Tyler King is one tough-looking hombre.
Sporting a tee shirt for notorious New Jersey hardcore band Shattered Realm and innumerable tattoos covering his burly frame from head to toe, the 38-year-old bartender at Jugheads looks like someone you'd wouldn't wanna challenge to a fight.
Instead, try challenging him to whisk you up a mixed drink sometime from scratch and the badass barman (who's got a pretty genial disposition despite his intimidating appearance) would be more than happy to oblige, provided he's not swamped with customers.
During the down times at the east Phoenix punk bar, King's been known to improvise some tasty alcohol-laden beverages from scratch for whoever comes in, be they tattooed-and-pierced hardcore kids or college-aged ladies who can't decide what they want to drink.
"Girls are infamous for coming in and going 'I dunno what I want, make me something I'd like best' and pick out a flavor of vodka or a mixer," he says. "You've gotta be on your toes and be ready to make whatever they want, but also be ingenious about things. I enjoy being put on the spot and will come back after the first couple sips to see if my drink is gonna get shot down. Usually I'm 95 percent successful."
And when thing do get busy, King and the rest of the serving staff are doing more behind the bar than just popping the tops off PBRs and pouring shots. They sometimes have to engage in some occasional crowd control.
"We had Riverboat Gamblers and Dillinger Four playing here last week and this place was wall-to-wall with people crowd surfing," he says. "And while we're running around behind the bar serving drinks, every once in awhile you have to lean into the crowd and push people back so they don't spill over the bar."
Its not his only job at Jugheads. While he spends three or four night a week tending bar or helping run the door, King slaves away in front of a computer and a laptop booking all bands for the bar. It's a task, he says, that's tougher than slinging suds.
"Bartending is like running a marathon. When you come in you can't be hung over or anything. You've gotta be in tip-top shape with Starbucks in your system and ready to run," he says. "But booking shows is a never-ending chase after people and bands and coordinating schedules. It's tough."
Pulling multiple duties while running a bar is something that King has doing for most of his life. From high school onward the former east coast resident (who was born in Portland, Maine) spent 12-plus years working at New York City's legendary CBGBs in almost every capacity. Not only did the cat serve as a lowly doorman and barback at the bygone Bowery nightspot, he was responsible for promoting shows and performing "some job descriptions that aren't printable."
King left both NYC in order to move to the west coast in 1997, hoping to leave the bar biz behind. It was a decent gig, he says, but he wanted to be "anything except a bartender" and headed to San Diego with some friends become a beach bum.
Fate, however, had different plans.
"We only had this old Chevy Spectrum and the thing didn't make it across the country and died in Tucson," he says. "So I got a job interview in Phoenix as a booker at the Mason Jar to make money to fix the car and wound up staying."
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King's bounced around a number of East Valley spots since then, including the Marquee Theatre and Casey Moore's. He also spent two and a half years working at Tempe's Stray Cat, helping launch the popular BANNED night with DJ Johnny Volume and bringing in a number of local punk bands for gigs. But after realizing the owners of the bar and grill didn't share his vision for what the establishment should be, King decided late last year it was time to move on and landed at Jugheads.
"Stray Cats wasn't interested in being a live music venue, per se, on such a constant basis, and I was really getting more into doing the shows and making them happen right and creating an ambience," he says. "There was a collision of ideas that definitely came to a head so I just saw that moving to Jugheads was the better idea for what I did creatively and what they wanted to do at the bar."
His ultimate goal for the punk bar, which has been through a number of ownership changes since its original proprietor Sid Copeland passed away in 2006, is certain atmosphere of cool.
"I wanted a quality bar that's sorta like a Niagra's in New York City or Alex's Bar in Long Beach, a cross between a dirty dive bar and a place for artistic freedom," King says. "A place where anybody from frat kids to backpack graffiti artists to punk rockers can all come."