Gummy Bears. Gatorade. Pancakes and orange juice. Aside from being arguably the best breakfast ever, these are just a small sampling of the arsenal of food-reminiscent cocktails Jason Lyons has at his disposal.
A fixture at Mill Avenue's Big Bang Dueling Piano Bar (501 S. Mill Ave., 480-557-5595) for nearly five years, the stout Yankee says he has a lot of downtime to experiment and invent new and interesting drinks. At a bar overrun nightly with new 21-year-olds and bachelorettes, it's probably an important skill to have.
How did you end up at the Big Bang?
I've worked at the Big Bang for five years, almost. I got a job here the fourth day after I moved to Tempe. Randomly, I was watching the USC-Notre Dame game -- the Reggie Bush push -- next door. I'm a big Notre Dame fan, so I had a good buzz going. I walked downstairs and saw the big red finger. The assistant manager poked his head out the door and I asked if they were hiring. He said, "Oh! We're taking interviews right now!" So I just walked in, and the rest is the rest.
How do you like it?
Oh, I like it; I don't want a real job! That's why I'm 28 and still in school!
What are you studying?
Depends on the semester. I've been on and off. Technically, I've been off for about two semesters, so I don't know if I can technically say I'm in school. But I am going back in the fall.
You're from New York. Do you miss it at all?
I miss seasons changing, but I don't miss the weather. I blew my knee out seven and a half years ago, so I can't ski or snowboard, so snow isn't fun anymore. And I'm too old to throw snowballs. I miss the people. All my family is back there, and I have a big family. They're Catholic; they hump a lot.
What's the crowd like at the Big Bang?
It's older than you would think. The average age is probably 28 to 30. Once it hits midnight, the kids come out and it's younger then. Generally you won't see a lot of young or underage kids here. Our door guys are really hard on that. We take more IDs than the rest of Mill Ave. combined.
You have any stories of crazy customers?
The funniest thing I've ever seen in this place had to have been about four years ago. I was doing security, it was graduation weekend and we had an old woman -- she had to have been 85-plus, with a walker -- walk all the way down, get up on stage and said she wanted to give one of our piano players a kiss. He says OK. So she grabs him, turns his head and kisses him right on the lips.
What's the worst thing about bartending?
It's hard to match up hours with people with regular jobs and regular lives. My girlfriend and I are on opposite schedules. She's pretty good with it, but she's in nursing school, has a day job, and its sucks because we work opposite hours. So that's hard. And just in general to keep up with your friends who have real jobs. That's probably the biggest negative.
What's your opinion on tips?
I think what we do is a lot harder than people give credit for, because they're envious toward tips. A lot of times, especially if somebody has a $60-80 thousand degree and makes two-thirds the amount of money a bartender does, sometimes that rubs them wrong. At the same time, we're overpaid for what we do. I'm not curing cancer.
But it's still hard work, right?
Yeah. You get tired physically and mentally. I've worked a lot of jobs in life. I've worked on a farm when I was little; I've done construction; I've worked in retail. I'd have to say this is probably the most fun job I've had -- better than construction in Arizona. But it is still work.
You did construction? Is it as shitty as it seems?
Construction in the summer? Yeah, it is.
The Big Bang is a musical bar. What song would be you happy to never hear again?
Sweet Caroline. I'm from Saratoga, New York, and I hate the Red Sox, and that song's like the Red Sox national anthem. Hearing the whole crowd sing "Bah, bah, bah..." it just goes against a lot of things I was brought up with.
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SHOW ME HOW
Are you a music fan?
Oh yeah. I don't think I would've lasted here for five years if I didn't mind listening to the same stuff over and over. Generally, we get a lot of the same song requests, mostly on a Friday or Saturday. You hear Journey 11 times a night.
What kind of drinks are your specialty?
I make more sweet drinks than anything else, because that's what our business is: bachelorette parties and birthdays. We sometimes get five to seven 21st birthday celebrations in here per night. I've counted up to 12 in one night.
How about the bachelorette parties?
It's cool. I don't know. You get a lot of screeching, yelling women together at one time. If you think the music's loud, you should hear these girls.
If there was a drink named after you, what would be in it?
Jameson, a splash of amaretto, and ginger ale.