"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Stoli Vodka, Altos Tequila, Fireball, OR-G, Jim Beam, Plymouth Gin and 2 Gingers – 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, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Tending bar can mean different things, based on the setting. Slinging drinks at a corner tap isn't anything like manning the wine station at an art museum event or concocting craft cocktails at a fancy restaurant.
Milwaukee's Tammy Petoskey has worked at South Side saloons, but now she gets a different view from behind the bar at Wild Earth Cucina, the Italian restaurant in the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino.
We asked her about her diverse experiences tending bar in Brew City.
OnMilwaukee: Give me the brief Tammy bio...
Tammy Petoskey: I was born and raised in the Milwaukee area and have two sisters and one brother. I graduated high school in 1980 and started working two to three jobs soon after, so I have been in the food and beverage service industry my whole life – back to when the drinking age was only 18. So that pretty much dates me to way, way back. I work full-time at Froedtert & the Medical College and part-time at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. People always comment on why I work so much.
All I can say is that it’s fun and it’s what I am used to and it is where most of my friends are. When I am not working, I am at home relaxing in my jammies and quite often bored that I have the night off. I love my job, I am good at what I do, and it is always entertaining to say the least.
OMC: How long have you been tending bar and what are some of the places you've worked?
TP: I started out cocktail waitressing when I was 18, and haven’t taken a break since. I have worked at South Side bars including Spatz, Studebakers, Beneath the Street and Bronco Billy’s. Most of where I have met many crazy and special friends who are near and dear to me.
I have also helped bartend at All Star Bowling Lanes for about five years and worked in a small family-owned restaurant in West Allis. I have been at Potawatomi for almost 12 years now. I started out in the Northern Lights Theatre at the casino and have been bartending in Wild Earth Cucina Italiana for almost three years and loving every minute of it.
OMC: What makes tending bar in an Italian restaurant different than at other places, especially, say, taverns?
TP: Well, first of all the food. It’s a bonus to bartend where the food is fantastic. I treat myself to dinner once or twice a week so I don’t have to eat my own cooking. Also, it’s more fun to help people pick out drinks when I can match it to the dinner choices. It’s a more casual relaxed atmosphere with an amazing bar where there is always some kind of fun going on.
OMC: I bet you learn to make a mean negroni...
TP: Ahhhh… My Negroni, one of my specialty drinks. Nobody makes ‘em like I do. A little gin, add some Campari and a splash of sweet vermouth. Very Italian. My stepfather always said "Gin makes you sin." This drink will make you want to go right to church when you are done. I serve it chilled in a martini glass. You've got to try one.
OMC: What is your specialty/signature drink?
TP: Every drink I make is special, but my restaurant specialty drink is different depending on the day. I like to change it up a little so my customers don’t get bored. Typically, I would say my brown sugar Old Fashioned. My secret ingredients keep my customers coming back for more.
Or my Summer Martini, which is my own special recipe for the drink that will make you think you are vacation at my bar. Sorry, no umbrellas.
OMC: Is a knowledge of wine – and food pairings – a big part of your tool kit at Wild Earth?
TP: It definitely comes in handy to know which wines pair nicely with each of our entrees but my theory has always been drink what you like and like what you drink. I still learn something new every day about wine selections and pairings. But your basics are always good to know like pinot grigio goes well with light fish meals while pinot noir goes better with earthy foods like our flatbreads. Moscato always pairs well with fruity sweet dishes while a sauvignon blanc goes better with tart foods and dressings.
OMC: I imagine you rarely have to break up bar fights.
TP: Not as of yet. I am not at that kind of bar. Thank goodness. Those bartending days are well behind me. My customers are always fun and enjoy themselves, fighting is not on my menu.
OMC: What are some of the best and worst pickup lines you've heard used in a bar?
TP: Well, "You come here often?" is the oldest, saddest line ever. And then now that we have the new hotel, the funniest one is always about getting a room. People say the darndest things.
OMC: What are the best and worst parts of being a bartender?
TP: The worst part for me is watching everyone else having so much fun at my bar and not being able to relax with a cocktail in my hand.
The best part is that I get to be part of the fun they are having and know that they have come to see me and I have made Absolut (vodka) sure their experience at my bar and in our restaurant was a pleasant one. Making people feel special and seeing them come back time and time again to see me and my partner Igor is a great feeling. We are quite the entertainment behind the bar.
Our bar clientele, as I was once told and believe to be true, is people (who) come to see me and then they come for the drinks. I love that.
OMC: Do you go out to bars when you're not working? Do you have a regular spot?
TP: Typically, I like to have my cocktails at home where I can relax and I don’t have to worry about drinking and driving because everyone knows there is no such thing as one drink once you are having fun.
OMC: Personally speaking: beer, wine or cocktails?
TP: Depends on where I am. I definitely am a "winer," I am obsessed with the Roscato Rosso Dolce which is a sweet red Italian wine we serve at my bar. It’s like a combination between a lambrusco and a moscato and is delicious with any type of meal. Since I started at Wild Earth Cucina Italiana I have learned to like wine more than I ever thought I would. Then of course, my second choice is gin.
OMC: Do you have a favorite bartender in Milwaukee?
TP: Other than myself it’s kind of hard to narrow down since I make the best drinks around. Just kidding, every bartender is my favorite as long as they are serving up cocktails and fun. Because everyone knows bartending is about the fun and the friends and the ambience.
OMC: There are a number of bars at Potawatomi, do they each get regulars?
TP: Most definitely we all have our regulars. Some of our bars and our casino bartenders even share the same regulars. Some patrons like to make their rounds and will stop to say hi to the bartenders in each venue during their visits. Igor and I have built up quite a large amount of regulars who come in just to see us. Sometimes they don’t even want a drink they just stop in to say hello and share a smile or a story. Sometimes they just wave from the front door just to say hello as they are on their way to play bingo, slots and table games. It is amazing how many people’s lives we can touch as bartenders. It’s a very rewarding job.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.