With her colorful style, big smile and ever-changing hairstyles, Cactus Club bartender Aja Vines just might be Bay View's most fashionable bartender.
The outgoing 24-year-old Milwaukee native isn't afraid to break into song, or shake it behind -- and frequently on top of -- the bar. She's turned her regular Tuesday night shifts into a popular beach themed night that is about as much fun as one can or should have so early in the week.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Vines to talk about the importance of being a fancy lady at the punk club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave., and why that doesn't mean you can lick her hand.
OnMilwaukee.com: You are very fashionable as far as bartenders go. How important is it to look good behind the bar?
Aja Vines: I think it is important obviously to look presentable, but as a lady of course I am going to try and play up being kind of a babe, you know? It doesn't hurt to look nice when you are doing something based off of tips. Being nice to people and looking good doesn't hurt.
OMC: How long have you been tending bar and how did you get into it? Is Cactus Club your first job?
AV: There is a place on Clement called Backdraft and I worked there a very, very short time. The guy who owns it is a friend of my mom's. My mom has been a bartender since like the dawn of time. So I worked there for a little bit and then I was working at The Highbury again for a brief stint and got super lucky and asked to work at Cactus which was pretty fortunate.
OMC: Did your mom give you any tips when you started?
AV: Not really. It's funny because I always said to her, "I don't know how you can do that, dealing with drunk people. It's gotta be crazy." And she kind of had a "Well, whatever pays the bills mentality." I guess I am a lot like she is in that I can't be behind a desk or something like that. So it's great as far as liking to chat and things like that. She didn't really give me a whole lot of input, though.
OMC: What is your favorite thing about the job?
AV: Honestly just the fact that it isn't ever really a boring job. There is almost always something to be doing and you meet interesting people, for better or worse sometimes. Of course you build up a regular crowd, which is great, but you are constantly getting to meet new people. So it's fun and it's typically pretty fast paced and I like that.
OMC: What's the worst thing about the job?
AV: Probably the occasional drunk idiot you just don't want to deal with. You know it's part of the job, but being a lady I guess you get some creeps once in a while. I did have someone try and lick my hand once. Someone else actually ended up kicking him out. It was a busy show night anyway and I think he did something else stupid.
OMC: You are kind of notorious for dancing on the bar. What does it take to get you up there?
AV: It usually causes other people to get up there too and I would say I am all about people having fun. It's funny but I don't even need to be drunk to go up there and start dancing, but it's something fun to do and no one else really does it so I am like "Why not me? I'll get up there."
OMC: Has there been one shift that stands out in the time you've been bartending?
AV: Honestly one of my favorite shifts was recently. There was a Packer game and then a show afterward and it was a blast. Of course it helps that we won the game, but everyone was in super good spirits and there was tons of bar dancing on everyone's part. I usually work Tuesday nights and I have tried to make that really fun, too, and it usually is. For a Tuesday it's not bad.
OMC: Do you have a signature drink?
AV: I really like to make Bloody Marys, actually, and I know a lot of people don't because they are time consuming. But I like to make them from scratch and I think I make a pretty good one. I used to try and make up tropical drinks for my beach night theme. I have one called the Harry Belafonte that was super fruity and awesome. People don't typically come into Cactus and order anything beyond a beer and a shot so when they're like, "Do you make a good Manhattan?" I'm like "no, I don't, sorry."
OMC: Tell me more about your beach night.
AV: It's every Tuesday. I come in at 8 p.m. Matt Gorski usually comes in and deejays from 9 p.m. until close and plays a lot of Harry Belafonte, surf rock and calypso. We just try and keep it along the tropical beach theme. We have a plethora of hilarious old beach movies like "Beach Blanket Bingo" and stuff like that. We used to do limbo really often which could be like an awful idea with a bunch of drunk people but no one has been injured so far. And if it is ever anyone's birthday I have a box of leis and fake palm trees and all that stuff goes up to celebrate.