Portland, Maine is known for its exceptional restaurants, vibrant arts scene, beautiful coastline, and whether you like it or not, hipsters. But in addition to ironic moustaches, the city ranks high on the country’s list for most bars per capita. Consequently, bartenders make up a fundamental aspect of this city’s uniqueness, draw, and culture. Contrary to what some may think, bartending isn’t simply pouring something into a glass (just ask this guy). Recently, I’ve had the exquisite pleasure of going around town and acquainting myself with some of these bartending men and women. A few of them even made me a cocktail…yeah, definitely just one cocktail…
As a result, I give you the Portland Bartender Profiles.
“If I had to live my life over, I’d live over a saloon.” – W.C. Fields
Name: Amy Lewis
From: Cape Neddick, ME (Amy says: “No one knows where it is. I just say, ‘I’m from fuckin’ Kittery, dude. Don’t hit on me.’”)
Lives: Portland, ME
Bartending how long: 3 years
Where to find her: The Big Easy at 55 Market Street in Portland
Why she’s cool: I met with Amy for brunch (read: mimosas) at Caiola’s in Portland’s West End. We’d never met before but after two (or four) beverages, we basically left best friends. I knew I liked this chick when we forgot our server’s name and Amy declared “I’m just gonna call her Chastity.” Chastity, if you’re reading this, thanks for the fantastic service and the lovely brunch. And sorry we took up your table for two hours laughing about stupid pick-up lines, the bizarre appeal of Old Orchard Beach, and anti-freeze shots. Also, sorry we called you Chastity.
First question is obvious—bartender or mixologist?
What do you like about working at the Big Easy?
I love music! We’re one of the only places, if not the only place, in Portland that has live music every night. Every. Night. It’s dope. Jazz and soul Mondays, cover-to-cover Tuesdays, then you get hip-hop on Wednesdays. Hippie jams on Thursday. Everything. Something for everyone. Good vibes.
How’d you get into bartending?
I’ve been bartending for 3 years. Worked at Flatbread with Ed, the sound guy at the Big Easy. Ken Bell [owner of Big Easy] was talking to Ed and told him “we need someone who’s funky and loud and pumped up and loves people” and Ed was like “I know the perfect person.” Ken asked the standard “can you make a Jack and coke?” and I was like “yeah, I can do that.” Ken is great. I would consider myself to be a self-taught bartender. Thanks to the internet and the bookstore. I’m a book whore. Bought a lot of cocktail books.
What’s your favorite thing about bartending?
I’m a nerd. I love learning about it. There is an endless amount of drinks to learn. I love to cook, and to me bartending is a form of cooking. It’s all measurements and ingredients. I was super drawn to it. And obviously, I love to drink, which is cool.
What’s your favorite drink to make?
I love making classic drinks, really well. A great martini or Manhattan. Even a Jack and coke. Simple drinks with few ingredients that can, and do, go terribly wrong. However, I do like the freedom of creating mystery drinks for people that don’t know what they want. But I hate when people come up to the bar with an iPhone and show me a weird fucking recipe with like 13 ingredients and the bar is balls deep and they’re like “make this, it’s awesome!”
Is there a drink you hate to make?
Not so much “I hate to make” but those young nuggets, like the 21-year-old group of girls, and they come in saying “I want a Russian Tour Bus” or “I want an anti-freeze shot!” and I’m like “I don’t even know what that means?!” It’s because they go to 51 Wharf and there was some special on Jolly Rancher vodka or something one night and the bartenders mixed it with sour mix and these girls are like “This is everything I want. I want to order this at every bar!”
What’s your favorite drink to make for yourself?
I am obsessed with bourbon. It’s pretty much all I drink…in the afternoon, when I’m not drinking this mimosa. I love making Manhattans. It’s my favorite drink. Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. There’s so much that can go wrong; there are three ingredients but somehow people still fuck it up all the time.
Do you get hit on a lot tending bar?
Do you even have to be attractive to get hit on at a bar? I’m just sayin.’
What’s the best/most ridiculous pick-up line you’ve ever gotten while tending bar?
Most people just speak to my tits, which is cool. It’s hard to pinpoint a “most ridiculous.” A lot of the time you’re just sitting there and you can’t believe what they just said, it’s like did that just happen? Drunk people tell you that you look like people all the time. I’ve gotten Taylor Swift. Angelina Jolie. I have this whole spectrum. I went to Mathew’s the other day and this dude told me I looked like Barbara Eden from I Dream Of Jeanie and then he licked my hair. But really, when you’re the only sober person in a room full of 200 drunk people, you take everything with a grain of salt.
Do you ever have to cut people off?
Oh yeah. Somebody threw up on the bar last night. It was fucked up.
Has anyone ever tried to fight you for doing so?
I’ve been pulled over the bar once. And he was huge, fucking massive. And he just reached over the bar and grabbed me by my arm and I swear to God, he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck like a kitten and he pulled me up over the bar so my ass was on the top of the bar. And I’m like 5 feet tall, I’m a short-ass-mother-fucker, and I was like “Oh my god, I’m gonna die.” But that was once and we have a really good system at the Big Easy. We inform our entire staff [if someone gets cut off] so everyone knows what’s up.
What do people in Portland seem to order most often?
Well, not so much a Portland go-to, but when we have metal shows and all the Northern Mainers come down we have to get like gallons and gallons of milk because it’s coffee brandy and milk all night. I’m lactose-intolerant so I don’t get it. Portland peeps are happy with their whiskey cokes, vodka sodas, and seasonal beers. Don’t forget about PBR, bub!
Where’s your favorite place to drink—that you don’t work at?
Really depends on my mood to be honest. I do love Sonny’s. I love the staff at Sonny’s. I’m also really diggin’ LFK. If I’m dressed up, had some dinner, and really want a good Manhattan, I’ll go there. I also love their staff. I was like brutally obsessed with The White Heart, it was my favorite all time bar. I lived there for like three years. DJ Mayo and the lightshows on the ceiling and Horror Day. There was nothing wrong with that place. God dammnit I miss the shit out of that place. I do love Flask, too. And Ruski’s. I swear to God, that place doesn’t close. They say they do but I don’t believe it.
How many tattoos do you have? (All bartenders in Portland have tattoos. It’s science.)
Two tats. My centaur on my back and a maple seed on my upper arm.
Best out-of-context intervew quotes:
- “China town fucked me up. Threw off my juju, dude.”
- “Chastity. Makes me want to go to a strip club now the more that I say it. Want to go to PT’s?”
- “In the wizard world, everyone speaks English. But it would be cool if they made a Swedish version of Harry Potter.”