Bartenders

Michael Sturdivant

April 24, 2014

Perched atop Mockingbird Station in Dallas, Texas, sits The People’s Last Stand, where, in addition to a wide selection of craft brews and hand-selected wines, the menu balances classic cocktails with unique and flavorful inventions created from fresh-squeezed juices and house-made syrups, infusions and mixers. And behind the bar at The People’s Last Stand is Michael Sturdivant.

Born and raised in the Dallas area, Sturdivant has studied classic cocktail techniques, but is also on the cutting edge of up-and-coming trends. He has been churning out innovative cocktails at The People’s Last Stand since November of 2013.

Check out his website for a few of his creative cocktail recipes.

bartendermike1What is the atmosphere like on an average night at The People’s Last Stand?

During the week we usually keep the atmosphere relaxed, but we take cues from the guests as to what they want. We have a relatively cozy space, consisting of a patio, a general area (with high tables, normal tables, booths, and the bar), and a lounge with couches and large chairs. We have happy hour specials Monday through Friday, with reduced prices for beer, wine, and classic cocktails, but Monday through Wednesday we do additional discounts, like half-off food or happy hour all day. That being said, we get a nice little early pop from happy hour, but we are most busy around seven and later.

After the sun goes down the bartenders will usually change the music and dim the lights and either keep it relaxed or get a little more high-energy depending on who’s working and the crowed we have. We have a pretty diverse group of people that visit our place. All of the bartenders are very welcoming of anyone that comes in.

What do you enjoy most about working where you do?

The thing I like best about where I work is the environment and types of guests we get. I enjoy the laid-back atmosphere, as I am a very laid-back person. The guests are great because we get a good mix of cocktail nerds and novices, and people that just want to enjoy a beer too! I love getting to make someone their first real cocktail, or see the excitement they get when they “play mixologist” with me the first time, or even the satisfaction of a grizzled cocktail vet when I make their favorite drink just the way they like it.

How did you get your start as a bartender?

The start to my bartending career kind if unique. I was working as a 9-1-1 operator at night and reading about the history of prohibition. As I read about how bartending used to be a noble position, my interest was piqued. All the qualities I was reading about were the ones I adored in other people. I left my job in 9-1-1 for unrelated reasons, and, shortly after, saw an ad for a bartending school with a Black Friday promotion going on. I had done my research and knew schools were generally looked down upon, but the deal was so good I couldn’t say no.

After finishing I began my job hunt and landed at a Brazilian steak house that was miserable. There I was fairly certain they were stealing my tips, and they were making me train other people to do my job, so I bartended less and less. A few weeks in, I was asked to leave. That same day I had received a text from my bar saying a small local bar was looking for bartenders. I called and set up an interview the next day. This is where my craft cocktail career really took off.

The business had just been sold and purchased, and they were transitioning from a terrible dive bar to better food and a cocktail program. I thoroughly enjoyed this job because I got to share my passions with people in an area totally dry of good cocktails. We were so successful that the other bars on the block started dusting off bottles never touched because the clientele had recognized our great drinks and attempted to get something similar from them. Unfortunately, a few months later management changed and I resigned.

I took a break from bartending professionally but was still active in my local United States Bartending Guild (USBG). At one if these events I learned that PLS was looking for bartenders, so I applied, and here I am now!

drink2What skills or traits should every good bartender possess?

I sort bartender traits in two categories, with a little overlap. The first, the “mixologist” (I hate this word, but people like to use it so I guess we are stuck with it), consist of the skills to actually make the drink. This includes: mixing technique, liquor knowledge, quick memory recall, being fast on your feet.

The other category is “the bartender.” These are the people-pleasing skills: able to talk to anyone, about anything, a customer service mindset, and a general willingness to serve people.

Do you feel like the old school “bartender” — the Sam Malone-type guy with the towel over his shoulder who will listen to a customer complain about his job or his wife and then offer some sagely advice — is a dying breed? Or will that guy always exist somewhere, in some form?

I wouldn’t say it’s a dying breed, but a lot of people (especially in the craft movement) can easily lose focus. You can train anyone to make drinks, but the real skill comes with being good with people.

drink1What is it about the bartending field — both today and down the road — that you find most exciting?

There are two things that really excite me about bartending. The first is that it’s always changing and evolving. Take the lime shortage for example. Lime is a very important ingredient in many cocktails, and right now people are finding interesting and delicious ways to work around not having it.

The second is that America is learning to drink again. All the way back to the founding of our country to can find brewers and distillers making outstanding beverages. Prohibition proved to be a little hiccup with only the largest companies surviving, but as the craft brewing movement has shown us, people are now craving something different and unique.

What do you drink when you’re not working?

When I am not working, I normally just drink a shot and a beer or two. By the time I get home, I have had enough cocktails! My day off drinks change with season and mood, but right now I’m making a caipirinha topped with an IPA.

If you had to offer one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a bartender, what would it be?

My advice to people wanting to get into bartending would be remember that this is a service industry job. You can train a monkey to mix a drink, but it takes a bartender to make that person feel welcome and at home and maybe even learn a little bit.

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