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Connecting to maritime history through refurbished vessels in San Francisco

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Posted: Saturday, March 20, 2010 12:00 am

Who: Lap and Yee Wong.

The trip: A trip to museum ships.

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Bea Ahbeck Casson/News-Sentinel
Whisky Barrel Saloon bar manager Amy Kirschenman poses for a portrait at the saloon on Jan. 14.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles featuring jobs in and around Lodi.

On a recent Wednesday evening, Amy Kirschenman set out glasses at the bar at Whisky Barrel Saloon. A few regulars drifted in, ignoring the bar’s jukebox and wine barrel tables to sit at the bar.

Kirschenman greeted them all by name, asking if they wanted their usual drinks.

Kirschenman, 37, is the bar manager at Whisky Barrel Saloon in Lodi, where she’s worked for 2 1⁄2 years. But she’s been bartending a lot longer — 15 years — in both San Diego and Lodi.

“It’s a really fun job,” she said. “I love it. That’s why I’m still doing it.”

And she’s popular, too. Steve Forbes, a regular customer, said he followed Kirschenman to Whisky Barrel from another Lodi bar when she took the job there.

“Amy’s one of my best friends,” he said.

Between trading quips with bar owner Jerry Wolfe and the saloon’s regulars, Kirschenman talked with the News-Sentinel about the ins and outs of the job, from favorite drinks to how to get started in the business.

Q: What’s your favorite drink?

A: Probably the huckleberry martini. (It’s made with) huckleberry liqueur, a squeeze of orange, Bulleit Rye whiskey and a splash of 7-Up.

Q: What’s the most popular drink you serve?

A: That’s the most popular one here. It’s our specialty, so we sell a lot of them.

Q: How about the hardest to make?

A: I’ve been doing it so long that nothing seems that hard. The most time-consuming is an Old-Fashioned. (It’s made with) cherry, orange peel and a sugar cube, muddled, then with bitters, Bulleit Rye whiskey and soda water.

Q: I’ve heard bartenders do double duty as amateur psychologists. What’s the weirdest problem anyone has ever asked for advice on?

A: Ooh, there’s a lot. (laughs) I don’t even think I could come up with the weirdest. It’s a surprise every day.

Q: How about the strangest thing to happen to you on the job?

A: The first year we were open, a guy came in with his collar flipped up. It’s not part of our dress code — it needs to be down, so we told him. He thought he was Elvis Presley. An hour later, he said thanks and left. Two weeks later, we found out he was missing from a home in Manteca. He really thought he was Elvis.

There’s another one. I used to have a guy come in and he’d write down a bunch of numbers ... Remember the show “Quantum Leap,” with all the math theories? He truly thought he was from the future.

Q: Do you still serve people if they’re behaving strangely?

A: Yeah, if that’s just their personality and who they are. But no, if we think they’re too drunk.

Q: How do you know when it’s time to cut someone off?

A: (After bartending for years), you can just tell. You know when you look at them. Everybody’s different. (They may have) a personality change. Obviously the way they’re walking, or if they’re squinting their eyes. The more they drink, they can’t keep their eyes open.

Q: Have you ever had someone try to hit on another customer?

A: Yeah, that happens regularly. We usually have to get involved. When people are hitting on (other customers) ... they don’t take a polite “no” for an answer. Then the bartender has to step in and tell them to leave the other customer alone, or leave.

Q: Are you allowed to drink on the job?

A: No. It’s really the law (not to allow it), but some bars allow their employees to drink. Here, we don’t.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a bartender?

A: To learn the top brands of all the liquors. Find a friend who’s a bartender, and hang out behind the bar with them.

Contact reporter Kyla Cathey at kylac@lodinews.com.

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