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What makes for a good (and memorable) bartender? Signature look? Recognizable nickname? Outsized personality? Ability to make the perfect old fashioned?
Andy "Dozer" Brzakala fits all of the above, and you can find him on Sunday’s at O’Connor’s Perfect Pint in West Allis, located at 8423 W. Greenfield Ave. (He can also be found during the week at O’Lydia’s.)
We dropped in on him as he entertained a devoted group of soccer fans watching Premier League action on a Sunday afternoon.
OnMilwaukee.com: We know you have a real name, but everyone knows you as "Dozer" – so how did that nickname come about?
Andy "Dozer" Brzakala: The "Dozer" nickname started in college. It was a radio nickname. I got it my freshman year (at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville). I showed up at the radio station there and the guy said, "you need a radio name, you need a nickname," and he just looked at me and he goes "Dozer." I said "Dozer?" He’s like, "yeah because if I ever saw you in a mosh pit I’d just get the hell out of the way." It was a metal show. I’m a metal head at heart.
OMC: How long did you do radio?
AB: I did radio for five years out there. I did radio three years here (in Milwaukee) and I just kind of moved on from that, bartending and now I’m going to back to school (at UW-Stout) now. I want to be a teacher.
OMC: How long have you been bartending?
AB: I’ve been bartending now two and a half, almost three years, and I’ve been here about a year and a half.
OMC: Did you do both at the same time?
AB: When I worked here in town, it was mainly production work. I still do some production work on the side for The Hog and back-up produce Bob and Brian, so I keep my toes wet in some of the fun stuff, but I was just working there and needed an extra job, some extra cash, and started bartending. It’s been a great way to make money and keep my schedule open to go to school, take classes, coach baseball in the summer.
I didn’t see myself bartending but I love it. It’s a ton of fun.
OMC: Did your radio background help in the transition to bartending?
AB: Oh, most definitely. It’s weird – talking in front of a microphone seems like it might be an easy thing to do but it’s actually a lot tougher than most people would think. It made me comfortable just having conversations with no one – when you’re on the radio, you’re having a conversation with yourself sometimes – so when you get to stand in front of people and actually have a conversation back and forth, it works.
It’s a little more fun when somebody will talk back. Radio made me super comfortable with myself, a lot more than when I first started. I would freeze up on mic when I was a freshman. But you learn just to roll with it. It definitely helps. I can spring up a conversation with anybody, I definitely like to talk.
OMC: So, interacting with people wasn’t an issue once you got behind a bar – what was the toughest thing for you to get a handle on?
AB: I guess, when I first started, you know the drinks, the easy drinks, the rum and Cokes, the tap beers, are all really simple. The hardest thing was those moments when you’re real busy, when the place is just overrun with people and somebody asks you for something you don’t know.
Just learning to take that deep breath, calm down and don’t get too ahead of yourself. It was just adjusting to the fast paced nature, just getting comfortable with it. It’s a whole other job when it’s crazy and people are staring at you and you’re just winging drinks around. I love that stuff now, but when you first start, you’ve got to learn to find your little happy place and just start busting drinks out and keep smiling and have fun with people as much as you can.
OMC: Is there a drink you’ve been told you make really well?
AB: I’ve been complimented on old fashioneds a lot. I know it’s a pretty common drink, but I enjoy making them also, which is maybe why I get complimented on them. I drink them when I go out. It’s definitely a drink I enjoy making so it’s fun to make something you like, too. When you really enjoy something you can really kind of home in and play with different things with it.
We do hand-muddle everything. There are no pre-mixes or anything. That’s the fun of it. It’s pretty classic. I’ve played around with it a little bit with nice whiskeys but other than that, it’s pretty standard. If people are drinking old fashioneds, that’s what they want. If they want a brandy old fashioned sweet, hand-muddle it down and give them a good one.
That, and around here it’s all about Guinness pours. I’m trying to learn how to draw stuff on the top of the Guinness. That’s always fun. Not that it’s making a cocktail, but there’s a weird art form to the Guinness portraits.
OMC: On a Sunday after Packers and football season, what are the challenges bartending on that day?
AB: We all know people in this town, we like the Sunday fun days and stuff like that, so afternoons are always good, but late Sunday is always a challenge to bring people in. We try to come up with some good specials. We did a "crappy beer night," a pull out of a cooler and you get what you get – just trying to bring some people in to just relax and have some cheap drinks.
We do a Walking Dead Night when that show’s on and it’s popular. We’ll do $2 "Blood Lites," where we put red food coloring in the Miller Lite. Two dollar "brain shots" and we’ll watch the show. It brings people in. It’s kind of fun to bring people in who are really interested in it and the conversation is good. Just trying to utilize what’s happening on Sundays to hopefully bring some people out.
Sundays are good, though. I’ve got a good group of regulars. This place is really good for that. That’s a great thing. It lives on regulars, and a great group of them. They’re all really friendly.
OMC: Well, you’ve got the nickname. You’ve got a specialty drink people like. What’s up with the look?
AB: My look changes. I had a goatee almost halfway down my chest. I had a beard in college. Facial hair is always a staple. I haven’t had a clean shaven face in like a decade. Since sophomore year of high school. Longer than 10 years! Time flies! The mustache right now, I said why the hell not? It’s there. If it looks crazy or goofy or something, you can always shave it off.
OMC: What else is interesting about O’Connor’s on a Sunday?
AB: There are big soccer fans here, so we’re very soccer-friendly, you could say. I love soccer. We’ve had some pretty epic pinball battles on Sunday nights. They can come and check that out. And the music gets kind of wacky here. For about two hours straight they put on nothing but songs that had female vocalists in them and for some reason they take it as a challenge to come up with more ridiculous stuff. It was pretty hilarious.
You never know what kind of music is going to be played in here or what’s going on. Heavy metal to country to classic rock to anything. Jazz. It’s weird. They go all over the place to '90s pop. Who knows? It’s fun. You never know what you’re going to get on a Sunday but it’s always a lot of fun people, good people.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.