Behind the Bar: Mike Bunker, The Mission

When a girl came up to Mike Bunker, asking the question he most dreads when he's behind the bar, he gave her a drink he called "A Punch in the Head."

Funny, from a bartender who minored in Religious Studies in college.

The girl told him: "Make me whatever you want. Something strong but fruity." So Butler made one up. His drink, he said, tastes like fruit punch and it's so strong he has to limit his customers who order them to two or three.

A dangerous combination? Oh, yes. But we bet you want to try it.

Maybe it's that kind of on-the-spot creativity that made the judges at the Skyy Vodka Bar Chef competition at CANAL choose Bunker as their winner a few weeks ago...

Or maybe it was the sparklers he used to decorate one of his entries.

Bartender by night, and pro-golf hopeful by day, Bunker is a bartender whose drinks can be as dichotomous as his life: They deliver a kick with a sweet smile.

But this Titleist-wearing, Arizona every-guy is no "flairtender," Bunker claims. A self-proclaimed mixologist, Bunker is just not afraid of showing a little flair when it comes to concocting cocktails.

"As a bartender, you're used to the vodka tonics, you're used to the Mai Tais, you're used to Jack & Cokes. That's simple. That's the easy route," he said. But today, the range of new products behind his bar makes it impossible not to experiment.

"I mean, look at all the new products that are out there -- I have a ginger liqueur...there's lemon flavored rum, pineapple flavored vodka," he adds. "It screams invention; it's a new era."

A graduate of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale and Arizona State (communications major) Bunker started his future career doing what most of us did in high school just to make enough money to go to the movies once a week - working an after-school job in a restaurant. From food runner to server to bartender and now manager - so far, he's seen no reason to leave.

Bunker also bartends at Zinc Bistro and he was there for the opening of The Mission, when Chef Matt Carter and his business partner Terry Ellisor unveiled one of Old Town's only places for Mexican cuisine. With its dripping candles, lavish décor and glossy bar, sitting in the center of Valley night-life, The Mission offers the perfect spot for Bunker to keep inventing.

While working at Myst Night Club in Scottsdale for four straight years, earning his dues behind the bar, the realization hit him: He could make real money at this. Besides, Bunker liked the lifestyle. He could play golf every day and bartend every night.

"And I'm going to just ride this wave as long as I can," he says.

So, go ahead, ask him the dreaded question. He'll likely give you something that will knock you on your ass -- but it just might shimmer with a sparkler and taste as sweet as his smile. You won't even know what hit you.

Check back on Friday for Bunker's recipe for a strawberry-coconut mojito.