Monte Fuller may just be the ultimate man. Not only is the svelte, deep-voiced bartender a former scuba instructor, licensed pilot and on his way to becoming a firefighter; he also makes a damn good drink. The former general manager of Martini Ranch, he now exhibits his skills at Iruna (7217 E. 1st St., 480-398-3020), the Spanish restaurant in central Scottsdale that recently won a Best of Phoenix award for its tapas.
How did you get your start in bartending?
I started bartending when I was 19 back in Iowa, at an Applebees. I just kind of needed a job while I was going to college. I moved on to a brewpub back in my hometown, Upper Mississippi Brewing Co., then a martini bar, then a couple of random hotel bars. I moved out to Phoenix in 2001 and just kind of bounced around between bars, and here I am.
Have you ever held any jobs outside of bartending?
I was a scuba diving dive master. I went to school for my pilot license; it's not current, but I have a pilot license. Right now I'm in the MCC fire academy starting in January. I do a lot of random stuff.
A master diver, a pilot and a firefighter? You're like the ultimate dude.
Right? Nah, I'm just the guy who doesn't know what the hell he wants to do with his life. Bartending allows me to do all the weird stuff that I want to do. It gives me a lot of free time.
Have you seen any action during your training as a firefighter?
I've done a few ride-alongs. Not much has happened on them, though. They've been pretty low-key. A bunch of medical calls, old people that have fallen and can't get up, a suspicious bag of grass that got delivered to the wrong house. Nothing too exciting. I've done an ER rotation that was cool, though.
What do you like about it here at Iruna?
The food is unbelievably good. The entire menu is awesome. When people come in and don't know much about Spanish food, I kind of approach them, figure out what they like and steer them in the right direction. Exploring the menu with new people is something I really like.
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What's kept you in bartending for so long?
The contacts help out a lot. You meet so many people from all walks of life and all backgrounds. I've needed loans before and I randomly met a banker who hooked me up with a deal on a loan. I needed a new car and I met a guy who happened to own a used car dealership. I'm not too proud to actually use the contacts who I meet. That's all part of life: who you know and how you use them. Plus, being able to have a low-key conversation and goof off with the customers is a lot of fun.
Do you think you're a different person now than when you first started bartending?
Definitely. Social interactions are a lot easier for me. When I first went to college before I had a lot of bartending experience, I was always nervous when speaking publicly. Now it's super easy; I'm so used to talking to people I don't know it doesn't matter. It's changed me for the good and bad. I don't tolerate drunk people as well anymore as when I first got into bartending.
Is there a specific moment when you realized drunk people annoyed you more than they used to?
Martini Ranch is a big nightclub spot, so we'd get people like that in all the time. One night there were some industry people who came in from another nightclub that I won't name. The manager of that place got a little too drunk and obnoxious, and started to cause problems with the other guests. First, we just talked to him and told him to calm down. About half an hour later, he started acting up again. He progressively got worse. Finally, we just asked him to leave, but because of the status he thought he had as a manager of a night club, he wasn't too happy with us for kicking him out. He got into a fight with a couple of my security guards. You would think in the position he was in, he'd know better, but that wasn't the case. That one always stands out, just because it told me to never go into his club again. How you act reflects where you work.
What do you drink when you're out?
I go through phases. Right now I'm on a big wine kick. I enjoy good beer and visit the microbreweries we have around town. I drink scotch when I'm back home. There's nothing I won't drink, really. I haven't met an alcohol I don't like yet.