroad group was living in. Our neighborhood was extremely French and well off the tourist track, so most restaurants and bars were not used to dealing with Americans, particularly drunken 21-year-old Americans and a drunken 34-year old Cree. Cree and I discovered the bar on our third night in town. Olivier welcomed us in, and even spoke a bit of English (rare in this far-flung corner of Paris in those days.) and before long half the group hung out there regularly. I was there every night, and in fact I was often there two or three times a day to study over coffee (and maybe a little wine) during the afternoon. Even on big nights out in hipper enclaves of the city, we still generally ended up at L’Arambar for a nightcap.
We didn’t keep going back simply because of logistics. Yes, the bar was a two minute walk from home, but there were several similar-sized bars along the Rue de la Folie-Mericourt. We kept going back because of Olivier. Olivier did all he could to help us out. He helped us learn a little French (in fact, for a time, he refused to take my drink order unless I used French, but I think he got tired of that because my accent was so horrific) and introduced us to a number of French liqueurs. Of course, we did well for him too. Early in our 6 week stay in Paris, he told me that he planned to sell the bar and move to Spain in five years. Shortly before we left Paris, he told me he was now planning on doing it in three years. Looks like our study abroad group provided two years worth of profits in a little over a month.
Autry was a bartender at Louise’s in downtown Lawrence, but he no longer works there. I most likely met him in the year 2000, and I have been a Louise’s regular ever since (obviously only when I’m in town post-2002). I feel a bit self-conscious throwing out glowing platitudes here, as Autry is by far the most likely of these four to actually read this. Plus, as he no longer works at Louise’s, I can’t even get any free drinks out of it. Anyway, I’ll say this - in an overeducated college town like Lawrence, Autry is always the smartest (if not the most overeducated) guy in the room.
Dave is a bartender at the Holiday Club, a bar that sits on the border of Uptown and Lake View on the North Side of Chicago. I met Dave in 2002, shortly after I moved to Chicago. I lived in a tiny studio apartment a block away from the Holiday. I was dirt poor when I first moved there - no bed, a cardboard box for a coffee table, a Curtis Mathis brand 13 inch TV/VCR, no cable, no internet, no home phone, no air conditioner, and no job. Once I got a job that wasn’t a pyramid scheme, I was still only making $250 a month more than my rent (but probably spent $200 of that at the Holiday). Given my paltry furnishings, the Holiday was pretty much my living room. I had no qualms with going to the bar alone, because I could always shoot the shit with Dave once I was there. Whenever I had friends in from out of town, the Holiday was the one place that I made certain I brought them, and always on Dave’s shifts. In fact, when my buddy Daniel came into town for a week, he became a Holiday regular and hung out there with Dave and the other regulars in the late afternoon while I was at work. Charismatic bastard, that Dave.
A quick story about Dave - I went into the Holiday one evening straight from work. PBR pints cost $2.00, and I had $3.00 on me in cash and additional three in coins. I ordered a beer, paid for it with the paper money, hung out, traded jokes with Dave, chatted with the other regulars, blah blah. I finished my beer, Dave asked if I wanted another. I told him that I did, but I would have to pull a dick move and pay him in quarters. He laughed, said to save the quarters for something important like laundry or pool, and poured another beer. Upon finishing that one, he asked if I wanted another. I reiterated that I didn’t have any money. “I didn’t ask if you wanted to BUY another beer, I asked if you wanted to HAVE another beer.” I did. As it turned out, Dave gave me five beers on top of the one I actually bought. Generous bastard, that Dave. Once I started making a livable wage, I paid him back in tips, but then he would always respond with shots. A vicious cycle, really.
Rain is simply the best bartender in Korea. Of course, this is a country where a reasonable percentage of bartenders can’t master complicated concoctions like, say, gin and tonics. That said, Rain can mix an Old Fashioned that would make Don Draper smile. He’s a walking encyclopedia of mixoloxy.
Rain was a bartender/manager at Noblock near Nowon Station in Seoul, and it was he who gave me my shot on the other side of the bar. Turns out my lack of mixology knowledge and Korean ability were fairly detrimental to my bartending success. Now, Rain has moved on to greener pastures, opening his own bar, Mojito, a couple blocks away. On the plus side, Mojito is awesome, the first high-end cocktail/martini lounge in Nowon, with, in my opinion, the best drinks in Seoul, period. On the minus side, it’s really expensive, a once a month kind of bar, so I don’t see Rain so often anymore.
I met Rain in 2007, and I don’t know his real name. His name tag says “Rain.” All of our mutual Korean acquaintances and his fellow bartenders all just call him Rain. Then again, he doesn’t know my real name either, to him and the staffs of No Block and Mojito, I’m Jae-hak.
A short anecdote on Rain from just last night, and Rain’s only indirectly involved. Martin and I were out at Metropolis for wings and darts (Tuesday night, after all) and we noticed that a waiter that works at Mojito was at Metro for the same reason. He came up to us and bought us a round of shots, partly because he thought he somehow offended Martin last weekend, and partly just because of our association with Rain. Martin bought him a shot to return the favor, and then the Mojito dude bought us two more each.
Thanks to all the bartenders on this list - you have enriched my life infinitely while causing me to forget a large portion of it. I apologize to any bartender I may have forgotten that should be on the honorable mention list. I blame the booze.
My drink-making is so fast, the camera can't catch it