And we’re back for another installation of the Portland bartender profiles. This week, I happily made my way over to Flask Lounge in Portland’s beautiful West End to catch up with the owner and bartender Jessica Nolette. I was greeted with some Zack Jones jams, which basically guaranteed a fantastic interview. After coaxing Jessica to pose for me (not like one of my French girls), I snapped a few photos and got the skinny on awkward pick up lines, supporting the local music scene, and of course, Moxie bombs. So without further adieu, I give you, Jessica Nolette:
“There can’t be good living where there is not good drinking.” – Benjamin Franklin
Name: Jessica Nolette
Age: 32 (she looks about 22)
From: Lyman, ME
Lives: South Portland
Bartending how long: “Forever.”
Where to find her: Flask Lounge 117 Spring Street
Why she’s cool: She owns a bar called Flask. And they serve Moxie Bombs. Moxie. Bombs.
How did you get into bartending?
I started when I probably wasn’t even old enough to be behind bar. Barbacking, I was, I don’t know, 16 probably. Ever since then.
How long have you owned Flask?
Going on five years in a couple weeks.
Congrats! Why did you decide to open this spot?
Well, I’ve been in this industry forever and I was kind of eyeballing this place for a bit. I had my eye on it and then I heard it was going to close. So when I originally bought it, you know, my first idea was to have a sports lounge kind of environment, but I realized that wasn’t entirely going to work. People want to dance and listen to music. Considering the way this bar had been for so many years I realized I should stick to what it was beforehand but bring it to an “anybody, everybody” kind of place. More variety. More local music.
What do you think about the term mixologist?
It’s…kind of dumb. Yeah, I think it’s kind of dumb. I’ve certainly never put that on a resume, that’s for sure.
Do you have a favorite drink?
Personally or serving?
It really depends on the night. Depends on the season, depends on the person, really. I mean there are some people that will come up [to the bar] and want a martini a very specific way when it’s a super busy Saturday night and I have ten pairs of eyeballs looking at me and it’s stressful. But then other days when it’s not as busy they might ask for the same thing and I’m like “yeah, I’ll make you the best martini ever!” When people ask what they should have, I’m not the greatest with making decisions for other people, since I can hardly make decisions for myself. But yeah, I don’t really have a favorite go-to anything.
Any drink you hate to drink?
A drink that I would probably never drink…um, something with cherries in it, watermelon, most things that are pink, like really pink.
Do you get hit on a lot when you’re tending bar?
It comes in waves. Sometimes it’ll be like three days in a row, other times not so much.
Any particularly funny stories?
Oooh God. I’m extremely awkward when people hit on me. I giggle. I totally giggle.
When you go over to friends’ houses, do they make you make them drinks?
Do you like that? Hate that?
It doesn’t matter. I mean it’s very rare that I’ll actually get out to someone’s house to begin with so it doesn’t really bother me. I mean it’s nice to be waited on, but I don’t mind making drinks for friends. If it was like 30 friends…well, maybe then.
Favorite spots to grab a drink in Portland?
I have always been partial to Commercial Street Pub. Hmm…I’m trying to think. I like the drinks at the new [El Rayo] Cantina. They have this spicy…I forget what it’s called right now, but it’s something spicy and I love spicy. They have a nice patio. That new deck is pretty awesome.
Speaking of food, you guys have great food here. I’ve had the jalapeno poppers here. Do you do the cooking?
Yep. I do it all.
Did you know when you opened this place that you wanted to have food?
I knew that I wanted to definitely bring food in. When I bought it there wasn’t a kitchen and that was one of the main ways of getting that different variety of people inside of here, to add a kitchen with homemade pub-style food that is inexpensive. Made right in front of you. The food has pretty much stayed the same. The menu has shortened a little bit just because I like to make sure everything’s as fresh as possible. And while this place isn’t “known” for its food, everybody that comes in and tries the food loves it so I feel like it’s a cool secret. All the bartenders know how to cook, as well.
How many bartenders are there?
There are only three of us. We’re very small.
What’s the capacity of this place?
99. That’s inside and then in the summertime there’s like a small patio outside.
You guys do a lot of events, too? Do you do the booking for that?
Mostly, I do all the booking. There are a couple independent people that will book, like that guy Andrew who does The Avett Brothers Appreciation Nights which were some of the best events.
Oh man, I love me some Avetts. I came to a few of those nights.
Did you come to the David Mayfield Parade. That was something special.
I did. It was incredible. And I came when their dad, Jim Avett, showed up. Amazing.
Yeah, those were really fun.
Do you have a favorite thing about bartending/running The Flask?
I don’t have a job where I’m a robot. Every day is different. Never a dull moment. Whether there are three people here or it’s a full house, it’s always entertaining. And I enjoy that I bartend at and own a safe place without drama and violence or anything like that. It’s rewarding.
So do you ever have to kick people out of here? Is that rare?
Yeah, it’s rare. I’d say that also comes in waves. For some reason, it’s Monday or Tuesday nights. I’m not sure if it’s the moon or the stars [laughs], but it does come in waves.
Have you ever had a bad encounter with that?
Not terrible, no. I mean, for the most part we have someone here who is bigger than I am or whatnot, but I can hold my own, I think.
So I had this theory that all bartenders in Portland have tattoos but then Andrew Barron debunked that with his inkless foolishness, though he does have a bartender beard in place. Do you have any tattoos?
[Takes a minute to count] Five.
Okay, back to drinking. Is there a drink in Portland that you find to be more popular than others?
Well I used to go through a ton of PBR. A ton. And now it’s sort of evened out a little bit. We sell a lot of whiskey. Bourbon. That’s the other thing, as far as what we have here, we’re not a very super fancy drink place. We keep it simple. We’re more of your “go-to” what you’d drink at home place.
When you drink at home, do you have simple drinks?
Yeah, well, I don’t really drink that much but when I do it’s wine or something like that. I’ve kind of mellowed out in my 30s I’d say [laughs].
So do you play all this music that’s on right now? Is this your iTunes?
I try to play local stuff. This is Zach Jones. He’s great. So yeah, I try to play local stuff, or the jukebox is on. I want to encourage people to play the jukebox. I hate silence. I’d rather be listening to something.
You guys are open 7 days a week?
Did you have a bartending mentor?
I just picked it up. I think it was just being thrown into the experience and witnessing it first hand.
Can you make me a drink?
Yeah, sure what do you want?
Oh, well I totally forgot to ask: tell me about your signature Moxie Bomb?
Oh, well “this Moxie bomb,” I can’t actually take credit for it. I have to give credit to Matty, the other bartender here. One day he was like “you should start selling Moxie bombs.” And it kind of stuck. It was more of a funny thing. I used to have the motto here be “Flask Lounge: don’t bring your own” but then I realized it’s really not that funny. Plus, people do bring their own all the time and I catch them. And I’m like, “Really? Just because the name is Flask doesn’t mean you can bring one in.” But so yeah, that’s how it started. Calling it “the home of the Moxie bomb.” We wanted to have the local soda, that’s not quite so local anymore I guess.
So it’s just Moxie and Jäger?
Yeah, it’s just a play on Jäger Bombs. Moxie unfortunately tastes a lot better than it used to. I think they changed their formula. They took out a secret ingredient or something because it tastes a lot better than it used to. It was…something.
Do people order that a lot?
Oh yeah. It’s very popular with new people coming in, people that are touring and stuff because they’ve never even heard of it, heard of Moxie, and they find it intriguing to try things that sound terrible.
Yeah I always want to try something that sounds absolutely terrible. So you guys are having a Halloween party?
Yep! It’s free!
How often do you guys have events?
There’s pretty much something [usually music-related] seven days a week. Tuesdays are Open Decks DJ night. Which are great.
You said you originally wanted to be a sports bar. You guys do have sports on TV sometimes, too?
Yeah, we do. We open early on Sundays when the Patriots play at 1, we will open at noon. I do make a pretty awesome Blood Mary, if I do say so myself [laughs]. I serve it with bacon.
You serve it with bacon!?
Bacon seems to be a popular item these days. There’s a cayenne pepper rim, too! So good. I think it competes with Caiola’s Bloody Mary!
On the record?!
[Laughs]Yes! I’m not saying “I’m number one,” but I think it’s a compliment. I love Caiola’s! Their Bloody is pretty incredible.
A good bloody is important. They’ve got a good one at Pai Men Miyake, called the Bloody Samurai. It’s got wasabi.
Oh man. I like that place but I don’t think I’ve had that. I should try wasabi. A wasabi rim! Oooh.
So, what do you want to make me? I want something with whiskey, I think. It’s cold outside. Any recommendations?
Well, I would go whiskey straight up or whiskey with ginger, maybe.
Cool, let’s do whiskey with ginger.
Best out-of-context intervew quotes:
[To an inebriated gentleman trying (and failing) to get a drink]
Jessica: “Sir, I’m sorry, I don’t think this is your spot. I can’t serve you if you’ve already been drinking, which I think you have.”
Drunk gentlemen [as he packs up his things to leave]: “well, you’re…you’re…you’re a [expletive] idiot!”
Jessica: “OK. But I still can’t serve you.”
***UPCOMING AT FLASK LOUNGE: Whip Out The Vote – a benefit for Mainers United (the campaign for “Yes” on Question 1!). A $5 suggested cover and profits will support the campaign’s “get out the vote” efforts. Come party for a good cause and remember to vote “YES” on Question 1 to give EVERYONE the ability to get married. Party starts Sunday, October 28th at 9pm. 21+