Baristas, Bartenders and Bouncers: Rhythm Room's Mona Lisa

By Jonathan McNamara

Mona Lisa sits me down in the back at Rhythm Room amid a plethora of reserve booze and string lights and tells me about her hair. She’s a little bit self-conscious because it’s shorter than it’s ever been for her.

She proceeds to tell me how she heard about a Lochs of Love event that would give wigs to children suffering from leukemia and how it “pulled my heart strings.” She donated 11 inches and now wears a camo-patterned hat with “Mofro” stitched into the front.

“I have hair issues…short hair…long hair…and I have that luxury,” she said. “I donated my hair to someone who doesn’t have that luxury.”

And that’s the kind of bartender Mona Lisa is. Friendly, Attentive and extremely considerate of other human beings, whether they’re drinking cocktails or not.

Mona’s worked since she was 15, taking jobs based on potential enjoyment rather than pay increases or for the sake of scaling the ladder.

“I’ve never had a job that wasn’t fun, I mean why would you work somewhere that isn’t fun?”

She picked up a gig working for Rhythm Room while working at the Five and Diner. The Rhythm Room staff and band members would go their for post-gig grub and it didn’t take long for Mona to befriend them and start working as a door woman. She immediately developed a reputation for buying a T-shirt from every band to walk through the doors. That was twelve years ago.

“I live in a three bedroom townhouse and in every room, the closets are full of T-shirts.”

In her twelve years, Mona has amassed a collection of stories about drunken revelry and off-stage musicians showing their normalcy. I ask her to give me her best story and she blushes. She wouldn’t go on record with it, but she did tell it to me.

You’d blush too.

What she did share with me was a story about a fellow bartender named Elein who has a tendency to be a little dramatic.

One night a particularly plastered patron walks up to the bar and stands directly in front of the hinged bar door that allows the bartenders to go back and forth between the bar and main room. He stood there swaying back and forth a bit and not saying much of anything. Elein, Mona said, walked up to the gentleman and asked him what he wanted. He didn’t respond, but Elein felt something on her leg.

“He is peeing like he thinks he’s in the toilet!”

What did Elein do?

“She’s Ms. Dramatic so she screams ‘Oh my God That’s disgusting!’ and comes running back here to disinfect herself or whatever,” Mona said.

Mona gives me one more story about the famous session man Leon Russell who’s played with the likes of George Harrison, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones.

Russell, as the story goes, has been credited with the unique ability to tell in a few songs if a club has a good vibe or not. Apparently he dug Rhythm Room’s vibe so much that he played their several times.

Russell was a musician that kept to himself. He would walk to the stage to play his gig and immediately return to his tour bus when it was over. Any autographs he signed were done in private in his bus and then handed back to the fans via the rest of the band members.

It was after his eighth performance that Mona decided she’d earned the right to meet him. She had the bassist ask Russell if he’d be inclined to meeting her and moments later Mona was walking on to the bus.

“I walked up to him and said ‘I’m Mona Lisa the general manager here and you’ve been here so many times now, I feel like we’re family’ and he said ‘Good, can you loan me some money?’”

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