Keila Herrington, bartender since August at The Coronet, on 409 E. Ninth St., found bartending to be her passion after trying out a few different career paths.
The Daily Wildcat: How long have you been bartending?
Herrington: I would say probably about 13 or 14 years.
Have you bartended at other places besides here?
I started out in Chicago on the East Side of town. I started bartending out there, got really good at it, moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I started doing cocktail programs—started one of the cocktail programs when mixology first came on the scene. Then, I started working for a liquor distributing company as a mixologist. Then, I would go around and create cocktail programs for other restaurants out in Albuquerque and the entire state, actually. I started a bar program for a new restaurant that was opening and, from then on, just advanced in my career and my cocktail programs.
What made you want to become a bartender back when you were in Chicago?
Because I was in the medical field and I absolutely despised it. I actually kind of just fell into bartending. I had a friend who worked in a restaurant, so my first interview consisted of sitting down with this old, Jewish, New Yorker lady with a raspy voice who offered me a big glass of wine, and five minutes later, I had the job. I ended up managing her restaurants for her shortly thereafter, so I just kind of fell into the business.
Do you have a favorite drink to make?
I love to make them all, to be honest with you. I can tell you the drinks that I absolutely despise making. Anything blue and anything that doesn’t have character substance to it. Anything that’s filled with [high]-fructose corn syrup, let’s leave it at that. It’s the [high]-fructose corn syrup that I don’t like.
Do you like to experiment with new drinks or put ingredients that a customer gives you together?
Oh absolutely. If they leave it up to me, what I really like to do is ask them what type of style of cocktail that they like, what type of spirit that they like and then create something specifically to their taste. I love to do that.
What’s your favorite part of working here?
The love that goes behind every single thing that we put on the table for the customer. We take a lot of pride in our cocktails, and we take a lot of pride in our food, and we take a lot of pride in ourselves. ... We hold and keep the integrity in keeping this place a home for others. It’s really nice that we create an experience. As employees, we really love each other and that really shows when we bring it to the customers.
Do you have any memorable customers?
I just had some tonight. They charmed the hell out of me. They were just extremely charming. I think the types of clients that we have come in here are people that are just really enjoying themselves, so you don’t get treated like you’re the help. People actually look you in the eyes and want to hear your recommendations and have that conversation with you, so that’s nice.
What do you think is a common misconception about bartenders?
The biggest one is that bartending can’t be a career. One of the frustrating things that you get sometimes from customers—and you do take your job seriously as your profession—people will say, “Well, what else are you doing?” expecting you to go to school. I have friends that are in this industry and they now are making six figures—more than you would make with a degree. And that’s a misconception that, sadly, people have. I would like them to respect us more in our profession.
What can customers do to make your job more enjoyable?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your bartender. As the bartenders, we are the educators of it; we should know what’s behind us. If you get a bartender started talking about the history or the story behind a bottle, we dork out on those kinds of things. I love it. I can talk about alcohol all day.
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