Matt Slenske at American Junkie
The tender: Matt Slenske
The bar: American Junkie (4364 N. 75th St., 480-990-3000)
The pedigree: Slenske got his start at Devil House, his local hangout during college. Since then he's tended bar at Sanctuary (now Mist) and Acme as well as Loco Patron, where he spent four years before American Junkie's owner recruited him as bar manager in November 2008.
How did you get your first bartending job?
Devil House was right by the campus, so I would just go there between classes and hang out. I saw the bartenders, how much fun they were having and how much they were making, and decided I wanted to do that. So I was just going there and working for free, and I guess they felt bad for me because they finally gave me a job. I wanted to learn and wanted to work there, so it worked out well.
Do you miss working at any of the places you used to bartend for?
I miss Loco, and Devil House was like my stomping grounds. But I love this place, too. It's like a family here.
It seems like most of the bartenders in this town know each other in one way or another. Do you all get together a lot?
It's interesting, because our weekends start on Monday and go until Tuesday. Our workweeks usually don't start until Wednesday and go to Sunday. It's hard, because we have so many people to see. You kind of have an interval of time you have to spend visiting each person who's working. I have friends at Smash Box, Mint, Loco, and you have to stop in for an hour or so to see each of them. Everybody in town is kind of recycled.
What's your favorite thing about working at Junkie?
The people I work with. The people who manage with me -- we all work as a team. I also like the layout of it. It's kind of homey, almost like a house party. We also do different event here that other people just don't do. We get bands to come play, we'll bring in big names -- we had Bam Margera here a while ago; we had the Roots here last year. We do a lot of costume parties. It's always something different. The birthdays here are always wild. If it's an employee's birthday, they know it's coming to them at the end of the night. We have a cake, and we smash their face in the cake, sometimes we'll cover them with whipped cream, sometimes we flour them. Our theme parties in general are pretty fun. It's like Halloween any time of the year. We'll do crazy stuff -- during last year's Oktoberfest, we had a pie-eating contest, and another time we did a wing-eating contest.
Was it always the plan to be a bartender?
No, not really. I liked how much fun it was, the pay was great, but you don't want to get stuck just bartending. Eventually, you want to move up the chain from barback to bartender, bartender to management, management to GM, being an investor, owning your own place. That's the path I'm on.
So you want to own your own place eventually. What kind of bar will it be?
Something low-key. I wouldn't mind doing some kind of lounge or nightclub. I'd start smaller with it, not get too crazy. It takes a lot of manpower to keep a place up and running, a lot of dedication. You can kind of train yourself to work these crazy shifts and be here from open to close.
What's your least favorite thing about the job?
Going to bed at 5 a.m., especially after a long night. But I'm so used to it now, I've basically become nocturnal. My schedule is probably like your schedule, but reversed. You get up at 8 and go until 5; I get up at 5 and go until 5 in the morning.
What's something people would be surprised to find out about you?
That's hard -- it's a small big town, and everybody kind of knows everything about everybody. I guess people wouldn't know that I'm born and raised here. I studied marketing in college -- oh yeah, I have a college degree! I went to school for marketing. Now I market alcohol.
What do you drink when you're out?
I'm not kind of guy who sends something back. It depends on the night, but I'm more of a vodka soda and two limes kind of guy. I'll occasionally go out for the super crafty cocktails and craft beer. But I'm usually holding a vodka soda.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Maybe Will Ferrel, maybe Jimmy Fallon. I think that would be a fun night. I don't know what we'd have -- I'd leave it up to them.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.