One of the best parts of working [at the Rialto] is getting exposed to music that I would never ordinarily listen to. The Dropkick Murphys came a few weeks ago—they’re like an Irish-flavor punk band. It was music that I would never go to Pandora to find, but it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. It’s never ever the same thing here. It’s not just the bands onstage that are different. It’s the entire audience that is different. Every night, you are going to see a different group of people and encounter a different subset of Tucson music culture.
A couple of weeks ago, I got proposed to while the guy was spilling a drink on himself. At the Rialto, we’re all at different bars, at different stations, so it’s fun to count out at the end of the night. We all exchange stories. Like, “Oh that guy proposed to you, too?”
— Laura Kepner-Adney, Rialto Theatre
I’ve worked at Congress for 18 years. Our staff has all been here a really long time. I love the energy of Congress. People want to share their anniversaries, their birthdays. People come in and they say, “You served me for my 21st birthday, like nine years ago.” And then I feel kind of old, but they say, “But you look the same!” They’ll come back and look around and say, “We met here,” or “We got married here.” It’s so cool to be a part of that kind of energy. And I love taking care of people. Everyone’s anniversary—and their anniversary drink—is personal. What makes it so cool is that they’re coming back here. This is the stage. They are the rock star, I am the roadie—facilitating a good time.
— Barb Trujillo, Hotel Congress
I used to work every Sunday. The bar was usually moderately busy so I could have a conversation with someone if time permitted. One Sunday it was fairly slow; in walks a tall gentleman who orders a Grey Goose and soda. I make the drink and think nothing of it. He orders another. A third. A week later, he comes back to the bar. I make him a Grey Goose and soda before he orders. He thanks me for remembering his drink. Later that night, we get to talking about the movie Super Troopers; I say I haven’t chugged maple syrup since I was 13. So he bets me he could beat me in maple syrup drinking contest. A couple of weeks go by. He doesn’t come in one week. I forget the syrup at home the next week. Then it happens. He comes in. I’ve got the syrup ready to go. …3,2,1, go. I think I’ve got him beat a third of the way in, but he finishes well ahead of me and I’m stuck finishing the last of the maple syrup all by myself.
Ever since that, we have hung out and had fun times together. But I would have never met him if it wasn’t for being behind that bar.
— Jon Tokar, The Parish
I’m always intrigued when people try to pay with goods or services rather than money. My favorite has to be a gem aficionado who would frequent the bar and try to pay with worthless stones. I’m no appraiser, but I grew up in Tucson around the Gem Show and I can spot pyrite a mile away. He would order a big meal, cocktails, glasses of wine, and then whip out a small leather pouch containing “jewels and valuable minerals” to pawn off on the staff as payment or gratuity. He always promised that he was going to return with an amethyst the size of a basketball to make up for never leaving any gratuity. According to him, the stone was worth $50,000. Why anyone would bestow a $50,000 stone upon a bartender in exchange for some Sutter Home and a few chicken sandwiches is beyond me. But he was so insistent that it was real, and the concept of it was so absurd, that for years the thought would always linger in the back of my mind that it might just be real, that he would come staggering in some day, rock in tow, and I would end up with the ultimate conversation piece for a bar of my own some day.
— Aaron DeFeo, Casino del Sol
Being behind the bar is cool because you get to talk to so many different people you might not interact with in your day-to-day life. Especially here, because we have a lot of travelers. We have a lot of people from not only all over the country, but also all over the world come in and sit at the bar. It’s great to have a conversation with someone about where they’re coming from and why they’re in Tucson, and at the same time get to make them a really delicious cocktail. We’re in the Southwest, so people are really interested in tequila. I love tequila—I have an agave tattoo. Also, I love our bar, because we really try to celebrate the local culture. We pour all local brews on tap.
— Allie Baron, La Cocina
Think bartending looks like an easy and fun-filled career? Think again. Don’t get me wrong: I love my job. Tending bar can be incredibly fun but it’s anything but easy when most nights are filled with grumpy guests and rude patrons. We have to deal with 20 people trying to get our attention and remember 10 drink orders, with a smile on our face the entire time. Once, in the middle of a rush, I cut off the tip of my finger with a fruit peeler; after a quick mend, I worked the rest of the shift in awkward pain while trying to keep everyone happy. The next time you are at a busy bar, don’t snap your fingers at the bartender. Just make eye contact and smile—common courtesy will get you the best service. That, and a good tip.
— Ciaran Wiese, Agustín Kitchen
I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and what’s really fantastic is the sense of community among the Tucson bartenders. If someone discovers a new trick, or a new product, everyone is calling everyone else up and going, “Hey, did you just see this? Try this.” There’s a great camaraderie that a lot of other bar communities may be missing. We’re all looking to make Tucson succeed. We’ve got a great little band of brothers and sisters. I’m able to say, to people who come in, “Oh, well, if you like this, you should go over to get this—go to Scott & Co., go to Penca, try this over here and that there.”
— Drew Record, Playground