Originally from Baldur, now-24-year-old Alyssa Desrochers studied hospitality and tourism in Brandon and then moved to the interior of B.C. to work for a few years. She returned to town and worked at The 40, then landed a bartending gig at The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. After a year and a half there, she returned to the Wheat City, and is now studying business, and is bartending at Remington’s in The Town Centre. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
You’ve been a full-time bartender for the past four years?
Four or five years, bouncing between bartending, serving, managing all of the above dealing with the hassles of everything, really. And I’ve learned how to handle all kinds of situations. I’ve bartended in the city — I’ve bartended at Canad Inns, the Victoria Inn, and Remington’s. I’m at Remington’s now — I’ve been there since June.
Oh! Only at Remington’s for about four months, then.
Yes, I was part of (owner) Ben’s (Hernandez’s) new crew.
What’s your favourite drink to make?
I enjoy — always have, always will — making a Caesar. But otherwise, I make a mean Bellini.
I’m thinking the stereotypical bartender is still a guy…
Always has been, always will be. Most people still don’t like talking to the girl bartender. But when they start talking, they don’t tend to stop. And they like to go right into the sexist jokes — of course! They make the sleazy jokes with the guy bartender and then try to pick up the girl bartender.
Have you compared notes with male bartenders?
They have it easy because they’re not being hit on all day! But that’s where I make a little bit more money than probably they do in tips.
What’s the ratio of female bartenders to male, would you say?
It depends if you’re talking lounge or bar. Lounge, most times it is a girl bartender you’ll come across. But if it’s a bigger, larger scale, it’ll be mostly males.
And you’ve noticed a difference between the way customers treat male bartenders and female ones?
Absolutely. I feel that if you get a disgruntled guest, one who’s a little drunk and a little upset, he’s going to take it out harder on the girl rather than on the male because he thinks he can take advantage of the situation with the girl bartender and be the alpha male.
Tell me about the good parts of your job.
The good part is meeting the nice people — meeting the people with the best stories, meeting the people who tell you about the time they met Oprah. The people who come in and have just gotten a haircut, and you say, "Oh, your hair looks really great — you look so nice!" So then they’re just enjoying their day and enjoying the compliments. When you can have just a conversation with a complete stranger and go on for hours and become a best friend to them, it’s great.
Would chatting with the patrons almost be considered part of the job description?
It is TOTALLY the job description. At the end of the day, it’s all doing PR for the establishment you’re working at. It’s so much more than mixing drinks. Because you want people to sit up at your bar — you want people to keep you company all night. Because if you don’t have those people coming in, you are cleaning. And cleaning is probably the worst job ever. And if you’re talking to customers, you’re busy.
Do people always open up to bartenders?
Well, it depends on the person. I have the personality where I can get almost anybody to open up to me. But it all depends on who’s coming in and who you’re actually communicating and interacting with. Sometimes some people won’t give you any of their attention and others will give you all of it.
It all depends on YOUR attitude, really, whether you’re going to get somebody to talk to you or not.
And you want them to talk to you, right?
I WANT them to talk to me. I love when people talk to me.
Do most bartenders want folks to talk to them, do you think?
I think they’d be in the wrong profession if they weren’t into people sitting up at their bar and laughing and joking and doing all of those things. If you get a grumpy bartender, you’re not going to have fun for very long. And you’re not going to stay.
So the people who sit up at the bar, do they talk to you about anything and everything?
Well, right now at Remington’s, the common topic is Ben being back. So we’re getting former customers who hadn’t been in for awhile, they’re coming in and sharing their stories of their good memories of what Remington’s used to be like and how delighted they are to have Ben back.
Just on a general note, though, do people usually strike up a conversation with you, or do you start things off?
I’m usually, "Hey, how’s it going? How was your day?" I always open up friendly. Because I want them talking to me, I want them to get to know me — I want them to come back. And if they know me, they’re going to come back. If they like me, they’ll come back. It’s all in how much money you want to make while working, and how much fun you want to have. And the busier the night is, the faster the time goes.
If people come in and share stuff, is it usually of a personal nature?
Sometimes. It honestly depends on their emotions. I’ve seen a lot of people get very emotional when they start drinking, and they will start to share everything. Like I’ve seen relationship spats right in front of my bar. I’ve heard people say how much they love each other, and go to the other extreme, all the way to where they’re walking out and I have to avert my eyes! When alcohol is involved, we all know all bets are off and anything can happen.
Do people who are by themselves share their life stories or look for someone to commiserate?
I remember one guy who used to come in and tell me about his family. He was welding here and he’d tell me about his wife and his kids — he was from Ontario — he only had time for a couple of beers after work and he’d visit with me. And he’d tell me about how long he’d been in the industry, he’d tell me that I could become a welder if I wanted to, and more women should be welders because they have steadier hands than men, and they’re more patient.
A lot of people become regulars because they’re living out of a hotel. And they know your schedule so if you’re not there one night, they’ll tell you, "I missed you."
Is it usually happy things or sad things people talk about?
I usually bring out the happy in people. I usually try to keep them away from the sad. That’s my personality. I don’t like people to get down, especially when they’re drinking, because I’m clearly not taking them home or taking care of them. I just call the cabs and make sure nobody drives. That’s my biggest thing — there’s no drinking and driving. Always call a cab. So if they do get onto a sad subject, I try to veer them away and get them talking about something happy or exciting or new to them.
Do a lot of people just feel the need to talk?
Yeah — absolutely! It’s all about somebody to comfort you when you don’t have anybody else. And that’s kind of our job, is to make you feel you’re at home, make you feel like you’re in your basement, having a beer, watching the game. Well, that’s what I’m going to do for you — I’m going to make sure you’re going to have a good time, drinking your beer, watching the game.
Are there any creepy or weird or quirky stories you’ve heard?
I don’t really have any of those stories. I’ve definitely met people in my job that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve met Alec Baldwin, I’ve met Fran Drescher, I’ve met Kelsey Grammer — that was at the Fairmont Banff Springs when I was bartending there for Celebrity Ski.
Why did you leave the Fairmont? That sounds like a pretty cool job.
I was out there for a year and a half. But it’s a heavy lifestyle. Keeping up with the lifestyle of Banff is like living in Neverland. There’s a lot of partying. And I was living in staff accommodation, so my bills were already covered. As long as I showed up for my shift, I had a place to live. So it was a heavy lifestyle. It was fun for awhile, until you realize you’ve been in Neverland for a year and a half and it’s time to come home.
So what’s the hardest thing about being a bartender?
It’s when you don’t feel like being ‘on.’ Because it is a performance — you are on a stage, you are projecting PR for not only yourself, but for the restaurant. And you are ‘on’ the entire time you’re there. And especially if everyone’s up at your bar, you don’t get a second to change your face or rearrange it, because you’re on point — always. You have to be.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 29, 2012