At the Roundhouse in Put-in-Bay, Teri Winchester is like a dorm mother to the college coeds she hires as bartenders for the summer. She'll bake for them, give them extra shifts, and listen to their woeful tales of broken romance. So it's only fitting that, for the last 20 years, Winchester has marked the end of summer with the Bartender Olympics. "By mid-August, the kids are going on with the rest of their lives," says Winchester, the bar's manager. "They've become good friends, although they've been here for such a short time."
To commemorate the return to classes, five-member teams from nine island clubs put their bartending talents to the test. As in Olympian tradition, the events start with a "parade of bars" and the lighting of a torch -- made from an old satellite dish that's spray-painted gold and mounted on a beer keg. "It's like when you were little and went to camp, you always had an Olympic Day competition," says Winchester, one of the seven judges who own or manage the clubs. "Like the Olympics, there's no overall winner."
Still, the bar-to-bar rivalries can get pretty competitive. Before the contests begin, there's a written test on liquor laws, as well as an oral dissertation on "What Bartending Means to Me." Afterward, the barkeeps turn athletic to see who can roll a keg the fastest, pour a shot the most accurately, and carry the most beer cans at once. "We give out gold, silver, and bronze plaques, and they can take those back to their bars and put them on the wall," says Winchester. "Hopefully, everyone wins something."
If not, they can take home the memories of a friendly competition to cap off a summer of living and working on a Lake Erie island. "It's another way of keeping Put-in-Bay in a special place in their hearts," says Winchester. "It might have been one of my goofy ideas, but it's an effort for people to enjoy the island."