It's easy to see why Steve Howard of Murphy's Law in Chandler is a popular bartender. The handsome 25-year-old is extremely charming, doing tricks behind the bar and letting customers name drinks he makes for them. And he's had plenty of time to build up a steady clientele--he's been in the industry for more than 5 years, having previously worked at the now-closed Bamboo Club in Tempe.
Howard is such a hit with his staff that his managers don't even mind when he breaks glasses while flipping them in the air. While he has plans to go back to school, his skills behind the bar have allowed him to make bartending a full-time job for now, and he let us in on some of his experiences as a bartender.
What makes you a great bartender? I'm a stickler when it comes to bartending, and when it comes to a good bartender, I think there are 1,000 different things that go into it. You need to be fast, you need to be efficient, you need to be a great multi-tasker, you need to be good with people and be able to talk to anyone, regardless of their personality.
What's the hardest part about bartending? My hands are wet the entire time I'm working because you're constantly washing glasses. I've probably cut my hands on broken glass about 75 times in the last 5 years.
How do you take care of your cuts? Superglue is how I've always fixed all my cuts. I've had some bad cuts they may have required stitches, but obviously, you have to keep working, you can't just go home. You put superglue on it, close it up, wrap it up and put a Band-Aid on there or a latex glove. You leave everything closed up and let it dry, and 2 days later, you peel it off, and it's just as good as stitching.
Who's been your rudest customer? It's the people I think have never worked in the industry before and don't understand the industry and are very demanding and think they're the only people in the room, even though you're one bartender taking care of 80 people at once.
What kinds of tricks can you do behind the bar? I can flip bottles behind my back or in my hand. If I get someone water, I'll flip the lemon up and catch it in the glass. The other night, I came into work, and I was here for 15 seconds and flipped a Guiness glass in the air. I missed it, and it hit the ground and shattered. My owner and all the managers were having a meeting at the table nearby. I did it again to redeem myself, and I missed it again.
What's the best drink you've created? I usually let the customer name it, and recently I had one that I made that's blue and has Bacardi Dragonberry rum, peach schnapps and sweet and sour, and then you shake it, pour it and add Blue Curacao. The guy named it Papa Smurf. What's your favorite drink? I like beer. Smithwick's is probably my favorite beer. It's a dark Irish ale that's got a lot of flavor. It's not dark and thick like a Guinness, it's easier to drink like any of your domestic beers. It's really smooth and has more flavor than any other beer. As far as drinks go, I'll drink Seven and Seven or vodka Red Bull's.
What's your least favorite drink to make? Mojitos, and I think I speak for 95 percent of bartenders out there. They take so long, and they're just annoying because once you make a couple like that, people see them, and then everybody wants one. I used to have to make 500 mojitos a week at my old bar.
What's your least favorite drink to drink? Tequila. I don't know what it is. I think it's the smell.
What drink wouldn't you be caught dead drinking? An Old Fashioned. To me, it's disgusting. It's an old-school drink, and the combination of all the stuff that's in it (whiskey, sugar, oranges, cherries, bitters, sweet vermouth) is disgusting. I can't take one sip of it.
What was your worst hangover experience? Lucky for me, I'm Irish, and I don't know if that has something to do with me not getting hangovers. I drink a lot of water when I drink, but I would say the second night I ever drank, I mixed chocolate-flavored liqueur, vanilla vodka and Bailey's with hot chocolate. It was good, but I was drinking Sex on the Beach's and straight shots of other stuff. It was probably the most weird combination of things I've ever had, and the next day was just brutal.
What would you recommend for hangovers? Bloody Mary's. Tomato juice in general. SpaghettiO's, pasta. Anything with tomato juice or tomato paste is a good hangover cure. Some people think bitters and ginger ale or bitters and Sprite.
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What cocktail trends do you see becoming popular? Bubblegum vodka. When Three Olives Bubblegum vodka came out, it was like the be-all, end-all. Everyone had to have it. We went through 10 bottles a week of bubblegum vodka. It's died out now, but that's the most recent one. The LeBomb James is becoming popular, too. You take sugar packets and put them in your hands, and you just do a bomb, but before you do it, you toss the sugar in the air before you do your shot. It's fun to clean up.
Who's the weirdest customer you've ever had? There was a guy at my old bar who would come in, and his name was Mike. Luckily, I got warned about him by the bartender who trained me. He would come in and order two Skinny Bitch's (vodka and Diet Coke). He would call it a Skinny Bitch, and if you didn't know what it meant, he would get up and walk out. If you did know, and you made it for him, he would leave you $50. They were $4 each, so you'd make a $42 tip every single time, and he'd come in three times a week. He was weird, he'd just sit there, wouldn't talk to anyone and just leave.
What's the weirdest customer request you've ever gotten? I had a customer complain once about food. There was an orange peel on their plate, and they said they didn't want any vegetables. I was like, 'Well, that's an orange, it's not a vegetable, it's a fruit.' And she said, 'I thought it was a lemon.' She was serious. Drink-wise, the one I'm most surprised about is when people want milk in drinks that make no sense to me.
What advice do you have for people who make cocktails at home? If you're going to do shots, get a lot of different liqueurs and cordials. You want to have peach schnapps, triple sec and some Puckers always go good with everything, so as long as you have some rum and vodka and juices, you can make a million different types of shots.
What's the grossest drink you've ever tried? A Cement Mixer, which is whiskey and lime juice. It starts to curdle automatically and solidifies, so while you're drinking, you can feel it get hard in your mouth. It's not necessarily the worst-tasting thing, but the texture is horrible.