Behind the bar with Erin Clark at Jax
Erin Clark used to work in the advertising industry; today you'll find him behind the bar at Jax, at 1539 17th Street in Lodo. And although he hasn't won any bartending awards, "my family really, really likes me," he says. "I think."
Now serving: Erin Clark.
What's the weirdest thing you've seen while working behind the bar? I have seen a surprising amount of nudity while working behind the bar. Some guests will try anything.
What's your favorite alcohol? I love working with gin these days. There is so much you can do with gin, and it brings its own flavor to the cocktail -- unlike vodka, which is a lot like a blank canvas. A boring, stark, white blank canvas. I'm over vodka -- can you tell?
What's your drink of choice? I'm a beer and whiskey guy. But I rarely discriminate.
How did you get into bartending? I ended up behind the bar the old-fashioned way: I worked my way up from the bottom. I started in restaurants when I was fourteen, bussing tables during breakfast service in a hotel in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. That only lasted a couple of summers, but it was the fateful start that so many of us have. In 2002 I was bussing tables again, this time at Jax in Boulder, and I slowly worked my way up from bussing to shucking and eventually bartending. There were some serving shifts in there as well, but I have always preferred to be behind the bar. I then left the food-service world to work for a large advertising agency in Los Angeles, which was nice for a couple of years. But I honestly missed my time behind the bar and felt that I was a far better bartender than I could ever be anything in the advertising-agency world, so in 2007 I moved back to Denver. And once again I found myself behind the bar at Jax -- this time in Denver.
How many times do you have to see someone at your bar to consider them a regular? Here at Jax, the regulars have been coming since day one, or somewhere close to that, and I have inherited them. As for the newer people, I think ten times over a couple of months is pretty good attendance to be considered a regular.
How do you feel about cutting someone off? I have no qualms about cutting people off. If I feel that they are endangering themselves or fellow customers, I will act accordingly. There is a certain amount of little-known responsibility that servers of alcohol possess, and it is something that none of us can afford to take lightly. At the time, it may seem like the bartender or server cutting you off is on a power trip. But remember that they are not doing it for personal gain; we are honestly looking out for you, the patron.
What's your best/worst cutting-someone-off story? On St. Patrick's Day 2007, I had to cut off a group of three gentlemen drinking at Jax. I'm guessing there was a fair amount of celebrating being done by this group, and it was evident by the time they landed at Jax for happy hour. I informed them that I wasn't going to be able to serve them, and they came back with the typical "We're not drunk" routine. They eventually got the point and left the building. This group still comes back into Jax, and have since conceded that they may have drunk a bottle of Jameson prior to making it to Jax that afternoon. We're all Irish on St. Patrick's, I suppose.
If your employer gave you the keys and let you change anything about your bar, what would you change? Not gonna touch that one. I don't want those keys.
What do customers do that pisses you off most? Use hand gestures to get my attention. I see you. I know when you came in, and I will get to you in the correct order. Also, the use of "guy," "chief," "captain" or anything similar to these names gets me going. And worst of all is when a stranger picks up on my name from another staff member or regular and then continues to abuse it the rest of the night, like when I am talking to another guest. I guess this article fucks me on that one.
Tell me the most fun you've ever had while working: Cheesy, I know, but I have an amazing time every time I work. I know it sounds like rainbows and lollipops, but I do enjoy this every day. We're throwing a party every night and inviting all who want to come, or fit. And to quote Clark W. Griswold, "We're all gonna have so much fucking fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles. You'll be whistling "Zip-a-dee Doo-Dah" out of your assholes!" That about sums it up.
Other than your own bar, where do you drink most regularly? I get out of downtown as quickly as possible when I'm not working. But if I do stick around, it's at the Falling Rock Tap House. Other than that, I stick to neighborhood bars near my house. I'm on the northside now, so the bars around there seem to be where I hang my hat the most. Zio Romolo's Alley Bar and LoHi SteakBar, specifically.
What's the worst/best job you've ever had? Worst job: washing boat bottoms at a marina in Washington State. Yes, it's as glamorous as it sounds. Best job: probably on a trail crew in Boulder County. Nothing like working outside all day.
What would you tell someone who wanted to get into bartending? Work hard from the bottom to the top. I don't know any bartenders who got into it and stuck with it going through a bartending college. Nothing beats years of experience working in a restaurant.
Best tip you've ever received, either monetary or insight: A gentleman never tells.
Bartending competitions: Love them? Hate them? Just did my first competition this week. I liked it; the pressure is cool. We all know that we're fast and good at what we do, and it's nice to see the talent coming together in one room.
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