Behind the Bar: Darlene "Dar" Bieling at the Swizzle Inn

Dar is a class act.

She never forgets your drink and is as pleasant as can be. She's a top notch bartender, and is atrociously gorgeous.

This isn't how Darlene (or "Dar" as she's more commonly known) Bieling describes herself, nor is it my own personal judgment upon meeting her for the first time. The lavish praise comes from the customers as well as the owners seated at the Swizzle Inn, a charming, old-fashioned neighborhood bar in Phoenix. Entirely unprovoked (several regulars pulled me aside mid-photograph), the clientele could not contain its adulation for the infallible Dar.

Owner Beth Johnson even pulled a Kanye to let me know how strongly she felt about her most senior bartender.

"I'm gonna let you finish the interview... but she's... she's my mushroom."

I'm pretty sure that's a good thing.

Despite all the fuss over her on this particular occasion, Dar is exceedingly modest. Not quite sure how to respond to her boss's heartfelt praise, she is keenly aware of her own sunny disposition behind the bar.

"You have to be friendly and that's what I do," she says. "I walk into the bar and my attitude is great, and it has to be until two in the morning. After that, you're on your own."

Dar chalks some of her positive attitude up to bartending just two nights a week (Thursdays and Fridays) so she won't get burnt out. She spends her daylight hours as a baker for Costco and occasionally still dabbles in the cleaning business she started in Scottsdale 26 years ago.

But what really keeps Dar's dedication to the Swizzle Inn is the bar's diverse, amiable clientele and cozy atmosphere. New faces quickly become regulars, and some customers have frequented the neighborhood hideaway since it opened as the Starlight Lounge in 1976. Dar points out one such couple, Carl and Doris, sitting at the bar as we speak.

Earlier this month, one of the Swizzle's longtime regulars passed away. Mary Lou was a 92-year-old jazz and blues singer who always sat in the same seat and always made the same, albeit strange, drink order. As Dar recalls, a Mary Lou night was never a dull occasion.

"You sit by Mary Lou and next thing you know it's 'Dar! Get my album out!' She gets her album and shows everyone."

She'd always order a "pitcher of beer, pitcher of ice, lemons and a stack of napkins," Dar adds. "At 92, you can have whatever you want."

The staff held a memorial for Mary Lou at the Swizzle Inn last Saturday.

With Dar in charge, everyone at the bar seems to be having whatever they want. She pours a stiff drink, and the Swizzle Inn's prices are several dollars lower than anywhere else in the Valley, even for top shelf liquors (check back tomorrow for the recipe to the Swizzle Inn's signature $2 shot!).

With its low-key atmosphere and the cheapest drinks in town, you might think the Swizzle Inn is a breeding ground for the worst kinds of riffraff, but Dar assures it's just the opposite.

The motto at the Swizzle Inn is: "If we wouldn't want them in our backyard, we wouldn't want them in here."

Backyard is a fitting metaphor for the Swizzle, where neighbors and friends gather, the owners cook food 4-5 nights a week (for free!), and the staff decorates for every holiday. They also watch out for each other and the bar, so any riffraff that does stumble in won't be staying for long.

Dar tended three other bars before landing at the Swizzle Inn (where "filling in" snowballed into a four-year gig), but now she has little interest in continuing to bartend if it's anywhere else.

"Everyone knows each other here, everyone's friendly and the money's great. I can't leave it," she says.

Good thing. Just imagine how upset the customers would be if she did.