In my opinion, what makes bartenders great has less to do with how many recipes they can memorize or how sublimely they can blend ingredients and much more to do with how fast they can get the drink I ordered into my hand so that I can get it into my bloodstream ASAP. Mixological perfection is a beautiful thing if you and your favorite mix-master have all night to ponder the meaning of life over bourbon Manhattans. But on the front lines of Clubland, the bartenders who consistently impress me the most are those who know their booze and are both quick on their feet and cool under pressure. One of Spokane's favorite live rock clubs, the B-Side, employs such stellar bartenders, expert pourers of intoxicating beverages that have been battle-tested under the most extreme conditions -- basically, any crowded, loud and sweaty weekend night at the club.
Which brings me to the B-Side's Erin Fasbender. With amazing speed, dexterity and grace, Fasbender keep all of us poor slobs well oiled with stiff drinks before, during and between deafening live music sets. She's been doing it for two years now and claims to love it. How she manages to hear and accurately fill our orders over that racket while managing to stay so cool when all around is chaos is almost beyond comprehension. But we who frequent the B-Side certainly appreciate it as one of the sweet mysteries of life.
Bob Alexander at the Baby Bar
The Baby Bar's Bob Alexander only works on Monday nights. He's a humble guy, quick to give propers to colleagues who put in considerably more time behind the counter, particularly Patty Tully: "She's the star, here," he says. He also isn't shy about whipping out the ol' bartender's guide whenever he's presented with an unfamiliar drink order. Yet what Alexander may lack in slickness or encyclopedic drink knowledge, he more than makes up for with personality and charm. He's also a generous bloke, careful to fill those cocktail glasses right to the rim. And last but certainly not least, he knows that the most important thing about making nachos is getting at least some melted cheddar on every single chip.
Bil Childress at the Elk
I'm not sure how long Bil Childress has been mixing drinks here -- the Elk itself has only recently been transformed into a full bar -- all I know is, when I ordered a Gibson the other night he nailed it with style, easily edging out the bartender I encountered at another venue two nights before. His idea of a Gibson was a gin martini in an old-fashioned glass over ice with green olives.
Avont Grant at the Blue Spark
Avont Grant has been slinging the sauce with a smile to young nightlifers over at the Blue Spark for at least the last three years. He's typically there on all the crowded "action nights," including Friday, Saturday and the Spark's famous Monday Open-Mic Night. Brianna Bansemer also does a great job from behind the counter at the Blue Spark.
Erin Johnson at Mootsy's
Speaking of great, cool-under-pressure bartenders named Erin, consider this: Mootsy's has one, too -- only her name is Erin Johnson. This is rather intriguing because, as most Spokane nightlifers know, Mootsy's and the B-Side are sort of joined at the hip in more than a few ways. Their respective owners -- Rick "Mootsy's" Turner and Ben "B-Side" Cater -- both love live, original music, share essentially the same clientele and have running tabs at each other's joints. It follows then, I suppose, that they should each have a most excellent Erin working behind the bar as well.