In this interview, Osteria Marco bar manager Amanda Olig weighs in on rye whiskey, how she got her first bartending job in Denver and what she drinks after a particularly difficult night.
Westword: How long have you been a bartender? What made you get into the profession?
Amanda Olig: I've been a bartender for just over a decade and for seven years in Denver. I started bartending in Omaha, Nebraska. I was working retail in college and was happy doing that, but September 11 happened and made a huge impact on the economy. My job went from really fun to really stressful, so I decided to get out. A friend said, "We're hiring." And that was it.
Started working at a neighborhood bar in Nebraska. It was a really busy high-volume place, and I met an amazing family of people. I worked there for three years and helped the owner open a new concept, so I saw the bigger picture of owning and managing a bar -- and I loved it. I loved the freedom of the industry.
My first bartending job in Denver was at the Bank Bar and Grill. I didn't know anyone here, so I took a stack of resumes and decided to hit every bar on Colfax. I went into the Bank and they were hiring, so I worked there for a few weeks. Then I went to the Meadowlark and opened that bar from scratch. After a year and a half, I got my job at Vesta Dipping Grill. That very much changed my bartending career and how I looked at bartending, and I gained a whole wealth of food knowledge and cocktail knowledge. I got to know Adam Hodak through the cocktail scene and doing competitions, and he approached me one day to tell me there was a position open. I wanted to move into management, and I wasn't sure I was going to do that at Vesta. My one-year anniversary at Osteria Marco will be in April. Now I'm a bar manager, and I have a whole other set of duties.
Bartending rule to live by
Trust your gut. You deal with the public, and you're intoxicating people -- there are a lot of gray areas that come up there. For instance, the way mixology has progressed with the public really embracing it, people say, "Just make me something." But I really want you to enjoy what you're drinking. I want to make a cool new cocktail, but don't want to turn you off. I like to drink green chartreuse, but I'm not putting it in every cocktail. So I trust my gut.
Five words to describe your drink list: Fresh, creative, approachable, fun, delicious.
Favorite drink on your list and why:The Hoolihan. It's made with Wild Turkey, Canton, homemade limoncello, fresh lemon juice and homemade habanero-honey simple syrup. It's one of my own cocktails, and I think it's an approachable cocktail for many, but it's unique because it's spicy and refreshing. I describe it as a hot toddy meets a lemon drop with a little spice. It's a cocktail I love to make people because I gain their trust with it. After that, they want me to recommend food and more drinks.
Favorite item on your back bar: Right now, Bulleit Rye. I'm a huge whiskey fan, and this category continues to improve and expand. I've really gone from drinking small-batch bourbon and moved more toward rye. I like to shoot it and make drinks with it as well. It's approachable.
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What was your craziest night behind the stick? In the past five years, it was opening day three years ago for baseball. I was working at Vesta, and there was this onslaught of people and partiers. It was really, really fun and nonstop. I felt like I was working in a nightclub, but it was still daylight. I was like, "Shouldn't some of you be working right now? What is going on?"
Favorite Denver venue for a drink that's not your own and what you order when you're there: I have a lot of favorites, but on top of my list right now is Euclid Hall. When we get off work at the Osteria, the crew goes out to have a drink together. It's close, and we all go there to decompress. I order a Boulevard Tank 7 and a shot of bourbon or a green chartreuse. If the night's been particularly challenging, a green chartreuse for sure. Last weekend, Olig took on many of this city's female bartenders at Speed Rack, an event organized by LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) that raised money for breast cancer. She moved to the top eight after an initial speed round, which put her on stage for the main event. There she went head to head with the rest of the bartenders in a series of rounds, judged for both her speed and the quality of the cocktails she made.
In the end, Olig emerged victorious. "It was a little nerve-racking being on stage, but it was a really fun event," she says. "There was a great turnout. It was cool to see how competitive everyone was, too." As a reward, she'll represent Colorado in the national Speed Rack event in New York City in May. The prize for that? "Well, besides being crowned the fastest female bartender, I'd win a trip to France," she says.