Some people seek out greatness; other find it thrust upon them. Bryan Yngstrom was thrown head first into bartending. While drinking during a vacation in New Orleans, some barkeeps he'd gotten to know decided to go out for a night on the town, leaving the untested Yngstrom in charge of the whole bar. Luckily, he didn't burn the place down, and instead found a love for drink mixing that's followed him from Crush'd Wine Bar & Market, The Tavern and Fat Tuesday all the way to his current gig at The House at Secret Garden (2501 E. Baseline Rd., 602-243-8539). Bartending at The House is a one-man job, but Yngstrom does it well, balancing food and drink orders while maintaining conversations, taking family photos, and, you know, doing interviews with us.
Thanks for spelling out your name. I would've screwed that up horribly.
Most people do! It's not common.
What happened that first night?
It was an easy bar -- it was mainly just Jack and Coke, rum and Coke, beers, things like that. They had one of those old-style registers you have to crank and everything. I ran tabs for all the people who were regulars because I couldn't get the register open, and when the guys got back I handed them all over and told them to take care of it. They showed me the register and were like, "It's just that button, dude."
So you caught the bug after that?
Yup. You know, it's always been good money while I was studying and doing my schooling and all that. As I was going through school I was always bouncing or barbacking or bartending at one place or another. Afterwards, I decided I like the hours and the money was pretty decent, so I stayed with it.
Are you an avid student of mixology?
Sure. I do a lot of online study and reading of periodicals to see what other people are doing. I have fairly good taste buds. I know what flavors work together. It takes practice. If you make a mistake, you throw the drink out and try again.
What's your favorite alcohol to work with?
I'm all over the board really. Vodka's easy because you can add flavors to it so easily and do so many different things. However, bourbons and Manhattans and those darker things are a lot of fun also, because they open up people to a lot of different drinks they thought they would never like. With brown liquors in general, you just add a little simple syrup to it, maybe some bitters, and BAM. They love it.
What do you like most about being a bartender?
Generally, it's conversing with the people. I get to hear their stories and go back and forth with them while I'm working. It seems like everyone gets a kick out of watching me work -- it's like watching a sushi chef. They sit, watch, ask questions.
What do you like the least?
Cleaning up! But it's the most important part. You have to be clean when you're working all the time. Between that and having decent taste buds, those are the two most important things.
What do you drink when you're out?
I'm actually a big beer drinker. Taste of Tops is my favorite bar around. I have my Cicerone Certified Beer Server certificate and I'm working on the next level for that one now. But I had a Manhattan the other night that was really good, I'll sometimes have a dirty martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives, so.
What's been your most memorable night as a bartender?
It's got to be that first night in New Orleans. Every time you start a new place it's pretty memorable, and there are big money nights that are a lot of fun, and I ran security for a while on Mill Ave., which I think is pretty self-explanatory. But I'll always remember that first night.