The Portland Bartender Profiles: Jeff Ellis

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Name: Jeff Ellis
Age: 36
From: South Portland
Lives: South Portland
Bartending how long: Too long (16 years)
Where to find him: Binga’s Stadium
Why he’s cool: He’s not afraid to say that flavored vodka is disgusting and that the Old Port is full of meatheads. He’s also one of the nicest dudes this reporter has ever chatted with.

There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others. ― Raymond Chandler

First question is obvious—bartender or mixologist?
Bartender.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Whiskey, neat. I’m just kidding. Sometimes I like to make things I haven’t made in a while. I think every bartender has a couple of their own inventions they like to put out there.

Do you have one?
Butterscotch Burnell. I named it after a customer I had years ago on the ladies night when this was The Stadium. I lived really briefly in the Caribbean and it’s just a combination of ingredients I knew fit together from there.

Is there a drink you hate to make?
A lemon drop.

What’s that?
It’s either a martini or a shot. It’s just a pain in the ass because you have to sugar the lemon. Or a Gibson, I don’t like making them either. I don’t like touching cocktail onions—they’re gross.

How’d you get into bartending?
When I got out of high school I wanted to do something to make money and I had had about enough of school. But I thought bartending would be a good place to start. I started in my first bar when I was 17. Ironically, I just went back to school.

What’s your favorite drink to make for yourself?
Whiskey neat. I don’t mix stuff up. If I’m somewhere else where there are new drinks to try, I’ll do it. But in Maine I drink beer and whiskey. I like Bourbon and Irish whiskey.

Do you slay bitches when you tell them “I’m a bartender”?
At 36 years old, I like women my own age and I don’t think many of them are impressed with that.

Do you get hit on a lot tending bar?
I’ve always worked with guys who are better looking than me, so not really. Occassionally, but generally no.

What’s the best/most ridiculous pick-up line you’ve ever gotten while tending bar?
Honestly, I couldn’t tell ya. I’m blanking on that. It was probably just been a note or something. Usually if girls want to grab your attention—and this was from when I was younger— they would just leave their number on a credit card slip.  And then we’d never call them. Two of the bartenders who used to work here kept a stack of the numbers behind the bar and then when we’d start drinking they would start calling the numbers themselves.

Do all your friends force you to make them drinks when you go over for dinner?
Nope, we usually all drink the same thing. If I go over for dinner, it’s usually red wine, beer, or whiskey and ginger. We keep it pretty simple.

Is it a delight to have to cut drunk people off?
I hate cutting people off. The first time I had to do that it was a best man. If somebody is so much of a bubblegummer that they can’t handle their liquor and they are going to be out in public, it is an instant annoyance. It’s obnoxious. Sometimes people are cool about it and sometimes they’re not and that’s just anxiety I don’t need. It’s like, if that’s the way you’re going to behave, there are bars that will cater to you, and we are not one of them.

Has anyone ever tried to fight you for kicking them out?
Oh yeah. I used to work the door in town, so I’ve had it done a couple of times. It’s usually just an argument and I let them talk until a little spit lands on my shirt and then I tell them they spit on me and they just leave after that. I think they realize it’s just not going to be worth it.

How many bar fights have you been in?
I’ve been in a few. They aren’t really fights. They are more like ejections of people who don’t really want to be ejected. But drunk people are…well, they are stupid. And they’re slow usually.

Is Binga’s more rowdy than most bars?
I don’t work the rowdy shifts. Generally, it’s pretty well behaved in here. People usually come for the sports, the wings, and trivia. Tuesday night is trivia night. I’d recommend trivia, it’s a great time. Usually I’ll join one of the teams at the bar and help them out with their game. I’m pretty good at pop culture questions.

What’s your favorite thing about bartending?
Talking to people. I just like to be social and to converse. I love shooting the breeze with customers when they come in. That’s something you sort of develop over your dead shifts and through your regulars. I think that is how you get your regulars…just sitting and talking and getting to know each other. I usually have the news on, which makes me pretty animated and cranky; I think that’s a one way that people get to know me and I get to know them.

How many tattoos do you have? (All bartenders in Portland have tattoos. It’s science.)
None. I wasn’t a good kid and my mother had two things she really didn’t like: motorcycles and tattoos. So in my adult life, I’ve stayed away from both of those.

What do people in Portland seem to order most often? Fancy craft beers? Hipster coladas? 
It depends on where you work. I used to work at this place called the Ale House and there it was PBR. People drank tons and tons of PBR. Here we sell a lot of PBR, but having 27 drafts on the line there are a lot more options for people. I’d say what we sell the most here are domestics. Well, and young girls order really horrible flavored vodkas—there are some really awful flavors.

What kind of flavors?
Anything. You know what I find interesting? You can’t use a cartoon camel to sell cigarettes but you can make cotton-candy and fruit-loop flavored vodka. It’s pretty gross.

Where’s your favorite place to drink—that you don’t work at?
I like the Dogfish—the one of Free Street. I like the staff a lot. I like the environment. I’ve had a couple favorite places in Portland over the years. When I could tolerate the Old Port, I liked Amigos. But I just can’t be there. It’s horrible. I like the Congress Street stretch. It has a lot of places to go with a lot of different flavors. It’s the Old Port for grown ups. If you don’t want to go out and see a bunch of meatheads, gelling their hair and punching each other in the face, then this is a good place to be.

 

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