Bartenders spend most of their time, well, tending to you. They make you drinks, make you laugh and convince you that your drunken babble is nothing short of genius. Or at least the good ones do. In our weekly series, Bartenders Bible, we let the folks manning the speedrails and taps around town have their say. The Bible series been a bit of a sausage fest so far, so this week The Belgian Cafe’s Felicia D’Ambrosio gives us the female perspective from behind the bar. Read on to find out when it’s acceptable to refer to her as a "beer wench," what type of liqueur makes a nice morning cocktail and how her short-shorts provide unintentional comedy for her bar patrons.
Name: Felicia D’Ambrosio
Coordinates: The Belgian Café
Bartender or mixologist?: Bartender, though if delivered with appropriate reverence, I will accept Beer Wench.
Tenure at The Belgian?: Since we opened two years ago.
Total years behind the bar: Since I was 21; that’s eight years in January.
One unexpected fact about Felicia: She moonlights as a blogger for Meal Ticket.
Favorite beer: Right now it’s Russian River Consecration, which is $35 bucks a bottle and so delightful it’s worth eating packets of noodles for a few days in order to afford.
Favorite liquor: Aperol, which is like Campari’s slighty bitter, orange-y uncle. Mixes nicely with soda as an apertif, or with sparkling wine for an a.m. imbibe.
Favorite cocktail: A perfect rye Manhattan with tons of bitters, stirred, up. If you put cherry juice in it I will beat you with your own muddler.
Your best customer in five words or less: Jayson Werth and Jack Nicholson.
Your worst customer five words or less: Every Rittenhouse faux society lady.
All bartenders should know a good joke. What’s yours?: A woman gets on the bus with her baby. The bus driver says, “That’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” She goes to the back of the bus, fuming, and tells the man next to her, “That bus driver just insulted me!” The man says, “You go up there and tell him off - I’ll hold your monkey for you.” But I can’t tell jokes without dissolving into helpless giggles and/or totally mangling the punch line, so I rely on being funny not on purpose.
Have you ever had to break up a fight at your bar? What was it about?: I’ve never personally broken up a fight (lack of reach and weight), but once my co-workers had to get between me and a disgusting, belligerent customer who had no money to pay his tab. I was of the mind to force him to pay it by keeping his phone, bike, shirt and dignity; they made him leave and told me to shut up, calm down and have a shot.
It’s okay to sleep with customers. Yes or no?: Sure! if you’re single, it’s the main perk of being a bartender. It’s hilarious to see people who will wait around all night for their ‘tender to be done.
The best tip you ever got?: One of my guests told me not to get my master’s in journalism, but to go for economics or political science instead, since it would make my writing worth more. Killer tip.
What’s the best part of the job?: Being able to talk to different people all night and ensure they have a good time out, wear your own clothes and DJ your own music. Not being confined to a cube, listening to people cough and yawn and rattle their keyboards.
What’s the worst part of the job?: Riding a bike home at three in the morning, having to listen to boring alcoholics who want you to be their best friend.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen at your bar?: My first job in the city was at this South Street nightclub Kaleidoscope, which had a small outdoor courtyard. Someone started a Saturday-night brawl by smashing someone else’s face in with a beer bottle. A bouncer threw me under the bar when it became an all-out melee. The police came and arrested everyone, and when I got to work on Wednesday afternoon (we were closed Sunday through Tuesday), there was hair and broken glass glued in puddles of dried blood all over the courtyard. Gnarly.
What’s your patented drunk-handling technique?: Enlist the drunk’s friends as allies, stall and “forget” to serve them another drink, serve fake all-soda drinks if necessary. Gently shaming them works, too, if they are not too far gone.
Give us one of your bartending tips-of-the-trade: Keep Lillet and dry vermouth, which are both low-alcohol and wine-based, in the refrigerator. They go bad fast once opened.
Why should people get a drink from you rather than the bartender down the block?: I know more about beer than all the bartenders on the block put together, and my shorts are shorter as well. Sometime the Daisy Dukes snag the speedrail bottles and fling them around, too, so there is always potential for unintentional comedy. I also make Rocktails.
What’s the secret to being a great bartender?: You must like being a bartender. If you’re bitter and believe you should be on Broadway or doing brain surgery instead, you will take it out on your guests and they will savvy that right away. Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously - it’s just drinks.
Where do you like to go for a drink when you’re on the other side of the bar?: I’m a huge fan of the genius drinks at The Franklin and Southwark. When it’s beer time, the P.O.P.E., especially if Matt Summers is working. That man chills his Jameson-Baileys shots for Car Bombs, which is just above and beyond.
Know a bartender who should be part of the Bartenders Bible? Tips gladly accepted here.