Local bartenders make the most of a bitter situation.

By Darien Davies


Even though many of us learned how to be our own best (or worst) bartenders during the pandemic, there is nothing quite like going out to your favorite bar and watching your favorite bartender sling you the tastiest drink in town.

While many restaurants were able to open for to-go dishes and limited-capacity seating, the bars in town were left to either gather dust, act as a holding pattern for family-style drink orders, or something in between.

In true mixologist style, three local bartenders did their best to shake it up during the pandemic. Now, they’re getting back to a tasty new normal.

“People still crave [craft beer], and want to support local breweries, the small businesses, and their employees as much as they can, even if it’s only beer ‘to go,’” said Clay Steffes, manager and beer slinger at Mathews Brewing Company. “One main takeaway is that beer definitely makes the world go round.”

Mathews Brewing Company
Mathews Brewing Company

That’s a fact. Mathews got lucky because they had a food license and a food truck, enabling them to open slightly earlier than bars. Let’s also not forget about its outdoor Beer Garden that was a lifesaver (for Mathews, community members and dogs alike) during the outdoor-only time period of state restrictions.

In addition to promoting their three-for-$30 crowler specials, they also were able to keep supporting local artists by hosting their live music events and encouraging social-distancing enjoyment. They embraced their tried-and-true business model with making small tweaks helped them to transcend the pandemic panic.

Angela Dugan Kapow Noodle Bar
Angela Dugan

“The pandemic has turned everything upside down. I think it has taught us that control is an illusion and the only way to thrive is to be able to have some ability to flow,” said Angela Dugan, mixologist at Kapow! Noodle Bar. “We have two options — to freak out, fight the state of what’s happening and struggle, or to let go, embrace the moment and this time to discover that there is a sense of peace in the uncertainty. It gives us freedom to create and grow if we choose that path. The pandemic has opened up space for many of us; so much of what we could do is no longer an option. Now we have an opportunity to use that time to create and grow if we so choose.”

This makes total sense when you think of what working in the service industry entails. You can either freak out and lose your sh*t when you’re in the weeds, or you can handle the closest ticket or table to you, then the next, and then the next.

Staying cool, calm and collected wins the race when you’re forced with the unknown, whether that be a customer’s picky palate or an unprecedented pandemic.

Ayme Harrison Death or Glory
Ayme Harrison and Annie Blake, co-founders of Death or Glory

“As bartenders, we get to share in our guests’ lives, whether it be birthdays, anniversaries, or special occasions, and even cheering them up after a bad day at work,” said Ayme Harrison, Death or Glory bartender and bar manager. “We have missed seeing our guests probably as much as they have missed having a place to go. Six months later, you come to realize exactly how important a social interaction really is and how much we all genuinely miss it. It’s really hard high-fiving from six feet away.”

While we’ve all seriously missed kicking back a few cold ones with the homies, it’s also missed by bartenders.

“Patience, a positive outlook and some good rum can get us through most things,” Harrison said. “All kidding aside, it’s been pretty challenging times for us all, but being grateful for what we do have each day and a dose of humor has felt better than focusing on the negative.”

I’ll drink to that!

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