"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Hornitos, OR-G, Party Armor, Red Stag, Absolut, Fireball and Malibu – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Bar month has me gooey and nostalgic over a really great time in my life.
All too long ago ... in actuality (gulp) an entire decade heretofore ... I was in the throes of the service industry, living life as a Milwaukee bartender. The years spent slinging booze behind the bar are some of the fondest, most carefree, and lucrative of my life.
For a girl who never touched alcohol before a tenure at Marquette University as a student and consequently a patron at Theo's (rest that bar's lovely soul), I adapted to multitasking poppin' bottles and doin' shots with very little grace, and even less dexterity.
I was fortunate enough that my dear friend, William Jenkins, bestowed my very first barkeep position upon me, although my resume was a barren wasteland in terms of mixology. I eagerly learned the ropes at the beloved Cush and was promptly put onto the busiest shifts: Fridays, Saturdays and (I know a lot of you miss Cush's SIN) Sundays.
If you weren't a "drinker" before, walking through the doors of Cush would change that; probably with a shot of Jack Daniels procured through a game of bar dice. I am flummoxed that I can still palate Patron or Jaeger subsequent to my residence there. I have also, to this day, never had as much unquestionable fun at any establishment since. I sincerely loved my boss, my co-workers and our guests – even the ones I cursed at.
I was not a "nice" bartender by any means. I did not have a talent for remembering slews of drinks, nor mixing particularly tasty concoctions. But, I could remove beer bottle caps (with a bottle cap opener kept holstered in the back pocket of my painted-on pants so strictly it would create a permanent imprint and ultimately excavate the denim) and pour long islands, shake a decent cosmo and deal Jaeger bombs swiftly while wearing a low-cut tank top and spouting banter/yelling.
Almost immediately, I began to prefer working instead of going out socially. I felt protected by the barrier of the bar, empowered by its barricade. I worked my tail off, but still felt like I had partied. And, instead of coming home empty-handed, I had a wad of cash in my young fist, which eventually even bought me a condo on Prospect Avenue with a slight view of the lake.
I would close each shift with the bottom of my jeans and boots soaked through with a melange of melted ice, beer, cocktails and who really knows what else. I remember faintly smelling of a strange blend of alcohol at all times from marinating in the blend every night. My feet and lower back would ache from the hours standing and the occasional lugging of ice buckets or a case of beers up a flight of stairs.
Eventually, my body couldn't take it anymore. "It," being the late nights and general physical demands of the job. I decided to bow to my insufficiencies and pursue a life of daytime hours.
Every time I pull up a stool or push my way through a sea of people to order beverages, I take a moment to appreciate those fine people behind the majestic barrier that is my favorite bar or chosen venue. It takes a special breed to serve in the places "where everybody knows your name."
So, I tip. And I do it generously as a way of paying tribute to those glorious years spent pouring hooch.
And although I sometimes feel the beer taps summoning me to hurdle the bar, I have decided that there is no way of reliving those years. But, I will forever be a bartender at heart – a bartender made in Milwaukee.
Another great story, L. I just read this after bartending a super busy dinner shift. I've been at this for 20 years now, and you hit it on the head when you mention the actual physical labour of it. My legs are SORE.
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