After stints at LoHi SteakBar and Caldonia's, Maura Schuster is now behind the bar at Ernie's Bar & Pizza. The place is new, but the bar is old-school, complete with a back bar salvaged from the old Armory in Greeley. And Schuster is an old-school bartender, "not a big performance/flair bartender," she explains, "with the exception of spinning glasses and bottles around sometimes -- and I mostly do that for speed."
And don't even mention Tom Cruise in Cocktail. "Oh, my God, I hate that movie," she says.
Now serving: Maura Schuster.
How did you get into bartending? I was in college, and I desperately needed a job. I was hired at Red Lobster as a bartender, and after two weeks, totally confident of my newfound skills, I felt that I was ready for a "real" bartending job. I confidently went to the nicest bar I could find in the college town and asked for a job. The bar manager laughed at me and my lack of experience, but called me two weeks later to hire me. She later told me that she took a chance on me because I had a firm handshake, seemed teachable and was naive enough to think I deserved a job there. That was where I truly learned how to bartend.
What would you tell someone who wanted to get into bartending? You have to genuinely like people to be a bartender, and even when you're having an anti-social day, you have to put on your game face and pretend that you're pretty happy to be at work. The good outweighs the bad, overall, but you need to have a thick skin and not take anything personally, because people somehow feel justified in saying whatever they want to bartenders and servers.
What's your least favorite drink to make? Ugh, anything that requires a blender. Not only is it a huge inconvenience to make the drink, but you can be sure that the guest will complain that they can't taste the alcohol -- which is the whole point of frilly drinks like that. But at Ernie's, we don't even have a blender -- to the delight of the entire bar staff, I'm sure.
What's the weirdest drink someone's asked you to make? Tequila and milk with a grenadine float. I can't imagine anything more disgusting. But the guy sat there and drank the whole thing.
How do you feel about cutting people off? Oh, it's a necessary part of the job. But I always wonder why adults don't know when to cut themselves off: Why do you make us be the bad guys or have to act like your mother? And one more thing: If a bartender cuts you off, you should be thankful. We did you a favor.
What's your best/worst cutting-someone-off story? One night I cut off two guys, and they got belligerent. When they refused to leave, I looked around for one of the male servers to kick them out. I couldn't find anyone to help me, so I came around the bar and dragged them out by their armpits. When I came back inside, I saw a few of my friends sitting at the bar playing a game -- they had barely looked up during the commotion. They said that it looked like I had the situation under control. Thanks, you guys.
What do customers do that pisses you off most? I can't stand when people tell me to put extra liquor in their drinks or to "hook it up." Who do you think you are? Do I come to your place of work and tell you how to do your job?!
What do co-workers do that pisses you off? I'm pretty OCD, so I like everything to be orderly and clean and in the same place, because it saves you time and frustration when your tools are always where you think they are. On the other hand, I probably drive my co-workers a little crazy when I follow them around and rearrange things for the whole shift...
What's the best line you've heard to get a free drink? Well, I can say with certainty that the most frequent line is "Hey, it's my birthday, can I get a free shot?" Seriously -- it's your 37th birthday and you're still trying to get free drinks at a bar?
What's the most memorable pickup line you've heard? A woman in a purple pantsuit with shoulder pads screaming across the bar at me, "My kids are staying with a babysitter and my husband is out of town. Please come home with me and let me lick your p--!" Wow. The whole bar cracked up, and the bouncers ended up having to drag her out. For the record, I didn't call her.
What's the weirdest thing you've seen while working behind the bar? A really strange-looking guy came into the bar one night and ordered a beer. I gave it to him, and three seconds later, when I turned around, it was foaming all over the bar. He picked it up and chugged the rest of it before telling me that he had just poisoned himself to death. Then he ran out of the bar. It was really creepy. Two weeks later, we saw him back at the bar. Weirdo.
What's your favorite alcohol? Oh, I love tequila. I get a little bit wild when I get a few shots of tequila in me, but at least I'm fun.
What's your drink of choice? Hendricks and tonic, dirty Ketel One martinis on the rocks, and Svedka Clementine and soda. For beer, I usually drink Harp, Guinness, Smithwicks or anything dark. I can't stand light beers.
What's one alcohol you despise? Jägermeister. You couldn't pay me enough to drink it. I think I drank way too many Jäger bombs in college, because just the thought of it makes me sick.
Other than your co-workers, who's the best bartender in Denver? I worked with Jason Wetterstrom and Christy Sgambati at Caldonia's for about six years, and they are without a doubt two of the strongest and most charismatic bartenders you can find anywhere. I loved working with them. Christy now works at LoHi SteakBar, and Jason works at My Brother's Bar.
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Other than your own bar, where do you drink most regularly? Atomic Cowboy is my neighborhood bar, and I've had more than a few nights of debauchery there. Yet somehow they have never cut me off there. Thanks, Natalie!
If your employer gave you the keys and let you change anything about your bar, what would you change? So far, nothing. Ernie's is beautiful and has a really comfortable feel, a fantastic menu -- who doesn't like antipasto and pizza and sixty-plus beers? -- and a professional, friendly staff. And nobody asked me to say any of that. But we just opened, so ask me again in a month!
What do you do in your spare time? As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm totally in love with my lab, Ringo, so I hang out with him every second I'm not at work.
Tell us one thing about tending bar that we might not know: People tend to view bartending as a glamorous job -- which, of course, it can be at times. But behind the scenes, it can be really hard work, with late nights, drunken patrons and lots of stocking ice, beer and liquor. There's more to it than what the guest sees.