Behind the Bar – Miguel Lemus
119 King Street
Old Town Alexandria
How did you get started in the bartending business?
I have worked in Alexandria for many years. I worked on my serving skills at Belle Haven Country Club in the restaurant and banquet service. However, I have always been interested in what went on behind the bar and got to mix drinks every once in a while at Belle Haven. While working as a server in Landini Brothers in Old Town, Kathy Coombs, then the daytime bartender, took me under her wing and really showed me the ropes. She was my mentor and I will always be grateful to her for inspiring me to step behind the bar. Being a bartender at The Wharf has given me the freedom to develop new cocktails for special occasions such as the Sweetheart Martini that I created for Valentine’s Day. I also enjoy thinking about what our regulars drink and having it ready for them as they sit at a table or the bar. I love to see the surprise on an out-of-towner’s face when I remember their cocktail of choice the second night they come in the The Wharf.
What is your biggest bartender pet peeve?
This is a tough question for me mainly because we have such a great team at The Wharf – managers, kitchen, wait staff, bussers, food runners and bartenders. We all work together and help each other. I guess from a “behind the bar” perspective, one pet peeve is the impatient customer. Instead of seeing the crowd, they immediately snap their fingers or whistle. It’s rude and annoying and doesn’t improve their level of service.
What is the cleverest line anyone has given you in order to garner a free drink?
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a clever line from someone trying to get a free drink. Because I’m Hispanic, many people try to speak to me in Spanish – some with good results; some not so good. One story about free drinks comes to mind. After the last election, a gentleman was in the bar with friends having a great time. He announced to everyone at the bar that he would like to buy drinks for those that had voted for his candidate. Several of our regular customers raised their hand for a drink and raised their glass to toast the gentleman’s candidate. I had to laugh because I knew they voted for the other person. But I guess a free drink is a free drink!
What is the best/worst pick-up line you have overheard at the bar?
I was having a hard time with this one so I asked one of our regulars the same question. He dipped his fingers in his water glass, sprinkled a few drops of water on his wife and said “Let me get you out of those wet clothes!”
Tell us about an interesting encounter you have had with your customer(s)?
The Wharf is an interesting place to work because on any given night I am serving regulars who have been coming in for years as well as people from all over the world who are experiencing our restaurant for the first time. I had a customer from New Zealand one night and she was so excited that I served her a glass of Rose from the region where she lived. One story I remember is when I was mixing drinks at a 50th birthday party at Belle Haven. A young woman asked me for a Sea Breeze. She looked so young, I was afraid she was under age and I would have to card her. As it turned out, it was Katie Couric and she was old enough to have the Sea Breeze. I became a fan of the Today Show from that day on.
If you could sit down and have a drink with anyone – past or present – who would it be?
I had a wonderful encounter a number of years ago at Citronelle in Washington DC. I was sitting at the bar enjoying a glass of red wine and a Cuban cigar – smoking was still allowed inside a restaurant back then. Michel Richard, the distinguished chef/owner of the restaurant, sat next to me at the bar and offered to buy me a glass of wine. It was a memorable experience. I offered him a cigar which he gratefully lit up and we had a wonderful conversation about food and drink. Chef Richard passed away last year. I would like to be able to have another drink, cigar and conversation with him.
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