25 things you never knew about Brandon Forrester, bartender at the Skylark Lounge
As Westword's Ask the Bartender columnist, I've talked with many bartenders for Cafe Society's "Behind the Bar" series, posing numerous questions to Denver's top bartenders...and often receiving the same answers: "I love chartreuse," or "I'm really into smoked cocktails/barrel aging/bottled cocktails."
Some time ago, a Facebook friend posted 25 things about himself that most people weren't aware of -- and then he tagged me in the post, at which point I was supposed to do the same: rattle off 25 little-known facts about myself and ask someone else to follow suit. Instead, I'm asking Denver's bartenders to get up and close with Westword readers and share 25 lesser known tidbits about themselves -- and then name the next bartender that I should interview.
The Skylark Lounge is a Denver landmark, originally opening in 1943 and surviving a location change, which is a difficult task indeed. But it's survived because it's a bar that excels in the basics: take care of your people, and show them a good time. Bartender Brandon Forrester, who simply goes by "Forrester," is the standard-bearer of this simple philosophy. He confidently mans his bar without ego or pretense, keeping his customers happy, entertained and safe. He's served me more than a few drinks over the past few years, both at Skylark and at My Brother's Bar, and in my opinion, he's one of the best bartenders in the business.
In this week's installment of "25 that you never knew," Forrester embraces his true hillbilly roots, admits that carnivals are creepy, and even issues an apology to his ex-girlfriends.
1. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, grew up as an only child, and was raised by my father in the Ozarks, in just one of the two indigenous American hillbilly enclaves in Monett, Missouri, population around 6,000 people. Thanks, pops!
2. I hate televised sports. Despite my profession, I thwart people asking me for "the score" with this simple line: "Sorry, bro, it was so busy before you walked in, I didn't have time to pay attention."
3. Possibly the most defining moment of my life: The day before I was supposed to start a job at a local chicken processing plant, I was offered a summer job at a carnival, touring the lucrative Missouri/Kansas/Oklahoma/Arkansas carnival route. It taught me that life is all about options, not just the norm (chicken processing is the norm in Southwest Missouri). Spoiler alert: Carnies are just as scary as you imagine they are.
4. My favorite drink is bourbon rocks with a splash of water.
5. After a scant year of philosophy study, I cut bait and ran to San Diego, where I went through my "fuck the system" punk rock phase, worked at a record store by day and slept on the beach by night. I would bathe at the free showers on the beach, go to the record store, shave, change clothes and drop off my sleeping bag. I lived for records and drugs. The more things change...
6. A martini is made with gin and vermouth.
7. First concert? Chuck Berry. Most recent concert? Guitar Wolf. Best band ever? Earth.
8. Mixologist? Bartender? Cocktologist? Craft/Artisinal may stay around forever, or we might just go back to making two- or three-ingredient cocktails, or pouring beers and shots. Be flexible, and goddammit, don't let your mustache and pretense get in the way of of what is actually an esteemed profession.
9. I collect owls, records, hobo ephemera and vintage gabardine cowboy shirts.
10. Bartending and a short attention span has afforded me the opportunity to live in New Orleans, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and most recently, Denver.
11. I've spent eight falls harvesting marijuana in northern California, living outdoors for six weeks a year.
12. After bartending on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and then moving to San Francisco, I thought there wasn't anything I didn't know. I even went to work at the Owl Tree, under the tutelage of Bobby Cook. He was seventy when I met him, a bartender since he was nineteen. I worked with him for seven years, until he passed, and learned more about service and barmanship than anyone ought to ever know. I love you, Bobby...you're in my thoughts every day.
13. Since moving to Denver three years ago, I've hosted more than 100 fish fries with my best friend from my youth, Bob McGill. Y'all are welcome to come every Friday. If you don't like catfish, then I can easily provide you with directions to Long John Silver's...or hell.
14. I was overweight as a kid. As a result, I love making sweet "girl" drinks.
15. Forrester is my last name. I got a job at My Brother's Bar nine days after moving to Denver. Upon being hired, I met a coworker with a shared first name. To eradicate the confusion, I offered up my last name as my moniker. It stuck, ergo everyone still calls me that. Cheers, Brando.
16. After making thousands of martinis, arguably my favorite cocktail to make, I still don't like touching olives.
17. I like railway travel and morphine. Concurrently.
18. A word of advice for for young bartenders: Lay off the bottle at work, because it will add years to your life and possibly keep you from being gainfully employed. Advice for everyone else: Be cool -- the bartender knows you're there, and we will ultimately serve you. We're there for you.
20. I haven't owned a car since 1997.
21. One thing I will never get tired of about being a bartender is seeing the patron "take off the mask." What that means is that by the time a guest is on their fourth drink, they're not their meticulously composed self like they were on their first. Thanks, humanity!
22. I've never voted in an election.
23. I fell into bartending quite by accident. I was stalking a girl, and her boyfriend just wasn't comfortable with that, so I got a job waiting tables with her. I was the worst waiter ever, and within a week or so, a bartender quit, so I said, "Can I be that guy?" They said yes, and shit fire, that was about twenty years ago. Thanks, Angela.
24. I've been wearing Murray's pomade for twenty years. Sorry, ex-girlfriend's pillowcases.
25. Bartending has never felt like work to me -- it's something I get to do, as opposed to something I have to do. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Don't just eat a sandwich: Eat the hell out of it. Cheers!
P.S. I'd like to know more about that fella they call Luke, who works at Lost Lake.
Missed one of my interviews with a Denver bartender? Read the rest of them below.
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