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 Resurrection Ale House’s Rocco Renzetti, who tells us about a beer that blew his mind, his appreciation of pothead brewers, and how tending bar is a lot like gambling.
Name: Rocco Renzetti
Where he is serving: Resurrection Ale House
Time served there: Nine months
How long have you been behind bars?
Where else have you served?
What do you do on your time off?
I’m a beer nerd, so I’m always trying to hunt down the next big beer. I’m kind of a homebody and a musician too, so I spend a lot of time writing, recording and playing music.
Do you have a favorite beer?
I honestly can’t say that there’s one beer that’s my favorite. I could give you my top-five, but that always changes.
Is there a particular beer you’ve had recently that totally blew your mind?
Yesterday at Resurrection we rolled out an entirely new bottled beer list and there was one beer on it I had never heard of - it’s called Lambrucha. It’s a Lambic from Belgium that’s made with kombucha tea. My bosses Brendan and Leigh opened up a bottle of it and we tried it. I was absolutely floored. I love Lambics and I love kombucha tea, but I have not been really blown away by an ale in sometime. I came away from that little taster glass like, “Wow, that is awesome!”
Do you consider yourself a bartender or mixologist?
I’m a bartender, man. I can mix you a mixed drink and I think you’ll find that it’s going to be pretty tasty. At Le Virtu I had a lot more orders for mixed drinks. I had to hit the ground running and learn what a Negroni and Brandy Alexander was and make them on the fly.
Is there a drink that you consider your specialty?
I make a hell of a Negroni, dude. I learned how to make them from a guy that’s from Bologna and he taught me what they were all about. They’re a pre-dinner drink and maybe you have one. Maybe you have more than one and then maybe you wind up not eating. It was a big call there. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but Rick Nichols came in and ordered a Negroni from me and liked it quite a bit.
How did you get into bartending?
I sort of fell into it. I used to - well, I still do - work on guitars and I worked in a coffee shop. One of my regular customers was the owner of Le Virtu, and she saw that I could handle a crowd, was good with people and good at multi-tasking while keeping a lot of drink orders in my head, and offered me the opportunity to pick up a couple shifts that no one else wanted.
How would you describe your ideal customer?
I would describe them as polite. I think that it’s the responsibility of both parties - service and customer - to be polite. That, and customers who know their limits. One of the downsides of this business is, you’re responsible, both ethically and legally, to making sure that you don’t put people into too much of an advanced state of refreshment. It’s always a treat when a customer says, “Nope, I know that if I have one more, things are going to get ridiculous.”
How would you describe your worst customer?
People who dampen the vibe for others around them and can’t see past that and create a disharmonious environment.
Do you think it’s okay for bartenders to hook up with customers?
I think that on your own time it’s nobody’s business what you do with your gear unless they are sitting in your lap. As long as you’re responsible and act like a grownup, everything should be okay.
Have you ever had to break up a fight?
Never a fight with people throwing punches, but I’ve had to defuse some “barguments.”
What’s the best tip you’ve gotten?
Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski.
How do you deal with customers who’ve had too much?
If they’ve had too much before they walk in the door, I don’t deal with them at all. I offer them a glass of water and offer to call them a cab.
What’s the best part of being a bartender?
I love beer. I think it’s a fantastic craft. People who make beer - everyone from the Trappist monks down to the potheads who brew Lagunita’s - put their heart and their soul into what they brew, and they work very hard. From a well-crafted guitar to a well crafted beer, I appreciate anything that has a craft element to it. The best part is getting to experience, learning, tasting and enjoying all these wonderful things with truly amazing people.
What’s the worst part about being a bartender?
I’m not a gambler. I won a bet the other day and I felt really bad about it. I tried to give the money back. I didn’t want it. When you’re a bartender, there’s a gamble. You make x-amount of taxed dollars per hour, and its not a great deal of money. But the reason you do it is because when you walk into the room and you’re good and your customers are good to you, you can walk away with something pretty substantial. But some nights, no matter how good you are and no matter how good they are to you, you roll the dice and come up short.
Where can we find you on the other side of the bar?
When it comes to bars, I always follow the good vibes but I also always follow the beer. I really like Memphis Taproom and Local 44. I love Brendan (Hartranft) and Leigh (Maida) (owners of both and Resurrection Ale House). The P.O.P.E. is my spot and I really like Teri’s in the Italian Market. I love it, it’s so chilled out. It’s kind of like a clubhouse with good craft beer and diner food. You can get an Allagash on draught and a cheesesteak. I love going up to Fergie’s and seeing Fergus. I like Royal Tavern’s burger.
Why should I come get a drink from you as opposed to the guy at the next bar?
This is one of those questions where no matter how I answer it, I come off as sounding like a prick. Ninety-plus percent of the time - I am fallible, I’m a human being - you’re going to laugh. I love to make people laugh. I probably missed my calling as a stand up comedian. Also I know about what I’m putting in your hands. At Resurrection, I believe in what I’m doing and what I’m serving. Even if I’m having an off day, you’re going to have a good experience at my bar.
Know someone who’s spent time Behind Bars? Tips gladly accepted here.