Last week we debuted our first round of the Portland Bartender Profiles. I have to say, these interviews have been some of the most fun I’ve had on the job. We’ve got plenty of wild characters in this town, and lucky for me and topers throughout the city, many of Portland’s said characters tend bar. This week, we continue the series with LFK‘s Andrew Barron. Scared the oft-stoic Barron wouldn’t be up for much chit-chat (something kind of neccessary for interviews), I asked him to meet me at Rosie’s for a few afternoon pints. I dare say, I got him to open up. Or maybe it was the Allagash.
Either way, here it is.
“There can be nothing more frequent than an occasional drink.”–Oscar Wilde
Name: Andrew Barron
From: South Portland, ME (I’m from Cape Elizabeth so we’re basically sworn enemies)
Lives: Portland, ME
Bartending how long: 7 years, give or take
Where to find him: LFK at 188 State Street A in Portland
Why he’s cool: Look at his beard
So I have this theory that almost all Portland bartenders are characters but really, this whole town is filled with them. Everyone in this town is strange.
Yeah that makes it a lot of fun. There’s a lot of personalities per capita. [Laughs]
Maybe we can chock it up to the vibrant arts scene here–creative types, ya know? Speaking of which, you’re in a band, right?
Yep. It’s called Sylvia. It’s a heavy metal band.
[Laughs]…yeah, right on.
Sorry, I was trying to be cool because you’re in a heavy metal band. I wasn’t sure the right lingo to use. What do you do in the band?
I’m the drummer.
Oh, awesome. And obviously, since we’re doing this bartender interview, you also tend bar. How long have you been in the world of bartending?
About seven years now or something like that. I started at The White Heart. I got fired from Big Sky Bread because a buddy of mine and I were playing H.O.R.S.E with a loaf of bread and some lady found out and called the owner. Then I was playing this show at SPACE, I was with Phantom Buffalo at the time, and my friend Aly, who was one of the original owners of the White Heart, showed up. This was maybe three days after [White Heart] opened. She was like “I’ve never seen you play in your band before, it’s really good.” And I said, “thanks…can I have a job?” She asked if I could show up to barback the next day and I did. So that’s where I got my start.
Sadly, as we learned from Amy Lewis’ interview last week, The White Heart is no longer around. Where’d you go from there?
I worked there for like three years and then I worked at a couple random places like Kon Asian Bistro. One of Joe Ricchio’s original Food Coma blogs actually was them spending $500 at Kon. Drank their weight in shitty rum, which is pretty funny.
And weren’t you at Local 188 for some time?
Yep. Then I got hired at Local. I feel like that’s where I started to get a little more serious. I learned a lot there. It’s a fun place to work. And then I started working at LFK, and also Pai Men [as a guest bartender for two months] this summer.
So you love that little trifecta in Longfellow Square…Local, Pai Men, LFK. That corner is awesome.
Yeah, that’s another thing. I get really annoyed when people are like, “Oh my God, another place that we’re competing with!” It’s not a competition. Having this many places in one centralized area is great because so many people live by there and would rather go there then have to come down to the Old Port. You can now bar hop in one little place [in the West End]. That’s awesome. I think there’s a sense of community over there that’s great.
Do you hang out in that area a lot?
Yeah. I mean Boda is probably my favorite restaurant. It’s fantastic.
They’ve got a nice cocktail list, as well.
Oh yeah. I feel like there’s becoming more of this scene in this town of people who give a shit [about bartending] and want to learn and appreciate some of the history of it. And Jeremy [bartender at Boda] is definitely one of those people. I think with bartending, Prohibition sort of killed it. Because before that bartenders were looked at as craftsmen. They were respected. Not to say they aren’t respected now, but today people will be like “so what else do you do?” like it’s not your real job. I think why that is is because almost everyone gets into restaurant work while they are doing something else, and they’re young, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously and get good at it and learn what you’re doing. I just think whatever you do you should try to do well.
As Portland is such a foodie/drinks town, there’s a little bit of snootiness within the indstury, too. You ever feel that?
Yeah there can be this exclusivity about it. An “oh you don’t know?” kind of thing. Why don’t we share with one another and learn how to get better at this as a community? And from my experience the people who are the most like “oh you don’t know?” are the people who learned about it that afternoon before they came into work.
So what’s your favorite thing about bartending?
I really enjoy the drinking history and the culture and what’s kind of fun about it is there’s a lot of history but most of it’s been forgotten because it’s drinking history.
You come up with a lot of the cocktails on your own then. Are you into trends? Do you consider yourself a mixologist?
I hate that word. “I’m really into amaro right now.” [Laughs] Amari are awesome but it’s funny, all these trends that happen. I just feel like, again another thing that’s the same as food, it’s really important to get your fundamentals down. I don’t give a shit if you can make this cocktail with fifteen ingredients or you put foam on everything if you can’t make a good martini. Fore Street is the most famous restaurant in the city for a reason; they do simple food and they do it well. And doing simple well, at least I think, is harder than doing crazy complicated shit all the time.
So, did someone take you under their wing in your quest for cocktail knowledge ?
I read a couple books. And I learned from those. But I’m really lucky to live with…oh man, she’s gonna be angry at me for saying this…but my girlfriend [Sarah Jump] who I live with is an incredible resource. She’s probably the most knowledgeable restaurant professional I know. She’s just done everything. She knows every station in the line, she curates the wine list at Local, which has won a bunch of awards, she’s got all these fancy wine certificates. John Meyers is obviously great for that, too. And another person I’ve learned from is my buddy Nan’l. He’s an awesome bartender. He was the bar manager at Local when I was there. He’s the master of finding ways to be really rude to people but letting them feel like they’re in on the joke so they don’t understand what he’s doing. I’ve stolen a bunch of tricks for him.
So, are you a mean bartender!?
[Laughs] No, no, I’m not! Maybe it’s unfair, but I think when you’re behind the bar people want to be your friend, because you know, you’re making their drinks. But when you’re on the floor [serving], people can be like “excuse me, helper!” Snapping their fingers. As the bartender, when customers are shitty you can snap back at them but within reason. There are certain places where it’s fine if bartenders are assholes but not everywhere. I feel like there’s a lot more of a movement towards just being nice to people. It doesn’t hurt. Just be nice even when they’re being shitty and then have a fucking drink and talk shit about them later. I used to be a jerk. I didn’t know any better.
Lots of trial and error in the bartending business?
Yeah, I mean I’ve made a ton of shitty drinks in my life. You just have to keep trying. Get the classics down then maybe try your own twist on it.
Do you ever have to cut people off? Is it awkward?
There’s a trick of doing it. You have to pretend to be really confident about it. You have to be pretty stern. It’s weird, you have to be nice, you know, “nothing personal, we’ll see you next time.” Because you want to get them out of there without making a scene. That’s what customer service is, you can’t make it about you. You’re not on display.
Do your friends force you to make them drinks when you guys are hanging out at home?
Sometimes. I kind of like that though, now. I didn’t for a long time. You have to get comfortable. When you’re at work you have this set up and all this stuff so you’re ready to make anything. But I’ve geeked out and I like having a lot of that stuff at home now. Honestly, it’s the people that do it at home that are the best at it because they care. That guy Trey up at the Blue Spoon probably makes the coolest drinks in this town right now and he was a home bartender forever. It’s pretty cool.
Do you have a favorite drink to make?
I hate that question. [Laughs] Oh man, sorry. I mean, that’s cool. It totally depends on what you’re doing. Are you cold? Are you hungry? Are you hungover? It all changes.
You’re probably going to hate this question, too, but I’m going to go through with it anyway: Is there a drink you don’t like to drink yourself or make for others?
Not really. I don’t really love to mix with vodka because I think it’s kind of boring but it’s also kind of fun to drink because if you absolutely need to get the job done, it’s great. I hate Shipyard Pumpkinhead. I don’t hate all pumpkin beers though. The Dogfish pumpkin beer is awesome. But really, everyone’s different. I haven’t worked at a bar that serves things like Bud Lite in a long time but to be honest, I drink Bud Lite sometimes. I don’t give a shit. If someone wants a Bud Lite, they want a Bud Lite. I don’t like it when bartenders are like “this isn’t that kind of place…we’re a little too cool for that.” Shut up.
Do you get hit on a lot behind the bar? Any funny stories?
I don’t know, I guess I get hit on sometimes. I do have an embarrassing story. This older women was aggressively hitting on me one night. And I was trying to play it as cool as I know how, smile, be polite. Before she left she asked if she could take me home and I was like “I don’t get out til like 3 in the morning,” thinking that’d end that. But she pulled me close and whispered in my ear that she was coming back for me at 3am. I was just like “oh man.” And I got this call around 3 and it was a woman’s voice saying she was waiting for me to get out. I talked for a little with her, trying to politely decline or whatever. Finally, I looked out the window and it was my friends Sarah [now girlfriend] and Mariah. Sara was pranking me, pretending to be this woman. I’m pretty gullible. She had me going for a bit.
That’s an awesome “before we were dating” story. Do you think it’s your beard that had that older lady gaga for you?
You know, I don’t know. I’ve only had this for like a year. It’s quickly become…my personality? I didn’t really mean for it to be that. I just grew it because I hate shaving.
The beard seems to suit you. Plus, it’s very bartender-y. You should maybe give yourself a Civil War-era moustache, too? Which leads to me next totally unrelated question, do you have any tattoos?
Best out-of-context intervew quotes:
- “The one time I’ve puked [from drinking] in maybe the last eight years…I was trying to keep up with Joe Ricchio.”
- “I’ll be pouring my soul into my work at 5.”
- “One time, a customer complained about the music we were playing. It was The Black Keys. The most innocuous band I can think of. I was blown away; someone was offended by The Black Keys? Sweet Jesus.”