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Buffalo’s favorite bartenders create a home away from home

Tending good bar takes more than mixing a decent drink, particularly in a city that ranks #10 in the nation for bars per capita. Many of Buffalo’s favorite bartenders are so popular because of their ability to make you feel at home from the very first time you walk in; an elusive skill that can make or break a bar experience. From the entertaining trivia night at Founding Fathers to the finely curated craft beer selection at Cole’s, Buffalo’s talented bartenders help create uniquely comfortable escapes (and loyal customers). Here are interviews with some of our favorites.

Mike Driscoll, owner of Founding Fathers Pub, runs the bar’s trivia night for 70+ people on the first Tuesday of the month and always has a history question up his sleeve.

How long have you been a bartender?

Total — 39 years. Unbelievable. I opened Founding Fathers 28 years ago. I was a Social Studies teacher and I took some of the pictures I bought on field trips to the Smithsonian and Boston. I had an apartment full of this stuff and it got a little cluttered, so I said it’s time to open a bar. I bought the building and brought in all my collected photos and since then I’ve added quite a few.

Who’s the most famous person you ever served?

Tim Russert, a personal friend since high school, was a customer here. Ani DiFranco, Jim Kelly, Frankie Avalon, James Caan and James Whitmore have also stopped by.

What’s the most popular drink at your bar right now?

A lot of people order the Long Island Iced Tea. Retro drinks are popular. Muddled Old Fashions are making a comeback along with Whiskey Sours, Manhattans, and Tom Collins. The hot shot is the Fireball and we have something called Rumchata. They’re on the mild side.

Do you have a signature drink?

A lot of people ask for the Christmas drink. Canisius College guys invented it and it’s ordered year-round.  It’s made with butterscotch schnapps, Baileys and Goldschlager.

Your building has a lot of history. Does anything weird ever happen?

We’ve had two ghost sightings in the ladies room. In both cases a woman saw a woman wearing red standing behind her in the mirror and turned to look and there was nobody there. The building goes back to 1874. I keep looking for the money in the walls, but I haven’t found any yet. I haven’t found any dead bodies either.

Do you have any wisdom for new bartenders?

I’ve probably trained over a dozen bartenders and the one thing I tell them is try to spend 100 percent of your time with your customers. Leave everything else for before or after your shift.

Dan Brinkworth has manned the weekend bar at Cole’s for the last six years. He’s been on the Buffalo bartending scene for 16 years, with former stints at Colter Bay (eight years) and Mulligan’s Brick Bar (two years). He likes that his hours allow him to spend time with his family, including three young children.

Who’s the most famous person you ever served?

Jerry Garcia, during the Allentown Art Festival. He ordered a Budweiser. I think the Grateful Dead was playing Rich Stadium the next day. He came strolling into Mulligan’s in the middle of the day. I looked down at his fingers and I knew for sure.

What is the most popular drink at your bar right now?

Craft beers at Cole’s are always popular. Cole’s really started the craft beer revolution in Buffalo. As for cocktails, anything with St. Germaine, which is elderberry liqueur. I like to call it ‘bartender’s ketchup’ — it goes well with everything and makes everything taste good.

Do you have a signature drink?

Yeah, a Bud light with a shot of Tullamore Dew whiskey.

What do you like most about your job?

I used to hate going into bars and not having anywhere to move. As a bartender, I can enjoy being out, and I have all kinds of room behind the bar. The freedom I get from the hours I work isn’t bad either.

Worst bar patron etiquette?

When someone waves at you down the bar to get your attention. When that happens I’ll usually walk to the end of the bar, give them a high five, and walk back to where I was.

The other thing is when someone calls you “Bro” or “Yo.” One of the things we say at Cole’s is “Don’t Bro me if you don’t know me.”

What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened when you’re on duty?

One of them is something I see at Cole’s on a fairly regular basis, and that’s when (at a certain hour) people will get up on the bar and literally swing from the rafters. That’s often followed up by a ride on the carousel horses that separate the bar from the dining room.

One other thing happened years ago, when an off-duty policeman at Mulligan’s was so inebriated he took out his gun and started shooting at the elephant head mounted behind the bar. If you look closely enough, you can still see the bullet holes today.

Patrick Hoover, a bartender at Black Rock Kitchen and Bar, has been serving drinks for less than two years, but his friendly banter keeps people coming back.

How did you get started?

I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 16. I worked up from dishwasher at different places and met some good people. They gave me a chance at Black Rock. I was bar-backing and then they let me start making drinks. My boss, Marcus, taught me everything. It was pretty cool.

What do you enjoy most about being a bartender?

The people I meet and the fact that I go to work and there’s something new every day. No shift is ever the same. There’s also something about being a bartender…there’s a power that you have. You’re in control of the fun.

What’s the most popular drink at your bar right now?

It’s hard to say. We have a little bit of everything. Any of the martinis or cocktails are big sellers.

What’s your signature drink?

I’m still new so I really don’t have a signature drink, but I’m told I made pretty good Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. I really like making Old Fashioneds. That’s what I drink. My grandfather always made them growing up, so I’d always be around bourbon. It just makes sense to me. It’s nice. It’s a drink you sip.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?

That’s a really hard question. There’s a fine line that you don’t want to cross, and I’m still not completely comfortable with that yet. I give out music advice about what shows are good coming into town. I do know a lot of other bars and bartenders, so I can help people when they’re looking for another place to go after dinner for a certain vibe.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened on duty?

There’s just a lot of random drunk shenanigans like people falling out of chairs. I know it seems kind of common, but each fall is different. It could be like a drunk tumble or the chair falling. It’s simple, but it’s really funny to me.

Jeff Bork, bar manager of Left Bank, is very close to some of his regulars and even exchanges souvenirs with them
after big trips.

How long have you been a bartender?

Over 20 years. I got started at Flying Tigers and just gravitated to bartending. I’ve been at Left Bank for 14 years. I was there part-time for a while and then I started managing the bar for the last 6 or 7 years.

Who’s the most famous person you ever served?

David Sedaris stopped in for a late dinner with a group after hours and we kept the restaurant open a little late. Usually when people are in a production that’s in town, that’s when they occasionally wind up at Left Bank. Betty Buckley was doing a Broadway show at Shea’s and she stopped by. When I worked at Flying Tigers, Jerry Seinfeld came in. He was a really nice guy.

What’s the most popular drink at your bar right now?

We do an equal amount of beer, cocktails and wine. It’s not odd, but it’s very cool that I’m able to be a part of all three. A lot of times a bar will be like a shot or beer bar or like Vera pizza, which does high end cocktails, but we sell an equal amount of beer, wine and liquor. Cosmos are still big, wine is cyclical, Moscato is big, we go through a lot of Pinot Noir and Malbec. People are really getting into complex drinks and flavored martinis now.

What’s the worst bar patron etiquette?

I try to greet everyone when they come in, so I would say that my least favorite thing is when someone orders a drink immediately and doesn’t even respond to common courtesy. A lack of response of common courtesy would be my least favorite customer. Please and thank you are a really big thing for me. Instead of asking questions, people make statements. Instead of “may I please have a vodka tonic?” I’ll get a lot of “I’ll have a vodka tonic.”

What’s your signature drink?

I have a group of ladies who come in and get lemon drop martinis. A local publication did a piece and the peach martini came up in that, so I have a lot of people stop in and ask for that.

Do you have a dreaded drink order?

It’s my job to make drinks. I don’t have to drink them, I just have to make them. Mojitos are kind of a pain in the butt. My least favorite drink to make would be a mojito in January. It’s just kind of silly. It’s hard to keep mint on hand in the winter.

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