Bartenders Bible

When Leo Eisenstein of Grace Tavern Is Behind the Bar, Your Secret Is His Secret

Photo: Kirsten Henri

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. This week we hear from veteran bartender Leo Eisenstein, who you may know from his work at Grace Tavern, Tattooed Moms and the Copa. Leo explains to us how his bar is like Vegas, why he’s corny on Mondays and how the great secret of bartending is… honesty.

Name: Leo Eisenstein

Location: Grace Tavern

Tenure at Grace?: Six years. They opened in May and I started in August. I’m the longest-tenured employee at Grace.

Total years behind the bar: Since I was a little kid? I spent nine years at Tattooed Moms, nine years before that at the Copa. I’m about 20 years in.

Bartender or mixologist?: I call myself the bartender, but other people call me the barman. I do work for the Irish, you know.

One unexpected fact about Leo: I teach Bikram [hot] yoga. It really changed me. I used to be really fat, I weighed 390 pounds - this was like 2000 - I got considerably large. It was because I was happy and had a lot of money and was in a great relationship. I just ate and drank it all. Through diet and exercise and advice from my doctor I reduced 100 pounds, then I started to do Bikram when I was about 280. It’s an achievement, but my achievement in yoga is nothing compared to people who significant issues in their life. I do it to help people help themselves - people who are interested in giving themselves a healthier life. I have that kinship with them - that “want to change” is a neat thing. To actually strap your boots on to make things better, it’s a big decision and really difficult.

Favorite beer: That’s a tough one. I’m gonna say that at this point in time my favorite beer is the Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale.

Favorite liquor: Tullamore Dew

Favorite cocktail: The perfect manhattan. It’s the perfect manhattan though, not the manhattan.

Your best customer in five words or less: Knowledgeable, generous, gregarious, accommodating and patient.

Your worst customer five words or less: Pushy Miller Lite-drinking college kids. Is that five words? A lot of times it’s just academia in general. It’s all good though. Volume, volume, volume - whatever it takes.

All bartenders should know a good joke. What’s yours?: Ham sandwich walks into the bar. Bartender says “We don’t serve food here!”

Have you ever had to break up a fight at your bar? What was it about?:
Yes, I have. The last fight I think I broke up at Grace was about where someone was standing. It was about spatial relationships between people.

What’s your patented drunk-handling technique?: I don’t let things get physical. You know what I mean, you’ve seen me. I can defuse the situation with a couple of words and get both of them out with any altercation at all. When I first started working in the bar, an old bartender, Seamus, who use to work at Dobbs, told me that when you lower yourself to their level, you’re the asshole too. You have to realize they are drunk and being an asshole and you have to indulge them and that’s that. I’m probably one of the few bartenders that accepts that I work in a bar and people get drunk and I’m cool with that and it’s almost part of the job to deal with it. You have to be on a higher level. Always take the high road.

It’s okay to sleep with customers. Yes or no? I refuse to answer. I’m married! [For other unmarried people, the answer is] No, from a professional point of view. But then I would have never met my wife - she was a customer. But as a rule… all rules were meant to be bent or broken. It’s tough for the bartender to sleep with the customers anyway, that’s the doorman’s job. The doorman leaves at two, by the time the bartender’s done cleaning up, the girl’s just sitting there drinking and she’s gonna be ossified. Plus, the doorman’s always big and handsome.

The best tip you ever got: I’m gonna say at the Grace, the tips that I think are the best are from the people that really appreciate the service. As soon as I let go of the tip cup, that’s when I started to have fun behind the bar - sure, I’ll make money by the end of the night, but the people that I appreciate are the ones that appreciate me. I know it sounds corny, but I depend on the kindness of strangers. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny, but I’m corny on Mondays. They’re my Friday.

What’s the best part of the job?: People.

What’s the worst part of the job?: People.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen at your bar?: Jesus. There’s a lot of it, dude. It’s a bar. I have no recollection of that, your honor. No bad things ever happen at my bar. My bar is Vegas. Ask me tomorrow and I won’t remember you were there. When I’m behind the bar, your secret is my secret.

Why should people get a drink from you rather than the bartender down the block?: People always used to ask me at the Copa what I put in my margarita. And I told them, dude, I turn the same three bottles upside-down and do the same counts as you, it’s the way I put it down in front of the people. You feel me? I’m putting it down in front of you in a way that makes it special. That’s what’s up. You might come into the Grace and think I’m really intimidating and freaky, but once we get to know each other, you’re mine. I feel that sense of community - it’s how Philly is and I think it’s neat how it manifests itself in a bar. I have a giant Christmas party every year at my house and all my customers come - it starts at 2 and ends when the paramedics leave. I mean, I love bartending as a craft, too - you have to if you’ve been doing it this long. I’m lucky that I work for people that appreciate that you get old into this as a craft, it’s not just a job you get into as a college gig. You get better and better at it.

Where do you like to go for a drink when you’re on the other side of the bar?: I like to have a beer standing around after ice hockey with the fellas, no matter where it is.

Give us one of your bartending tips-of-the-trade:
Open up the tap, take a breath and then stick the glass under it. Let the tap clear. It really helps, it doesn’t overfoam the beer and there’s way less waste. I have to teach the new kids. It took me a long time to learn it - tap beer is tough.

What’s the secret to being a great bartender?: Honesty. I know that sounds funny but yo dude, I’m completely honest in my presentation of myself - you’re not getting a show with me, you’re getting me. I’m the same person behind the bar as I am on on my day off. That’s the beautiful thing about being a bartender - I get to do that.

Know a bartender who should be part of the Bartenders Bible? Tips gladly accepted here.

When Leo Eisenstein of Grace Tavern Is Behind the Bar, Your Secret Is His Secret