6 Cleveland Bartenders We Absolutely Love

A great bartender does much more than dispense booze-filled glasses. The best are witty conversationalists who can amuse barflies while dishing out the latest gossip, news and snark. Without them, the bar experience feels less fulfilling, Here are a few of our favorite 'tenders, the pals on the other side of the bar making you feel a little more at home and a little less alone.
Will Hollingsworth- Lolita

Will Hollingsworth is a staple behind the bar at Lolita, but in his spare time he's been on a quest to open the "perfect bar." When theSpotted Owl opens in Tremont in the coming months, we all can be the judge of whether or not he's succeeded. In the meantime, here are some nuggets to tide us over.

Tell me about the location at Tremont Place Lofts.

It's off the beaten path, but still right in the middle of things. It's sort of this big, giant labyrinthine space. All told I can't imagine it's less than 4,000 square feet. But the tavern space is probably no more than 1,600 square feet.

What will the space feel like when completed?

We're going for a sort of "brawny colonial" design aesthetic. I'm calling it Massachusetts customs house, but with a bit more contemporary French influence. The use of damask and toile will allow us to soften this otherwise industrial space without making it too feminine.

Describe "the perfect bar."

The perfect bar is the place where you start your night and end your night. It's the first place you go and it's the place you go when you've got a bottle of wine in you and you're looking a little disheveled and you want to be with your friends, sit in the dark, have a conversation and have fun.

What qualities does a perfect bar have?

I am of the opinion that my generation wants the same thing out of a bar that our parents did: a place where you can meet people, feel comfortable, develop a relationship with your bartender. It's just a place where you go when you don't want to go home.

"Bartender" or "mixologist"?

I think the worst thing that every happened to bartending is mixology. I feel that idea has nearly sounded the death of bartending. Give me a bottle of Jim Beam and a case of Miller Light and I'll give you a bar because ultimately, what's in your glass doesn't matter. What matters is the girl next to you and the guy across the bar from you.

What are your thoughts on the current classic cocktail trend?

Our generation, we know craft beer, we know good wine, we know classic cocktails – we expect a quality product. But the "classic cocktail movement" and the "craft beer bar" have sort of lost their novelty. We are not really interested in a self-referential bar. We're just interested in a place that does it right.

So, when can we check it out?

The place is going to open when it opens. 

Dan Rogan- Lola

A great bartender does much more than dispense booze-filled glasses. The best are witty conversationalists who can amuse barflies while dishing out the latest gossip, news and snark. By those standards, Dan Rogan is the city's finest. We asked him to share a few shot-size nuggets of wisdom.

Q: So, did you learn at 1-800-BARTEND?

A: No, I learned on the job. If you have to go to school to learn how to bartend, that’s very telling, I think. Bartending is 80 percent personality, 20 percent knowledge and skill.

Q: What should a guy order on a first date?

A: You don’t want to look like a pussy, but you don’t want to look like a lush, either. A glass of red wine is a safe and masculine way to go. Or a martini, as long as it is vodka or gin – no specialty martinis. Let the girl do that.

Q: Should I always “call” my liquor?

A: Some people always call their brand regardless of the cocktail. Women order Grey Goose Cosmopolitans because they think that it’s chi-chi to do so. Anything that has juice in it, you’re just wasting your money.

Q: What’s hot on the cocktail circuit?

A: Craft cocktails are the new blue cheese-stuffed olives. Potables have gotten more potent, with lots of whiskey, rye and bourbon. These drinks are very labor intensive and take more time to make, which is a problem. I predict the "new classics" coming back very soon. Vodka tonics and wine by the glass all day long!

Q: What should one order in a dive bar?

A: There’s nothing wrong with a cold domestic beer. The wine selection usually sucks at a bar, plus you’ll look stupid walking around with a wine glass. No one wants to get his ass kicked.

LeeAnn Marhevsky- Frank's Place on Market (Avon)

Age: 29

Favorite Cocktail To Make: Negroni: It's the perfect combination of bitter, sweet, and botanical.

Favorite Cocktail To Drink: Moscow Mule

Favorite Beer To Drink: 3 Floyd's "Zombie Dust". It's a mind-blowing beer.

Most Popular Beer You Serve: Pabst Blue Ribbon

Favorite Bar in Cleveland/Akron: Annabel's, Akron

Favorite Patio: The Upper Deck, Portage Lakes

Best Happy Hour: Ray's Place, Akron

Craziest Thing That's Happened While You've Been Serving: An irate patron attacked me with her stiletto heel.

Celebrities Served: The Vice President of NY's Hell's Angels, Evan Rachel Wood, Lady Dime (Dimebag Darrell's wifey)

Most Expensive Tab: I don't know they exact number, but it was around a grand. A middle aged couple came to Devon Seafood Grill in Hershey, PA, where I was bartending. She asked for the most expensive liquor we had. At the time it was Louis XIII de Remy Martin, a cognac, which we served for $110 an ounce. She threw back shots of that and gave her husband a look which just dared him to ask her to stop. He sat there silently, completely cowed. He must have really, really screwed up.

Biggest Tip: As a former NYC bartender, let's just say that the best tips weren't always monetary.

Favorite Thing To Do When Not Drinking: Cooking, bike riding, and imagining my two cats on a tandem bicycle.

Richard "Richie" Stein- Beverly Hills Café

If you live in Cleveland and make a habit of drinking booze, odds are good that veteran bartender Richard "Richie" Stein has gotten you loaded. His long, venerable career began more than a quarter century ago at Beverly Hills Café at Beachwood Place. These days, he can be found behind the bar at Bistro 185.

Q: I recall Beverly Hills Café as being the it place to drink in the Eighties.

A: It was amazing. I made more money in the Eighties than I did in the Nineties or even today. I was only making $3.80 an hour but I was bringing home close to a grand a week. I’d give my right arm to be making that kind of cash again.

Q: Who were – and are – some of your best tippers?

A: It goes without saying that service industry people tip much better. They typically throw down 40- or 50-percent tips compared to 15 or 20 percent for people who don’t work in the biz. But in general, people don’t toss around money the way they used to.

Q: What cocktail trends have you scratching your head?

A: This whole flavored liquor thing is nuts. Nowadays, if it doesn’t taste like Fruit Loops, you can’t sell it. I remember when lemon-flavored vodka came out. All my regulars who drank Absolute on the rocks with fresh lemon were like "Why would you drink this?" And who’s the genius who came up with Red Bull and vodka? The good news is that blender drinks have, for the most part, gone away.

Q: What’s the secret to making good cash as a bartender?

A: Bartending is becoming a lost art. To me, it’s all about acknowledging your customers. All you have to do is remember a customer’s name, occupation or drink. Failing any of the above, just recognize that you remember them. It makes a huge difference.

Rob Turek, aka Robbie Flair 

Let's be honest: flair bartending ranks right up there with Dungeons & Dragons in terms of cool quotient. Most of us prefer to drink our hooch rather than see it juggled before our mouths like so many kittens. But "Robbie Flair," President of the Cleveland Chapter of the US Bartenders Guild, is here to set the record straight.

Q. So, did you learn on the job?

A. Actually, I got my start with the Professional Bartending School of Cleveland 17 years ago. Many industry peers frown upon bartending schools because their graduates lack true experience. But if utilized properly, they can help jumpstart professional careers.

Q. Shots over Shakespeare? Not bad.

A. The school was built like a lab with a fully working bar. Students would make fake drinks, but learn the techniques for basic bartending in a practical fashion. Becoming great at bartending simply requires a mind open to learning. As soon as education declines, so does your skill level.

Q. When did you start flipping bottles?

A. Soon after graduating I had the opportunity to become an instructor and was sent to Cincinnati to train with the president. He was really good at flair and showed me a few moves. This was the end of 1996. In 1998, I competed in my first World Flair Competition in Orlando, and for the next 5 years competition was my biggest teacher.

Q. Ever drop bottles?

A. Did Michael Jordan ever miss a shot? Of course. However, practice always makes perfect, and to be honest, how you react to a drop can make or break a performance. However, at this point of my career, my standard is to be "drop free."

Q. Best night behind the bar?

A. Depends. I've done New Years parties and walked with $500-$700. However, today, I can be booked as an entertainer and walk with way more than that. I was once booked as a flair bartender for a casino opening and walked away with $2,500. My guarantee is that I will be the talk of your event.

Q. Cocktail the movie: love it or loathe it?

A. Most people relate flair immediately to that movie, because it's all they've ever seen. There's actually a movie out now, called Hey Bartender that shows the craft mixologist of today and the cocktail resurgence. I enjoyed Cocktail when I first saw it, but the flair is very basic. I can do 10 times what was done in that movie.

Kim Augustine- The Blonde - Martini & Wine Establishment                              

Favorite Cocktail to Make: An Old Fashion, a Lemon Buck or a Ginger, which is my spin on an Old Fashion - basically anything that starts with muddling ingredients and ends with bourbon.

To drink: A Manhattan, yes with bourbon

Favorite Bar: It depends. I like hanging out at Ferris Steak House, my favorite place to catch a game is Grayton Rd. Tavern and I love Fatheads. I don't drink beer, but Derek makes one of my all-time favorite sandwiches and they have a bowling machine!

Happy Hour: Well, since I work almost every Friday happy hour I'm going to say The Blonde - $5 martinis, wine & cocktails, almost everything on our list, not just a limited selection.

Patio: I know it's not a bar but Guarino's in Little Italy is beautiful.

Funniest thing: I worked at Howl at the Moon in the Flat's during its heydays and have witnessed some pretty outrageous behavior, most of which I can't repeat, but the bachelorette parties were always good for entertainment. The drama with those women rivals that of any Bravo Housewives reality show! One hint girls: liquor is truth serum, so never over drink at a bachelorette party. Admitting to the bride that you've slept with the groom is not a good thing when you're both drunk. Entertaining for the bar staff, yes, but it’s my guess the $200 you spent on the bridesmaid dress was a waste of money. 

Celeb: Sure, I've waited on my fair share of celebrities, bu they never really phased me. But one night Howie Mandel stopped in HATM after a performance at the Improv; my parents also came in that night. Howie was very low key, hanging back by the bar. You wouldn't have recognized him -- he was just in jeans, a T-shirt and a bandana. My mom came in and stood right next to him for about 20 minutes until she recognized him and screamed really loud, "Oh my god, you’re Howie Mandel!" He screamed just as loud, "Oh my god, your Kim's mom!" That still cracks me up.

Most expensive tab: Not the most expensive but one of the most memorable: Two guys from L.A. that thought they were big shots and bought every woman in the bar "whatever they wanted.” They ended up with a ridiculous tab and didn't really meet anyone. Sorry guys, but men can be so stupid. 

Biggest Tip: Again, not the biggest but special: Bartenders usually don't take time off unless it’s an important occasion -- we hate to lose the money. When my husband and I were first dating he tipped me enough so I would take a Saturday night off to go out with him. That was sweet.

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