Behind the Bar 2024
Photo: Emilee of The Pyramid Scheme. Courtesy Photo

Bartenders see it all, for better or worse. They see sober people, completely drunk people, nice people, rude people, picky people, knowledgeable people, clueless people, and everything in between.

Who better to give us a look into the human condition, and what it's like behind the bar, than barkeeps themselves? We turned to our local tenders and mixologists to ask them a few burning questions.


415 S. Beechtree St., Grand Haven

with Phil Anderson, Bartender/Manager, Mack Bee, Bartender & Garry Boyd, Bartender/Owner

What drink order do you dread?

PA: I actually don’t dread any drink order that comes through. Maybe I’m wired a little different. I enjoy giving people what they want no matter what their palate or desire is.

MB: Espresso Martini ordered after 10 p.m. It’s an oxymoron and will never make sense to me. 

GB: Long Island Iced Tea. To me, it says one of three things: I am super frugal, I am an inexperience drinker, or I have one purpose in life right now and that’s to get f*cked up! The worst-case scenario is when it’s all three. 

What’s one special thing you love about your place of work?

PA: I love the Unicorn Tavern because we are like Wonka’s secret drink lab. We make all of our own syrups and mixers, and the staff is experienced and creative enough to come up with things on the fly. For example: We don’t have Fireball, but the person that ordered 3 shots of it got 3 shots of it.

MB: Two special things: Mama Kristal and Garry AKA Garrlic Bread. I think most people search for a place of employment that makes them feel special and wholesome. Those two do just that, day in and day out they work tirelessly for their employees and for excellent guest experience. Plus they hire dope people who have made my life immensely better just by working with them.

GB: I love The Unicorn Tavern because I have always wanted a workbench/laboratory/office like this. I even have a light switch labeled “Disco Ball” and I’ll give you one guess as to what it does. 

What’s your own go-to beverage? 

PA: Negroni. Just 3 ingredients. All equal parts. So easy to mess up and so difficult to perfect.

MB: If I am feeling sweet, Amaretto Sour (made with Disaronno, of course). If I am feeling spicy, I go for some delicious Tequila Blanco, as a shot with an orange slice. 

GB: My go-to right now is a Verte Chaud. I discovered this drink over the “winter” while doing some research on European aprés ski cocktails and had to try it. I was hooked! If I see a bottle of GC behind the bar, there’s a good chance my first question is gonna be inquiring on the availability of hot cocoa. I add a barspoon of our house rich syrup and use our house-made vanilla vodka spiked whipped cream but it’s basically the same.  Any excuses  to get 2 oz. of Chartreuse in front of me… am I right?

What’s your other favorite place to hang out with a drink?

PA: Long Road locally and Wonderland in Muskegon. Great cocktails made with quality spirits they distill themselves.

MB: Burzurk Brewing Company has been a great environment for me to go and enjoy a beer and wind down. I love the atmosphere and knowing that there is another safe space for my wife and I to enjoy.

GB: Burzurk Brewing Company, Sporty’s or The Hiway Inn. All three of these are East End, Grand Haven watering stops, and I know I will find something to drink, and someone I was hoping to run into. And I’ll happily take over the jukebox, so watch out!

What’s one of the wildest or most memorable things you’ve seen as a bartender?

MB: One day as a bartender on a passenger train car in Alaska, we were making our way down the rails back home to Anchorage. We were about 2 hours away from the station when the train came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Everyone is looking out the windows and we  see two passengers disembark the train in a frazzled state, with all their belongings disarrayed in their arms. After the train begins to move again, the conductor informed us he had two unruly and belligerent passengers that he got tired of dealing with, so he stopped the train and kicked them off, out in the Alaskan wilderness. To this day, I don’t know if they made it back to civilization safely.

GB: Probably someone getting thrown through a big ass plate glass window. Or during Coast Guard Saturday, the basement of the place I was working flooded with sewage because some asshat flushed a shot glass down the toilet. 

Kalamazoo Hopcat

300 E. Water St., Kalamazoo

with Peyton Elkins, Bartender

Dreaded drink order?

By far, I dread dirty martini’s the most. Every person that drinks them has a preference on how dirty they want it, and trying to nail the right amount of olive juice they want is hard, not to mention that was the first drink that I ever had sent back, which left a scar.

What do you love about your work?

I’m a huge craft beer geek, and being a bartender here gives me the opportunity to be around not just a huge variety of craft beer but also the opportunity to meet and chat with the people responsible for the beer I love. 

Favorite other place to hang?

My go-to hangout is a bar called the Library Kitchen and Tap House. It’s across the street from where I live, where I’m friends with all of the bartenders, and through the years I’ve spent enough time there to the point where I feel at home. There’s no better feeling than getting off work, sitting in my normal seat and sipping on a Corona or rum and coke and chatting with the bartenders.

Wildest memories?

One of the most wild days I’ve had as a bartender was the morning of an event called Snow Jog, a bar crawl hosted by Bell’s Brewery. Unfortunately for the other bartender and I, we had no idea. We were made aware of it by the 100 people that walked in at the same time and came straight up to the bar rail. I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a solid two hours while getting through a rush that was three people deep around the entire rail.

The Meanwhile

1005 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

with Dakota, Bartender & Mandy, Bartender

Dreaded drink order?

D: 6 espresso martinis at once.

M: Pangalactic Gargle Blaster. Don’t ask for it please.

What do you love about your work?

D: I like that I can be me at work. I don’t have a dress code I have to abide by, I can listen to whatever music I want, I don’t have to act like a customer service drone, and the people that come in really enjoy that we’re real people because we can be ourselves.

M: I love the sense of community The Meanwhile has. We have a really great clientele and a relaxed environment where we can just be ourselves.

Go-to beverage?

D: A cheap beer and a decent tequila shot.

M: A very dirty Martini. A little dry. 

Favorite other place to hang?

D: The Commons. I love sitting at their bar and hanging out, their staff are some of the most genuine people I’ve come to know. And Blue Bridge games, I’m a big nerd and I just love the people that operate it, some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.

M: Buffalo Traders is so good. Love when we make it over there. Also Max’s South Seas. Incredible drinks and the food is fantastic.

Favorite memories?

M: Mine isn’t wild, more wholesome, but a time that sticks with me is when we came in for our bachelor/bachelorette party, and the entire bar cheered us. We really felt the love and support that night.

D: Had to be when I was working the 15th Anniversary and watching people try to do “The Gauntlet”. For the anniversary party, we ran all our daily specials for the week on one day, and watching people try to do the gauntlet of the whole week was hilarious.

Speakez Lounge

600 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

with JP, General Manager & Bob, Bar Manager

Dreaded drink order?

JP: When people say, “Will you make me this made up drink that so-and-so bartender made me this one time? It was blue or red or I don’t know.”

Bob: I dread making mixed or layered shots. Just grow up and drink Fernet.

What do you love about your work?

JP: The staff. Much of the staff came from either: corporate restaurants, catering, neighborhood restaurants, fine dining restaurants, or dive bars. We all landed here and we pull our unique experiences together to create what SpeakEZ is: weird.

Bob: I love that we get to serve so many varieties of clientele; rowdy Soccer fans, Business Execs, out-of-towners staying at the hotel down the street, Local Government officials, fellow Industry friends, Neighborhood regulars, Local Music fans during our live music events. It’s sort of a mix of every type of person in G.R on any given day.

Go-to beverage?

JP: Give me a Montucky Cold Snack or PBR, then I’ll scan the bar for an amaro to chase it with. Or basically anything nice and easy for the bartender.

Bob: I prefer an Old Fashioned or a bottle of High Life (or Low Life) and shot of Fernet. 

Favorite other place to hang?

JP: Pickwick or Eastern Kille.

Bob: West Side neighborhood bars. I used to enjoy Kale’s Korner for darts, RIP. 

Wildest memories?

JP: USA matches during the World Cup (2014 & 2022). At capacity 3 hours before every match, 3 to 4 deep at the bar the entire time. If you can live through that, you can live through any shift.

Bob: Bartending with Miles Teller when he came to visit SpeakEZ on his trip to Grand Rapids.

Joey's Tavern

1125 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids

with Justin, Bartender

Dreaded drink order?

Long Island.

What do you love about Joey’s?

Working with a veteran staff that I have been working with for years (family).

Go-to beverage?

Miller Lite, shot of Jamo.

Other watering hole?

Anchor Bar.

Wild memories?

I once overheard what I thought was a couple turn out to be neighbors planning on cheating on their spouses, then proceed to ask me where the closest hotel was.

The Pyramid Scheme

68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

with Troy Coalter, Bartender, Emilee Idalski, Bartender & Danny Howard, Bartender

Dreaded drink order?

TC: A drink I dread making is a Superman shot just because it sounds gross. LMAO!

EI: Anything that starts with, “I don’t know, just make me something!” As beneficial as mindreading would be as a bartender, I’m trying to get you something you like, and promptly. I do not want to bomb and serve something that a customer thinks is gross. 

DH: Long Islands. The drink is easy, but the interaction? Usually not so much.

What do you love about your work?

TC: The unique or special thing about my job is my friends and coworkers. I’ve met and befriended some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, even started some bands with them.

EI: I love that in being a music venue we get to meet so many people from all around the world. I also love the fact that we are not only a fun local watering hole, but are involved in the community and host a number events that bring people together for a good cause. 

DH: The staff is probably the biggest, we have a really solid crew. Beyond that, working at a venue, there’s just a lot of exposure to new art or music or comedy I may not have known about before, and I think that’s cool.

Go-to beverage?

TC: I love a nice cold tequila sunrise with pineapple juice instead of OJ.

EI: My shining star is coffee. Always has been, always will be. It is the backbone of functionality after being in the service industry for nearly a decade.

DH: It was Rumplemintz for years, but recently I’ve switched to Crown Royale. I guess a Hendricks and Tonic if I’m drinking during the day.

Wildest memories?

TC: One wild thing that comes to mind is when the lead singer from Larry and His Flask got carried from the stage to the bar, did a shot while they held him up over the bar top, and then passed him all the way back to the stage where he continued to keep playing the song! It was a pretty cool moment!

EI: Honestly nothing surprises me much anymore. People will do anything and everything. Whatever just came to your mind, yeah, it probably has happened. 

DH: I don’t think I can tell those stories, but you see your fair share of weird stuff working downtown specifically, haha.