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 the Pub on Passyunk East’s John Warner, who tells us that a bartender’s primary role is to make people happy, but he won’t reveal what ingredients go into his Bloody Marys.
Name: John Warner
Where he is serving: Pub on Passyunk East (P.O.P.E.)
Time served there: A little more than two years.
How long have you been behind bars?
What do you do on your time off?
I always tell myself that I’m going to write the great American novel, but that really hasn’t worked out yet. I write small funny essays and stuff for a fantasy baseball league I’m in. I make the world’s best pot of chili. I use five different kinds of meat. I switch it up each time, but I always make sure to use five different kinds of meat. Pepperoni usually gives it an edge.
Where else have you served?
I bartended at a Chili’s when I was in college.
What’s your favorite beer?
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which is very rare and hard to get. That’s what makes it taste so good. I probably only come across about six bottles of it a year.
Bartender or Mixologist?
Is there a drink that you consider your specialty?
I take pride in my Bloody Marys over anything else. Last I counted I had 26 different spices and secret ingredients. I keep them all in my secret stash in the catacombs underneath the P.O.P.E.
How did you get into bartending?
When I was in college I got a job waiting tables, and one day my bosses were like, “Do you want to be a bartender?.” I was like, “sure.” And I liked it.
Do you have a favorite cocktail?
How would you describe your ideal customer?
I guess someone who’s like a friend or someone I know who comes in and sits at the bar while I’m working.
How would you describe your worst customer?
Someone who doesn’t believe they should be cut off but in fact should be cut off.
Most bartenders have a good joke, do you?
A polar bear walks into a bar and tells the bartender, “I would like a gin (long pause) and tonic.” The bartender looks at the polar bear and says, “excuse me, what did you order?” The polar bear says, “ I said I wanted a gin (long pause) and tonic.” The bartender says, “Alright, you’re going to have to spit it out and tell me what you want.” The polar, getting frustrated, says, “Bartender, I told you I want a gin (long pause) and tonic.” So finally the bartender is like, “fine, fine, fine.” He makes a gin and tonic and puts it down in front of the polar bear and says, “Here’s the gin and tonic, but what’s with the big pause?” The polar lifts up his hands and says, “What these? I’ve had them all of my life.”
Have you ever had to break up a fight?
Not really. There aren’t many fights here at the P.O.P.E. I think there might’ve been two since we opened four years ago. And those were over pretty quickly without any real punches thrown.
What’s the best tip you’ve gotten?
There’s a guy who sits at the bar a lot whose wife’s parents own a free-range farm in New Jersey, and he once tipped me with a big bag of free-range beef - T-bone steaks! He also brings me fresh scrapple. It’s like the most amazing meat I’ve ever tasted.
What’s the best part of being a bartender?
You get to wear a lot of different faces when you’re a bartender. You get to listen to people’s problems. You help solve problems, make people happy, tell jokes and have a good time.
What’s the worst part about being a bartender?
I work a crazy schedule. Some nights I’m here until closing and some days I’m back in here at 10 in the morning to open.
If you weren’t bartending, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a lawyer. I went to law school for a couple years, but quit and started working here.
How do you deal with unruly drunks?
You can’t really be aggressive or get in their face, because that usually makes them worse. You just have to calm them down and get them out before there’s a problem.
What’s the secret to being a good bartender?
Treat everyone who walks in like you would treat a guest in your home.
Do you have any tips of the trade you can offer?
Always greet someone the second they walk through the door and make them feel comfortable. Always clear debris, like empty glasses and plates and stuff, as soon as you can so it looks inviting for people to sit down. And always be in love with what you do.
Know someone who’s spent time Behind Bars? Tips gladly accepted here.