For fans or tacos, tequila and all things Mexico, the knowledge that Cinco de Mayo comes but once a year is depressing. Luckily all the joy of the annual fiesta can be found year-round at Loco Patron (4228 N. Scottsdale Road, 480-874-0033), the popular cantina tucked in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. Mixing up the margaritas for business professionals and college kids alike is Nate Kolasa. You've probably seen him before: tall, dark and tattooed, he's been manning Loco Patron's bar for nearly five years, and is as much a part of the bar's ambiance as salsa and sombreros.
How did you get into bartending?
I had been a waiter pretty much since the age of 16. When I was 20, one of the owners of Loco Patron called me when I was at my other job and pretty much just told me, "Come in for orientation, you start in October." That was six years ago. I was a waiter here for a while, but I just moved up, helping other bartenders, things like that.
Sounds like you had an in. How did the owner know you?
He didn't, actually. He called the wrong person. Somebody came in and interviewed for the job and the owner lost the application because they were building the restaurant at the time. When he tried to call up the guy who had brought in the application, he misdialed and ended up calling me instead of the other dude. I got a call while I was sitting out at the bar I worked at out in Gilbert cleaning silverware, and he was like, "Orientation starts tomorrow." I didn't know who it was or what it was all about. I just showed up anyway. Out there was pretty slow, so I figured I'd give this a shot.
Didn't anyone realize the mistake when you came in?
Yeah, they all kept looking at me weird. But pretty soon they were just like, whatever. If the kid showed up, he probably really wants to work here. So they just hired me! Ever since then we've been good friends all the way through
What's the best part of being a bartender?
Everyone's really outgoing when you're behind the bar. It's easy to get to know your customers. If it's slow you can talk to them, tend to their needs -- you can kind of become their friend. I get a lot of regulars who'll come and see me on my shifts because I've been working here for a while and I've gotten to know them. We trade stories back and forth. It's the personal aspect, the ability to make lots of friends. Everyone loves the bartender!
Are you trained in mixology?
When I started, I didn't know anything. I pretty much just learned as I went. Obviously, seeing what people like and seeing what I can mix in to make them like it more helped. Working here, you also get a pretty deep knowledge of margarita recipes, so making those built up my knowledge as well.
What's the worst thing anout being a bartender?
The long hours. Getting out of work at 4 a.m. and trying to be productive that day is kind of tough, especially if you're working a lot of shifts in a row. But there's really not much to dislike. It's a fun job in a good atmosphere and you make decent money. I can't complain.
You've been voted the best bartender in the valley a couple times. Why do people like you so much?
I'm friendly. I work all the major shifts when people go out. I work the major busy nights when we have the most people, I throw people a free shot every now and then, just stuff like that.
If someone comes in and says they don't know what they want, how do you go about making a drink for them?
I'll start by asking them what kind of liquor they want the drink based on -- vodka, tequila whatever. Then I'll ask if they like it sweet or sour or whatever. I'll throw something together for them to try and if they like it I'll stick with those kinds of flavor combinations. If they don't we switch liquors and try it again. It's fairly easy to feel them out.
What do you drink when you go out?
Just vodka usually, straight up. Or I'll ask for the drinks I like to make: root beer vodka shots with a coke back or Mango Decks. I like Bud Light if I'm not going for hard alcohol. A lot of industry people come here because it's a fun bar, and I've been working here for a while so a lot of us know each other. They pretty much know what I want when I go out.
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Say it's a busy weekend night. What are the major things a customer can do to get on your good side?
Just come up, don't be rude or scream, and wait for me to serve you. Have your order ready and order quickly. That always sticks in my head, and when you come back up I'll know that I can take care of you immediately and then move on to other customers. You can see pretty much everyone when you're working up here, so if that person is sitting and waiting patiently rather than waving his arms around, you know you're going to help him next. Be calm and know what you want.
Is there any bartending tool you couldn't live without?
My bar key, to open up beer bottles. It opens bottles a lot faster than your average opener. We do a lot of Mexican bottles here, so it would be a disaster if you had to waste time opening bottles all night long.
Any tips for aspiring bartenders?
Just be friendly and get to know as many people as you can. In order to get hired at bars, you have to be able to bring people in. You're there to help the sales. Be nice to people when you're out -- whenever I come in, I stop and say hi to everyone on my way to the bar. If you get your own regulars, it makes the bar look busier when you work your shifts and more people are encouraged to come in.
Kolasa will be back tomorrow with a tasty drink recipe.