Lisa Simonson likes dive bars. In fact, the 24-year-old marketing professional by day likes them so much, she works at two of them, while waitressing at a third. "You can sleep when you're dead," she says with a smile.
We caught up with Simonson at Mark's Sports Pub, 4035 S. Clement Ave., where she explained why regulars are friendly, funnier and more apt to start a fight when they see a patron who's wet his pants. (Yes, that really happened.)
OnMilwaukee.com: What's your attraction to dive bars?
Lisa Simonson: I had a regular customer at a bar I worked at in Minneapolis who said you can always find the same group of people in every bar in America. The first bar I ever worked at was a dive bar, and when I moved back here, first bar was a more local bar, too. I think you get to know people a little better. And dive bars have the best stuff. The best signage, the best customers. It's funny how similar they are in every sense.
OMC: But this is not your day job, right?
LS: No, I'm a marketing manager for an engineering company.
OMC: Where do you find the time?
LS: Well, I went to see my "lady parts" doctor, and in talking to him, he said, "You can sleep when you're dead." I said, "You know, that's great advice, doctor," as he's gearing up to go on vacation with his wife after looking at vaginas all day. But I work when I can; I don't have anything else to do.
OMC: When did you start tending bar?
LS: I started when I was 20 at a bar just off campus of the University of Minnesota.
OMC: What's your signature drink?
LS: Dive bars are easy with a lot of beer and mixed drinks. I'm a big fan of gin drinks or anything with vodka in it. I'm a big whiskey drinker, too. Any variety of a gimlet I'm pretty much in love with.
OMC: What's your least favorite drink to make?
LS: Fruity shots.
OMC: What's the most ridiculous thing you've seen a patron do?
LS: I've seen just obscene dancing. It's my favorite thing about local bars, the no-music, local drunk guy getting down in the corner by himself.
OMC: Do you take pictures?
LS: Oh, totally.
OMC: Have you ever broken up a bar fight?
LS: I have. With my fists. I was bartending up in Minneapolis, and this group of guys came in for a bachelor party, and they were wearing cycling suits. I am pretty positive that one of the guys had wet himself, so his friend is making fun of him. One of the locals is making fun of him, too, and things got heated. Next thing I know, the guy is coming over the bar yelling obscene things at me. I had no other choice but to grab his fists before he hit me and push him down. We had a bouncer at that establishment; he was my knight in shining armor.
OMC: Do pickup lines in bars work?
LS: No. Never. Maybe. I don't know.
OMC: Who are better tippers, men or women?
LS: Women that work in the service industry. My personal pet peeve is a bartender that's a woman who will ignore other women.
OMC: Have you ever served a celebrity?
LS: Yes, "Booger" from "Revenge of the Nerds." He ordered a pizza and was drinking a vodka soda or something.
OMC: Did you recognize him right away?
LS: No, one of my regulars made me ID him, and we figured out that it was, indeed, Booger.
OMC: Where do you drink when you're not bartending?
LS: I drink all over. I like to go to bars that I've never been to. I currently live in St. Francis, so I've been venturing out into Cudahy. I drink a lot in Bay View and Cathedral Square occasionally. I avoid Water Street at all costs.
OMC: Possibly a dumb question, but do you drink when you're tending bar?
LS: Yes, but I will not get to the point where I don't feel in control anymore.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.