Behind the Bar with Alex Taylor
Hank’s Oyster Bar
1026 King Street
Old Town Alexandria
How did you get started in the bartending business?
I had a pretty amazing childhood being an embassy brat and living overseas for a good portion of my youth. I recall being 16, living in Geneva, Switzerland, working the embassy holiday party with the other high-school riff-raff. I think we teenagers drank more Bacardi and Cokes than we served, by far. Let’s just say that none of our parents reacted very well to our dispositions. Fast forward: I had just graduated the University of Virginia with a history degree and had already spent some time in the restaurant industry during college. As I attempted to plot my life’s path, I had the opportunity to tend bar at Farmington Country Club. Learning on the job, I was provided my first glimpse of how dynamic flavor combinations could be generated through cocktail creation. Of course, what we now refer to as “classic cocktails” were just cocktails at the country club. All in all, I believe the consistent learning process and creative outlet (not just in making drinks, but also guest interaction) were my main motivating factors that kept me grounded in the restaurant industry. I’ve been fortunate to continue learning something new every day and have learned from many talented individuals throughout my seventeen year tenure in the industry; I can only hope to impart a fraction of all that I’ve experienced to the next crop of industry people.
What is your biggest bartender pet peeve?
It seems like an easy task to rattle off pet peeves: Rude guests, unreasonable requests, providing cell-phone charging services, being a coat-check, providing extra-strong cocktails, dealing with overly intoxicated guests, etc. The fact of the matter is that these are all integral aspects of being a booze-slinger, regardless of the style of bar. You take the good with the bad. I try to roll with the punches because focusing on one pet peeve is likely to slow me down and affect service overall. Shrug it off and move on to the next guest and I’ll be smiling and laughing again.
What is the cleverest line anyone has ever used to get you to give them a free drink?
Clever lines? Doing anything for a free drink? These things have become like background music for me: I acknowledge their presence and keep moving. Guests should come in often, be friendly, tip fairly, establish a rapport with us and certainly not ask for a free drink.
What is the best/worst pickup line you have overheard at the bar?
I remember working in a large, sports-bar environment and the bar was completely packed. A guy took the last chicken wing off of a girl’s plate sitting at the bar. He then asked for her number so he could buy her dinner to make up for eating her last wing. Needless to say, she didn’t think it was cute; her response certainly wasn’t printable material.
Tell us about an interesting encounter you have had with a customer(s).
I believe each guest interaction has the potential to be an interesting encounter. The random, esoteric conversations that border on the ludicrous are one of the many reasons why I’m in an amazing profession. While I’ve had the opportunity to serve famous athletes, actors, and comedians, that doesn’t mean those experiences were interesting. However, there was an instance where I was advising a fellow bartender to watch a particular guest as he was downing double shots of Jagermeister; the other bartender recognized the guest as a former cast member of Saturday Night Live. Turned out, he was a really funny guy, down-to-earth, and handled his Jager shots like a pro.
If you could sit down and have a drink with anyone in the world, past or present, who would that be?
Off the top, I’d say the comedian Dave Attell. He had a great show on Comedy Central named “Insomniac” where he would visit different cities and frequent local bars. By the end of the show, after the consumption of many, many drinks, there was always a sense of satisfaction of having a great time, meeting new people, and seeing new places. So I’d love the opportunity to bring back the show one-more time as Dave Attell’s co-host. I’ll even pick up the first round.
Alex is behind the bar Sunday 2 pm – close, Monday Lunch/Dinner, and Tuesday-Thursday Lunch.
Written by: Lani Gering
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