The primary job of a bartender is to provide quality liquid libations to a thirsty crowd. The secondary, and equally important, job is the innate ability to foster a fun and social atmosphere in which people can enjoy themselves.
Nathan "Rufio" Showers is both the former and latter. He is a fast and thorough bartender, and he is a party starter.
Showers, who earned his nickname for an often-worn red mohawk – similar to the Rufio character found in the movie "Hook" – has been in the service industry for a decade. He currently spends the majority of his time bartending at The Wicked Hop and Jackalope Lounj, which is in The Wicked Hop.
After stopping in for a glass of water and a Red Bull, I talked with Rufio – Wisconsin's resident "Bull-tender" – about his drink-slinging history.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you get your start in the world of tending bar?
Nathan Showers: I actually crashed a bar staff Christmas party when I was 20. It was an accidental crashing but I kind of stayed and partied with the staff. They were all blasted so they were just pumped to party with anyone, and it was open bar! Then the manager of the bar called me to the back of the bar and I was like, "F*ck I'm busted," but he tells me to sit down at a table with him, and the first question out of his mouth was "Do you still want a job here?" I had never intended on getting a job there or being a bartender but I didn't want to get in trouble for being underage or crashing the party so I just rolled with it and said "Yes, I'd love to work here still." The rest is history.
OMC: What do you love about the culture of the people that enjoy the nightlife?
NS: I love that I get to see and meet all kinds of people – age, race, different social classes, etc. But the main thing I like about the people that enjoy nightlife is that for the most part we are all just trying to have a good time with friends and complete strangers. I love meeting new people at a bar or club and buying them a beer or a shot. That's one of my favorite parts about my job, meeting and interacting with new people that before that night were complete strangers to me.
OMC: Walk me through a typical night when you're behind the bar.
NS: I don't really have a "typical" night behind the bar, I don't think, mainly because I don't think there is ever a "typical" night behind any bar. You never know what's going to happen, but also because I work at so many different bars and all of them are so different from each other, too, that it's never "typical" for me. I do have typical routines that I go through, though, throughout the night I'm sure, like arriving a little early for my shifts and getting stuff set up how I want it and like it.
I'm super anal about where sh*t is behind the bar and how my bar is set up. I'm sure if you asked most of the bar-backs and bartenders I've worked with, they'd say I am kind of OCD about a lot of things behind the bar. But, in the end, I guess you could say a typical night for me is un-typical. All I can promise is that I try to be professional most of the time, make good drinks and make sure everyone at the spot is having a good time, including myself.
OMC: How'd you get the name "Rufio?" I distinctly remember you having a red mohawk at one time. Was that before or after the name?
NS: The nickname Rufio was coined by my twin brother while we were in Sturgis years ago. I had a black and red mohawk at the time and have had black and red hair for most of the last six or seven years probably. I just don't have as much time to do it as much as I'd like anymore. It still comes out once or twice a year. So, it just kind of stuck and I actually liked it because "Hook" is a super bad-ass movie and like Rufio in the movie, I don't want to ever grow up either. I guess it's fitting in more than one way.
OMC: Every person who tends bar for a long time has a certain amount of mixologist in them. What is the best drink experiment that you've made and what's the worst? What did you use to make the best?
NS: I really don't know. I leave that mainly to the super bartenders. I don't know what has been the best, but I've made my fair share of some bad ones.
OMC: What is your favorite drink by season (spring, summer, fall, winter)?
NS: I don't really have drinks I favor in certain seasons. I always kind of drink the same thing. I mean, yeah I do the standard cliché Corona while I'm grilling out sometimes but for the most part I drink vodka and seltzer, vodka and Red Bull, or if I'm drinking beer it is usually a Guinness or a can of Pabst. Although, lately, I've been drinking a lot of Belgian Tripels. It's so good, but very dangerous.
OMC: What is the weirdest thing a customer has ever had you make?
NS: I can't even remember all of the crazy sh*t I have been asked to make through the years. In the last year or so I have made such things as Jager and tonic, Rumplemintz and coke and just weird combinations like that. I guess I get more weirded out by how people order drinks, or the things they expect that I should have behind the bar, like "You don't have raspberry juice?" or that I'm expected to know what's in every stupid-ass shot that they used to do back in college with some stupid name like "gorilla dildo."
OMC: If you were building the perfect bartender, what realistic skills and abilities would you give them so that they could be the perfect drink slinger?
NS: I guess after thinking about this question for a long time, I don't think I can really answer it fully. Every kind of bar/club calls for different kinds of bartenders and even those bars might need different kinds of bartenders on different nights of the week. I like to think I am pretty good at what I do in a lot of different kinds of venues but I still know some venues that I would be a horrible fit at. I guess the biggest thing that all bartenders could attempt to do is to be friendly, fast and knowledgeable.
OMC: What is a Bull-tender?
NS: I am the official "Bull-tender" for Wisconsin so I get to go to all sorts of super rad events through Red Bull. The last two I went to were Red Bull's Threestyle and Red Bull's Night of the Taurus. Threestyle was a DJ battle for Chicago's top DJ and the winner will get to go on to the national finals in Las Vegas in November. The Night of the Taurus event was kind of a big S.I.N. party that Red Bull put on. As always, both of the venues and set-ups were insane, and of course there were awesome DJs and celebrities involved.
OMC: Tipping etiquette seems to differ person to person. Some people tip a buck a drink immediately, some people leave a few bucks after they're all done, some leave whatever jingly change they get back. What do you view as being proper tipping etiquette and does it differ if the person is getting beer, or a shot, or a mixed drink, or even a blended drink?
NS: As far as tipping goes, I guess I obviously have biased opinion and most of the time that I'm out and about, I way over-tip. But, I am a firm believer in the $1 per drink/beer/shot you order. Standard tipping should be 20 percent, but if your bartender is good you should be taking way better care of them and chances are he/she will be taking better care of you. If you don't have money to tip then you really don't have money to be out at a bar drinking.
If you have to drink but can't afford it at the bar, go to the liquor store and buy your own booze and sit home and drink it because it's way cheaper. I know people run out of money or always don't have enough money to tip what they want to, or what I want them to, and that's fine. Some of my best/favorite customers are sh*tty tippers, but they are polite. They always say please and thanks, they aren't yelling at me, snapping their fingers at me, like I'm their dog or something.
I don't get mad when people don't tip well. I'm used to it at this point. I just mostly hate when people are rude and say they are "too broke to tip." Well bartenders and people in the service industry make their money off of their tips, so if you are too broke to tip them that means they are going be broke. So, don't go to the bar if you are "too broke to tip."
I do believe that I have the best customers and regulars in the city and I am lucky to have that. I'm not a bitter bartender that gets mad every time I get stiffed on a tip. If that was the case, I was I would be mad a lot. My friends and regulars that come to see me make my night worth it every night I step behind the bar.
OMC: What makes you a unique bartender and someone to come visit when people are looking for a drink and a good time?
NS: I don't know if there is a lot of uniqueness about me as a bartender so to speak, but the one thing I do have going for me is that if for some reason you do want to come see me for a good drink and a good time, every day of the week, you will get to go to a different bar almost every night of the week. That, I think, is the one major thing I have to offer.
Every night I go to work, it's a different atmosphere, different DJ or music, different patrons, etc. I like starting and building new nights in new spots with new people. It's cool to get people out to spots and venues they would have never been to before, and then watch those people come back week after week. Luckily I think I work with some of the best in the city and that helps make all these nights successful – from bar staff and owners to all the DJs that I have the pleasure of working with day in and out. For me I guess it always comes down to me thinking "Would I want to be here?" Asking myself if everything is right – the music, the lighting, what's on T.V., etc.
It's about the whole experience for me. I have been to so many bars that I would love to hang out at but something is missing from the experience. Like, I have had some of the best specialty drinks at bars, but the bartender was a complete assh*le about it, or I've seen some of the most beautiful blond big-boobed bartenders – who were great to talk to and watch – but couldn't make a drink to save their life! Or, I've been in spots that I loved the layout of and décor, but maybe the music isn't right or it's too loud or too quiet. I'm not saying all the nights that I work are for everyone and the experience is always perfect, but I try.
In the end, I just want have a f*cking raging-ass party every night I'm out, no matter what side of the bar I'm on. Hopefully my customers wake up the next day with a perfect hangover and the perfect amount of "fuzzy" memories. That's when I know I did my job.
OMC: At what different bars can people find you for a drink?
N.S.: So here is the run down right now: On Monday I'm at the Jackalope Lounj for the Bangarang S.I.N. Party. On Tuesday I'm at SPiN for the S.I.N. Battle of the Bars tournament. On Wednesday I'm at Kenadee's for Everyone's A S.I.N.ner night.
On Thursday I'm at The Wicked Hop. Friday nights I'm at the Jackalope Lounj for Get Rich Fridays with DJ E-Rich. Saturday I'm behind the bar at Apartment 720 on Milwaukee Street. On Sunday I do the first and third Sunday of every month at The Wicked Hop and the second Sunday of the month at Vitucci's.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.
As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.
Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.