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 the Bartenders Bible series, we let the folks manning the speedrails and taps around town have their say. This week, we hear from Cantina Los Caballitos’s Stas Shectman, who tells us all about the out-of-control toe-sucking at a previous job, why drunk Phillies fans shouldn’t pick fights with bouncers from the P.O.P.E. and drops a blind item about skateboarding pro “Anthony Eagle.”
Name: Stas Shectman
Coordinates: Cantina Los Caballitos
Bartender or mixologist? Actually, I prefer being called by frantic hand gestures from across the bar. “Yo,” “Chief,” and “Hey Bud,” shouted behind my back while I’m tending to another guest work just as well. Let’s dispense with the formalities. We’re all friends here.
Tenure at Cantina? Just over a year.
Total years behind the bar: Almost 10 years, on and off. The kindness of strangers has often funded less profitable, but nobler pursuits. Thank you, kind strangers.
One unexpected fact about Stas: Before Cantina I was living in Russia for two years, working as a freelance writer and journalist and doing research for my Ph.D. in anthropology. Now I’m back in the country, relying on the kindness of strangers to help fund my writing and the remainder of my degree.
Favorite beer: It really depends on my mood, but mainstays include Saison Dupont, Orval, Jever, and Bass. And what about wine? I love wine. Why is this interview so anti-elitist?
Favorite liquor : Really, I like it all, but I prefer the good stuff, which means I sip rather than shoot. If I had to choose just one, it would probably be scotch, but I wouldn’t like you very much for making me choose.
Favorite cocktail: I tend to like my liquor straight, but I’m a sucker for a simple, well-made cocktail. Think gimlets, Vespers, and Manhattans.
Your best customer in five words or less. Patient, happy, knowledgeable, curious, or a bartender.
Your worst customer five words or less. Oblivious, needy, and demanding.
All bartenders should know a good joke. What’s yours? The set-up is kind of long, but it involves a doctor, an architect, a bartender, and their dogs, and the punch-line is: “…and the dog jumps into the pile of bones, chops them up, snorts two lines, fucks the other two dogs, and calls in sick for work the next day.”
Have you ever had to break up a fight at your bar? What was it about? Several. The last one involved a middle-aged drunk guy dressed in head-to-toe Phillies gear who came in with his friend after a Phillies game. For some very ill-conceived reason, he decided to pick a fight with a regular of mine, who happened to be bigger, younger, more sober, and a bouncer at the P.O.P.E. Drunk Phillies Fan #1 explained that he had never been in a fight before, had decided that this was going to be the night, and that my regular was going to be his first. I ultimately kicked him and his friend out, but things still almost came to blows outside. They never actually fought, which is good for Drunk Phillies Fan #1, because I don’t think it would have turned out very well for him.
It’s okay to sleep with customers. Yes or no? Wait, you mean it’s up to me?
The best tip you ever got?
I used to bartend at the W Hotel in San Francisco. One time during the X Games I had to cut off a very famous skateboarder — let’s call him “Anthony Eagle,” although at the time I didn’t know who he was. He and his crew had been drinking bottles of champagne and mind-erasers all day and weren’t that happy about being flagged. But I made nice with them and even sent a barback across the street to buy them cigarettes. I don’t remember how big their final tab was, but it wasn’t small, and they ended up leaving me a 100% tip. A week later the X Games happened to be on the TV at a bar I was at and I happened to see an interview with that same famous skateboarder, at which point I realized just who it was I had cut off.
What’s the best part of the job? Those nights when everything comes together — the guests are happy, my coworkers are happy, and I’m happy making other people happy. I also really enjoy the craft of bartending and cocktail mixing.
What’s the worst part of the job? People. They can be the best part of the job, but sometimes the view from behind the bar is frightening. Or maybe I’m just a misanthrope.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen at your bar? A lot of the most shocking things I’ve seen happened while I was bartending at the ultra swanky and trendy den of iniquity that was the lounge bar at the W Hotel. We had these high-backed suede booths that offered almost 360-degrees of complete privacy. One busy Friday night I looked out across the bar at one of the booths and saw a man’s head poking out above the top. He had a woman’s foot in his hand and was licking her toes. Very classy. And that’s just one of a number of similar stories from those glory days.
What’s your patented drunk-handling technique? Shame and humor work well. Being firm and confident are important. Belittling and mocking don’t generally help, but if you can do them subtly enough so that the person doesn’t realize you’re doing it, it can be a lot of fun.
Give us one of your bartending tips-of-the-trade. If the drink is the right color, you’re more than halfway there.
Where do you like to go for a drink when you’re on the other side of the bar? There are lots of good places. Mostly it depends on the people I’m with or who’s bartending, but some of my favorites include Southwark (great bartenders, beautiful cocktails) and Tria (one of the few places I still enjoy drinking at after having bartended there). I also like Resurrection and The Belgian Café, which is my neighborhood bar. The bartenders on Tuesday and Wednesday are great, and sometimes you get to watch Felicia D’Ambrosio’s short-shorts get caught on the speedrail bottles.
Why should people get a drink from you rather than the bartender down the block? Because they want to hear the set-up to my bartender joke.
What’s the secret to being a great bartender? I think there are different kinds of good bartenders. Some are extremely personable. Some are talented mixologists. Some get by on their good looks. Me, I have to rely on self-deprecation, sarcasm, and a genuine appreciation for food and drink.
Read more: Southwark’s George Costa Recommends Barmen ‘Always Appear Pleasant with a Smile and Try Not to Swing’ – Grub Street Philadelphia
Know a bartender who should be part of the Bartenders Bible? Tips gladly accepted here.