The tender: Samantha Rogers
The bar: Café Zuzu (6850 E. Main St., 480-421-7997)
The pedigree: Rogers got into bartending when she was 20, starting as the daytime bartender at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant in Tempe. She spent four years there, eventually working her way up to bar manager and crafting the wine list as well as all the cocktail recipes for the restaurant. She's been at Hotel Valley Ho's Café Zuzu for about 18 months.
Do you miss yelling "opa!" and smashing plates?
Yes! We chucked plates across that restaurant like nobody's business. And that Ouzo, the traditional shot -- for something that's only 40-proof, it'll knock you on your ass. It was a lot of fun.
Do you ever get the urge to smash a plate here?
I do! Sometimes I have to stop myself. I'm like, oh wait. That would be weird if I did that here. I've been here about a year and a half and it's been a big change of pace, but I've learned a lot. I've gotten to compete in a lot of mixology competitions.
No, not yet. I'm going against people that have been doing it for like ten years. I don't even stand a chance; you're using herbs I've never even heard of! But it's a great learning experience. It gets you thinking about using things you've never thought about before.
Which competitions have you entered?
I did ones for Chambord, Bombay Sapphire, Woodford Reserve, Hula Girl. Usually it's just focusing on one alcohol. When I did Hula Girl, though, it was 18 different companies. So you're basically representing that brand. There were like twelve judges -- it was the most intimidating competition. I was like, "Drink some alcohol! It's so stiff in this room." They were just mean-mugging me.
Where do you get your inspiration for making drinks?
I just try to think of something that's interesting or might just taste good. I have a lot of fun with holidays, using the herbs and spices of that time of year. We actually have a gingerbread martini that's pretty good. Sometimes you end up making stuff you would never drink if someone paid you to drink it. It's also interesting to pair it with food. If you have a featured dish of the night, it's fun to find out what goes with those flavors.
What's the major difference bartending in Tempe and here in Scottsdale?
Clientele. I went from serving college kids who are just learning how to drink and actually don't have a desire for fine cocktails -- they're just there for happy hour, they want their $3 drinks with the well vodka. Disgusting. It's really cool to come somewhere where people are looking for higher-end alcohol, and they want their drinks to taste good. You kind of feel, "I just spent 12 minutes making this drink, because I muddled like eight different things in it, and I'm glad that you actually care."
What do you drink when you're out?
I drink either gin or beer. I know that sounds crazy, but I've found that gin results in less of a hangover for me, so that's the way I go. Gin on the rocks or with soda, and always lots of lime. I love lots of lime. I've also got this thing for Rumple Minze. Something about it -- it's so delicious!
What's your favorite drink to make?
I love to make margaritas and mojitos, and those are probably the most hated drinks for bartenders. But I make them really well, so I don't mind putting a lot of work into a very delicious drink. When a person enjoys it that much, I don't mind it at all.
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What's the worst part of your job?
Dealing with overly intoxicated customers. Everyone's been there, and you hate to be that guy. But it also sucks to be the person who has to tell them they're being that guy. I used to be an instigator, but over the years, I've kind of learned to deal with them in a way that they accept it. "Here's a water, or if you want me to pour you cranberry juice so it looks like you're drinking, cool." Instead of, you know, "Get out!"
What's been your most memorable night?
Halloween on Mill Ave. is probably the most ridiculous thing you're ever going to see. You have homeless people mixed with people in costumes, and you don't know which is which. I'm like, "Are you a zombie or are you homeless?" I've never cut more people off than on Halloween on Mill. There was also the Georgia-ASU game. For some reason, all the Georgia fans took over the Big Fat Greek. But they were probably the most generous, kind people I've ever dealt with.
If you drink with anyone, who would it be?
Probably Hunter S. Thompson, because he would probably be doing more than drinking and it would be pretty interesting. I think we'd have tequila -- that's the kind of night that would be.