On April 19th, Brewery Corner in Kilkenny, Ireland celebrated its first birthday. Their first year was an eventful one, capped off by winning the illustrious title of Craft Beer Bar of the Year at the 2013 Bar of the Year Awards.
Managing Brewery Corner and overseeing the bar’s large selection of Irish craft brews on draught and bottled beers from around the world is Stephen Foster, a veteran bartender with a true passion for beer.
The atmosphere here is very relaxed most of the week. Kilkenny is a small town with a lot of pubs (something like 85). So no single bar will be overly packed on a school night. We’ve got lots of different groups in on different nights, however. Sunday is board game night, Tuesday is Drink & Draw, Thursday is ArtSocial night. It’s all about people with common interests hanging out. Friday and Saturday nights can get a bit hectic and there’s always a cheerful buzz about the place.
What’s the best part of living and working in Kilkenny?
Some of my favourite things about living in Kilkenny are the people, the pubs and the history. Kilkenny is a very old place. There is a huge castle with wide open grounds that dominates the centre of the city. It was built sometime before the 12th century and is absolutely stunning to walk through. The castle grounds are the perfect place to waste a sunny day.
The people here are very friendly. We’ve got that small town atmosphere going on. You will bump in to somebody you know every day in town. It’s very easy to stay in the loop with what’s going on around town and there is a lot. We’ve just come through the 17th annual Rhythm & Roots Festival. The town was absolutely hopping for the whole weekend. Bands were playing all over the city, including an amazing show in Brewery Corner; we very nearly ran out of beer!
Next month, The Cat Laughs Comedy Festival returns. Major comedy performers from the US, Canada, UK and Ireland are coming to fill up the pubs in Kilkenny and we’ve got two shows ourselves. The summertime is just amazing. It’s festival after festival and non-stop arts, music, food and drink.
Working in the bar industry here is challenging. There is just so much competition and so much choice that you have work very hard to keep your customers interested. We put on a lot of live music events as well as art nights and game nights.
What do you enjoy most about working at Brewery Corner?
I love Brewery Corner for a lot of reasons. I was here on my own when it was a dirty remnant of a strip club. There was a lot of cleaning up to do at the start. Some unspeakable things. Getting all the contractors together and working, getting the word out that we were opening and watching the bar transform were all very rewarding. Right now, during normal business, I particularly enjoy the ‘Corner because it is the only bar of its kind in Kilkenny. People come here for good beer. They know they will get that here. I love going through all the options with new customers, trying to get the right fit for them. That is something you can’t do in the mainstream pubs. People will order Guinness or Heineken and that will be that.
Here, things are a little more nuanced. Also, convincing a regular to change his beer is fun. People find it easy to just drink one particular brew and stick with it. I like to change their minds from time to time, just for kicks.
How did you get your start as a bartender?
I was 15 when I first worked behind a bar. Those were different times. I worked the bar in our local sports club. I would be called in for special functions like birthdays, retirements, funerals, that sort of thing. It could get pretty busy in there. It was definitely no place for a child and I am always grateful for getting that start that early. It gave me an advantage in my early career that a lot of kids didn’t have.
What skills or traits should every good bartender possess?
A bartender has to be fast. Above all else. Speed is one thing that everybody will see and appreciate. It comes down to being prepared, knowing where everything is, planning how you will execute an order as you are receiving it and figuring out how many footsteps you will have to make.
Obviously, a friendly manner is imperative. I noticed while I was in the US that most bartenders are women (the ones I saw, anyway) and that sex appeal makes up a lot of their skill set.
Here in Ireland, most bartenders are male, and as most punters are male, the sex appeal aspect won’t always cut it. You have to be able to hold a conversation about almost anything. Or at the very least, listen.
Who is the most intriguing person to ever sit at your bar?
There’s too many! Everybody in Kilkenny is their own special type of weirdo. I particularly enjoy the older gentlemen who mumble the same stories over and over. They always seem to have an opinion on what we need to change in the pub and it usually involves giving out free beer.
In working as a bartender — and interacting with people as much as you do — has your opinion of human nature changed in any way over the years?
I’ve always been a bartender so I don’t think I’ve seen human nature through the eyes of a civilian. I suppose what I’ve learned is that different people act differently when drink is taken. The bartender has to see everything and hear everything but also remember nothing.
What do you drink when you’re not working?
O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale. I’m having one right now. I defy you to find a finer example of a pale ale.
If you could snap your fingers and be magically transported anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Bed! I’m shattered! It’s a seven day a week job. I love this place but it really knows how to wear you down, like any spouse.
If you had to offer one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a bartender, what would it be?
There’s a lot of advice I could give. This job is great. You meet new people, make friends all the time. You get paid to go to the party. The downside is that any friends you had who work 9-5 will fade away. They party when you work, you work when they party. You will have to try very hard to stay in touch.
And this job kills. I’ve seen a lot of guys go down the wrong road and lose everything. The most difficult part of the job is not drinking yourself into oblivion. Be careful.
Also, you need to know what your goals are. The career ladder of a bartender has really only three rungs: Bartender; Manager; Owner. So, know what direction you’re moving in. And always, always go faster!