Noah Heaney: Show up early
In this interview, Noah Heaney, Big Red F beverage purchasing agent and bartender at Boulder's Bitter Bar, weighs in on the business card takeaway, the most unconventional thank you he's ever received and the places he finds a great experience, no matter who's behind the bar.
courtesy of Noah Heaney
Westword: How long have you been a bartender? What made you get into the profession?
Noah Heaney: I've been working in restaurants since I was a kid, including McDonalds at age fifteen in the small town where I grew up. When I moved to Minneapolis fifteen years ago, I valeted for a couple of years at the Minneapolis Cafe, and it was a really hip spot. I enjoyed the space, and I thought it was fun. So I got a job bussing, serving and expediting, and then I busted my bar manager enough that he let me get behind the bar. To even think about getting a position with him, I had to answer tests. Stuff like what goes into a Long Island iced tea? Cocktail programs weren't what they are now. It was a cool spot, and it was an attraction for a 21-year-old that was looking from the outside in.
I lived there for years working in different restaurants, including La Belle Vie, a beautiful, Michelin-starred restaurant. When I decided it was time to get out of that city, I visited a friend in Milwaukee. We were hanging out in a restaurant, and they mentioned that they needed a GM. Most of my experience was in management, and two days later, I got the job. I packed up and moved to Milwaukee. There were a lot of good things and bad things, but after two years, I didn't want to spend any more time there.
A good friend of mine was the GM of the Oceanaire, so one weekend, I called him up and said, "I'm coming out." We went to the mountains and went skiing, and I really loved it. He introduced me to Sean Kenyon, who was very responsive -- he introduced me to five job opportunities that weekend. I went back to Milwaukee and turned in my notice. I drove out here without a job on a whim.
Because of those connections, I was lucky enough to have a couple of opportunities right away. I worked at Colt & Gray for awhile, and I secured a position behind the stick at Bitter Bar, and I've been there for two years.
Bartending rule to live by: Show up early. I think it's easy to get caught up in the in-times and out-times of your position. Like, if I'm scheduled at 3, I punch in at 2:58, do my job and punch out. A passionate bartender shows up early and makes sure his mise en place is set up ten minutes before the doors open so he can make sure the guest has the best time possible. If you're breaking down the bar, set it up for success for the next day. That way the other bartenders can get right to work making drinks for the guest who just put in a ten-hour shift at the office.
Five words to describe your drink list: Because of my position, I spend a lot of time making other people's cocktails right now, so I'm not sure how to answer that.
How about when you're creating a drink for someone? Listen to the guest. And seasonal.