Behind Bars

Silk City’s Lesley Snyder Likes Orange Bitters, ‘Girl Beers’ and People Who Know How to Behave in a Bar

Don't ask her about her real job.
Don’t ask her about her real job. Photo: Collin Keefe

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 Silk City’s Lesley Snyder, who probably won’t give you her phone number, but might slip some fresh rosemary in your drink.

Name: Lesley Snyder

Where she is serving: Silk City

Time served there: 3 years

Where else have you served?
Khyber, Buffalo Billiards, Four Seasons, Beau Monde, Cabana’s (in Cape May, NJ)

How long have you been behind bars? 10 years

What do you do when you’re not bartending?
I’ve been cooking at home a lot more. As soon as it starts getting cold, I go snowboarding a lot. I run, read, knit and do whatever the hell I want to do during the day, because no one else is around to bother me since they’re all at work.

Do you have a favorite beer?
I’m not really into beer. I’m more of a wine and Manhattan kind of person. On the rare occasions when I do drink beer, I like any kind of wheat beer, like a Hoegaarden or some other “girl beer.”

Bartender or Mixologist?
Bartender! I think mixologists are all about the chemicals of the drink. I think bartending’s more about talking with people.

Where did you pick up your bartending skills?
Growing up my dad owned restaurants, so I was always in that environment. When I got older, I was a waitress down in Cape May and one day my employers decided to put me on bar shifts. Then I came up to Philly and got jobs at the Khyber and Four Seasons at the same time.

Do you have a favorite cocktail?
A Manhattan.

What’s the secret to a great Manhattan?
Bitters! I’m really getting into all these different kinds bitters. My favorite right now is Fee Brother’s Orange Bitters.

Is there a cocktail that you consider your specialty?
I’ve been experimenting lately with making drinks that are lemony, like limoncello and lemon-flavored vodka drinks that I like to garnish with fresh rosemary.

Describe your ideal customer:
Nice and tips well.

Describe your worst customer:
People who don’t know how to behave when they go out. People who treat you like a slave. I don’t appreciate people who ask what my real job is. As if I’m not working while I’m waiting on them.

Have you ever had to break up a fight?
I once had to break up a breakup! When I was bartending at Beau Monde, a guy came in, had dinner with his girlfriend and then broke up with her right before dessert came. She freaked out, ran outside and paced up and down the sidewalk in front of the [open] windows while screaming in the phone, “This effing jerkoff, I can’t believe he did this.” Then she came back in, still screaming into the phone and gobbled up the whole dessert. I had to go over and ask her to leave, because she was disturbing the other customers.

How do you deal with unruly drunks?
It’s difficult if it’s a woman, but if it’s a man, it’s pretty easy. You can talk a guy down trouble-free, because it’s like talking to an animal. Woman can be tricky when you try to cut them off, because they think that you’re trying to start a fight with them.

Do you think its okay for bartenders to hook up with customers?
If I had a regular customer that came in frequently, was very nice and I enjoyed talking to him, I would give him my phone number if he asked for it. But never somebody who’s in the bar for the first time.

What’s the best tip you’ve ever received?
I once had a customer write on the tip line of a credit card receipt, “Read the bible.”

What’s the best part of being a bartender?
I like how you can mingle in people’s lives and professions from listening to their conversations. If you pay close enough attention, you can pick up on anything from banking to law to politics.

What’s the worst part?
Late hours. I don’t like the late hours anymore. Four a.m. just isn’t that mysterious anymore.

What’s the most disturbing thing you’ve witnessed from behind the bar?
I once saw girl’s hair catch on fire. She was really drunk, talking to a boy and was trying to be cute and flipped her hair right into a candle. I had to put it out with a soda gun. She had this huge hole in her hair and just sat there and kept on drinking.

Where can we find you on the other side of the bar?
I really like Southwark. I like the bar at Amada for the food. I love the South Philly haunts, like South Philly Taproom and the P.O.P.E.

Why should I come get a drink from you as opposed to the woman at the next bar?
Because Silk City has a good atmosphere and a cool vibe, and I’ll make you an excellent cocktail.

What’s the secret to being a good bartender?
You have to listen to customers and have a good sense of humor.

Know someone who’s spent time Behind Bars? Tips gladly accepted here.

Silk City’s Lesley Snyder Likes Orange Bitters, ‘Girl Beers’ a