Tending Bar In Bourbon Country: A Whiskey Writer's Tale

Tending Bar In Bourbon Country: A Whiskey Writer's Tale

Sitting on the couch recently scrolling through Facebook on my phone, I read a request from a friend for someone to tend bar from 3-8 on a Saturday.  I had zero bartending experience at that point, but it’s a bourbon bar and I know a ton about bourbon so I responded.  After some training I was set loose behind the bar at one of my favorite spots in town- Match Cigar Bar in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Going in, I knew the majority of my shift would be slow.  Typically you don’t get much traffic in a bar on a beautiful fall afternoon.  I took my time setting up the bar, finding all the light switches, and figuring out how to turn on the stereo.  And then I waited.

Maggie Bar

Our intrepid bourbon writer doing her volunteer bar shift (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Maggie Kimberl)

The first two hours I had two customers, one regular and one guy from Florida just stopping for a cigar break on a road trip to the frozen tundra of the Midwest.  I took a selfie.  Then I took a picture of the bar and tweeted it.  Then I took another selfie and sent it to my sister.  Then 5:15 rolled around and people started trickling in.  By 6 they were pouring in.  What had I gotten myself into?

I had joked during my training that if someone ordered an L.I.T. I’d have to throw them out.  Guess what my third customer of the night ordered?  Thankfully and mercifully the majority of the people who came in wanted one of the two drinks I actually know how to make- Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.  Did I mention it’s a bourbon bar?

By 7 p.m. I was keeping up, but just barely.  The hangup surprisingly wasn’t making the drinks, it was ringing them up.  Making the drinks is fun.  Talking to the people is a blast.  Fighting with a laggy iPad is not.

Throughout my life I’ve had many different jobs, most of which involve chatting with customers.  These days I don’t get much of that and I’ve found I really miss it.  It was great getting behind the bar for a few hours to see what it’s like on the other side.  The reality of tending bar- running out of change, fighting with a computer- is a lot different from what you see from the other side of the bar. I have a new respect for my bartender friends- they sure earn those tips.

About the author

Maggie Kimberl

One night during Derby week, I was working in the liquor store while Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge was doing a tasting. I kept trying to make my way over to talk to him, but we were super busy (did I mention it was Derby week?) and I didn't make it in time. Dejected, I went back to the break room and started eating my lunch. The next thing I knew, Rutledge came through the door, saying, "You didn't get to do my tasting!" He sat down and explained how to taste bourbon, the ten recipes of Four Roses, and how it was different than other distilleries. I had liked bourbon before that point, but Jim Rutledge made me care about it. That's the beautiful thing about the bourbon industry- the people love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Now here we are. :)