Bartenders spend much of their time, well, behind bars. They make drinks, make jokes and make you feel welcome, even when you’ve had too much. The good ones do, anyway. In the Behind Bars series, we give barkeeps a chance to speak their mind. This week, we catch up with Village Whiskey’s Keith Raimondi, who gives us the lowdown on whiskey, how to mix up a Last Word and how he avoids dealing with obnoxious drunks.
Name: Keith Raimondi
Where he is serving: Village Whiskey
Time served there: Since it opened last September.
How long have you been behind bars?
Going on nine years.
What do you do on your time off?
A lot of my free time is spent in other restaurants and bars. When I’m not working, I’m thinking about making cocktails, and food and drink. I play a little bit of guitar too.
What’s your favorite beer?
Russian River Consecration. They call it brown ale, but it’s a sour beer aged in used Cabernet barrels with currants added to it. It’s like one of my favorite things in the world.
You know a thing or two about whiskey, do you have any favorites?
My two favorite whiskeys that we have at Village are a Bush Mills 21 year single malt, and the Thomas H. Handy Rye from the Antique Collection. I’m not prejudice against any other whiskey by any means.
Bartender or Mixologist?
I’d say bartender. A mixologist is somebody who mixes drinks, a bartender is mixologist and someone who is something more than that. There are a lot of aspects to being a bartender, and mixing drinks is just one of the pieces of the puzzle.
How did you get into bartending?
I was an investment advisor, and I really didn’t like it that much. I started bartending to kill some time. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that this is exactly what I want to be doing. It’s a good way to make quick money when you’re younger. You don’t see it as a profession until you get a little bit older.
Where did you pick up your skills?
As a bartender, you’re training constantly from the time you start. I’ve grown the most in the past few years, starting with the beverage program at Amada, and then the stuff we did for Village Whiskey.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
It changes form time to time, but my favorite cocktail in the entire world is the Last Word, which is equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and Green Chartreuse.
Describe your ideal customer:
I’m happiest when people come in and want to talk whiskey or talk cocktails or talk food or are really into what we’re doing.
Describe your worst customer:
Some customers are better than others, but there’s never a “worst customer.”
Most bartenders have a good joke, do you?
No. I don’t tell jokes, really. I have one joke. I always use it when people are looking at the menu, I say “don’t worry, I’m here all night.”
Have you ever had to break up a fight?
I’ve been in the middle of a couple that were kind of nasty, but not any since I’ve been in Philadelphia. Fights tend not to break out in Jose’s restaurants.
Do you think its okay for bartenders to hook up with customers?
The right answer to that is no, but there’s circumstances that can change that.
What’s the best tip you’ve gotten?
It was a lot.
What’s the best part of being a bartender?
Doing what I love every day.
What’s the worst part?
Always having to be 100 percent.
What’s the most horrific thing you’ve witnessed from behind the bar?
Other than people all over each other while I’m trying to work? I don’t know, man. I did have to grind up mashed potatoes, chicken and broccoli in a blender for a customer that couldn’t eat solid food. That was pretty gross.
How do you deal with unruly drunks?
We’re fortunate enough that it doesn’t happen very often. We have pretty calm drunks for the most part. I try to get someone else involved so I don’t have to deal with it.
Where can we find you on the other side of the bar?
All over, for certain. The Franklin. Southwark. Grace Tavern. Those are some of my favorite spots.
Why should I come get a drink form as opposed to the guy at the next bar?
Well you shouldn’t come get a drink just from me, but you should definitely stop and see me before getting a drink from the guy at the next bar. This is a very tight-knit bartending community and we’re all friends with each other. We all want to see each be successful, and we all want people to have a good time.
What’s the secret to being a good bartender?
If you want to be a good bartender, you have to love what you’re doing. That’s the most important thing. I read lots of books. I go talk with other bartenders, and spend time talking to people to learn and be better at my job. The only way to progress is to keep learning. Never think that you’re the best there is, because that’s never true. There’s always someone else out there that’s a little bit better.
Know someone who’s spent time Behind Bars? Tips gladly accepted here.