Bar Royalty

Five area bartenders sound off on pet peeves, pet projects and why they do what they do

Ben Olson at the Downtown Crossing - PHOTO: CHRIS BRUNKHART
Photo: Chris Brunkhart
Ben Olson at the Downtown Crossing

Downtown Crossing (Sandpoint)

“‘Bartenders are the aristocrats of the working class.’ So said Douglas Coglin. It’s true. They listen to your woes. They keep you company. I like that a bar is a social altar, where people gather to discuss what’s important, but also, what’s not important.

“I’m not going to lie. Being a bartender helps you get laid. It probably has something to do with having authority over degeneracy. I have a rule at my bar that kissing the bartender is always appreciated — in fact, encouraged. So there’s that.'

“Nothing stinks of hollow dreams like a bar after closing. There are always piles of puke to mop up, toilets to unclog. [Once, there was a] guy who managed to puke on the ceiling in the bathroom. Noodles were hanging down like stalactites.'

“I have bad dreams about cigarette butts, straws and lime chunks gathering en masse and carrying me away to some bartender hell, where there’s just one customer and he’s chock-full of stories about ‘the one that got away.’

“I went to this bar in California once where they had this bell over the bar, and whenever someone stiffed the bartender for a tip, they rang the bell and shouted, ‘No tip!’ and everyone stopped what they were doing to look at the cheapskate. What a great idea.” (Joel Smith)

The Peacock Room

“On busy weekends, we have two bartenders and a ‘bar back’ — not a real bartender, just someone to make sure our wells are stocked and we’re supplied with ice, so the two bartenders can just stand and make drinks.

“You know what I truly find very annoying? When you’re ready to take someone’s order, and they’re on their cell phone, and they hold up a finger” — she mimics the “wait a moment” sign — “and here I am, rushing around taking orders.

“But as any good bartender will tell you, what’s said in a bar, stays in the bar.”

Celebrities she’s seen in the Peacock: “Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, Tom Jones, Yanni, Burt Reynolds, Cuba Gooding Jr., Cole Hauser…. Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano were both in here at the same time. Oh, and Sam Elliott — he’s awesome. The most laid-back guy you’ve ever met. He sat here for two hours — talked to you just like anybody.

“This is a four-diamond hotel. This is it for me — if I left here, I’d have to get some other kind of job. Because I would never bartend again in any other kind of place.” (Michael Bowen)

Elk, Blue Spark

“I’ve been bartending for 11 years… My pet peeve would be people who wait in line five minutes and when they get to the front, they don’t know what they want. Another pet–peeve is the repeat offender, I call them, people who cash out their credit cards over.

“As a bartender, you don’t know how you can affect somebody’s day, the way you say things, the look you give them. … A year ago, a guy came in bummed. He just got a divorced, signed the papers, so I bought him his first beer. … I see a lot of broken hearts, I see a lot of people who have good fortune. … People are dependent on you as a bartender. They want that drink because it’s their 21 run or because they signed the divorce papers or because their husband isn’t with them any more. … It’s weird how these stories come in and out of my life.” (Jacob Fries)


“I was thrown behind the bar without any formal training, just like the majority of modern bartenders. I learned by watching, smelling, tasting and imagining. Oh, and reading.

“Taste everything you make. And as a general rule... juice, shake — no juice, stir.

“If you’re stumped by an order, it is mostly likely for an obscure old drink, in which case you should be able to look it up and find it, as someone else has obviously already found it. Or it is a newer drink created by another bartender in a different house. If that’s the case, why not try one of mine? You are, after all, in my house.

“The role of a bartender first and foremost is to make a well-crafted, balanced cocktail. After that, you need to take the time to read your guest. Perhaps they need a friend, perhaps they just need a cocktail. Ultimately, you want them to leave feeling like their spirits have been lifted and they haven’t been ripped off.

“It’s always easier to try and pace people than to let them get to the point of diminishing returns. You know, it wouldn’t hurt for everyone to slow down just a bit. I like to take the time to make a good drink, and I prefer if you take the time to enjoy it.” (Michael Bowen)

Hill’s Someplace Else

“I was 19 and working at a dark lobby bar. One day I’m telling jokes back and forth with this short, stocky guy, and he leaned back in his bar stool laughing, and him and the bar stool – boom! – hit the ground. He says, ‘Steve, that’s the funniest joke I ever heard!’ and he pulls out a wad of $100 bills, peels one off and says ‘That’s for you, son.’ He was Red Adair, the oil well firefighter guy. So I’m making $1.60 an hour and get a $100 tip. I’m going to remember more of these jokes! …

“The first drink I learned to make was a Brandy Alexander, which nobody orders any more. … A lot of younger kids come in and want to know what the old-school drinks were and how to make them … Ramos gin fizz, Old-Fashioneds. … The so-called martini craze drives me nuts because martini is gin or vodka [not fruity or chocolate flavors].

“It’s a people business. I hate going into a new bar where I’ve never been before and the regulars glare at you and the bartender don’t serve you until he’s finished with his conversation. I hate that.” (Kevin Taylor)


Downtown Spokane
South Hill
Spokane’s North Side
The Valley
Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls

The Holy Grail
Looking for the perfect mixed drink in the Spokane area

Dive Bars
The best, worst taverns around

Hotel Bars
Seeking an echo of the old scene

Bar Royalty
Confessions from area bartenders

The Last Word
Seattle has its trademark drink. What’s Spokane’s?

Preserve It! Summer Home Food Preservation Series @ WSU Spokane County Extension

Wed., Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m.
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