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Ask a bartender: From best drinks to bar fights

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Girl and the Goat: Christian Gray

Voted “Best Bartender” in this year’s Top of the Town, Christian Gray is a Lansingite born and raised, but recently left to Chicago to further his career in the service industry.

Gray formerly worked at Bridge Street Social in Dewitt where we served as a bar manager for almost four years. He described his new place of work as a “beast of a restaurant.”

“When I worked at Bridge Street it was much smaller, we had less staff and as the bar manager I spent my nights behind the bar as well, as well as placing orders for beverages and taking inventory every month,” said Gray.

Now, Gray leads inventory and curating the cocktail menu while spending more time working with the waitstaff than behind the bar. Gray graduated from MSU with a political science degree, but grew tired of the banality of his post-grad internships and tried his hand as a waiter at Mitchell’s Fish Market.

“It’s an exciting profession, it’s the antithesis of a 9-to-5 job. You are the facilitator of people going out for the night. There are sacrifices in that, such as the wonky hours, but I love the energy,” said Gray.

With the title “Best Bartender,” it’s implied that Gray is a social butterfly when behind the bar. However, any grade school teacher will tell you the dangers of getting work done will maintaining idle chatter. When facing over-friendly guests, Gray doesn’t feel the need to sugar coat anything.

“Sometimes it can be stressful because you have so much to do on top of people who want your attention. I think the best thing is to be transparent with what you have going on and you can always come back to folks.”

The Creole Burger Bar and Southern Kitchen: Alac McCann

Alac McCann spent nine years as a bartender in Lansing and specialized in craft cocktails for three years. The focus on craft cocktails at Creole opened up a whole new world for her of bartending, she said.

“I still feel like I’m learning about cocktails. It’s a lot of fun to see how simple recipes can be, but at the same so delicious.”

Craft cocktails don’t have to be complicated, McCann said. 

“It’s easy as transitioning from basic rum and Cokes to rum with a little lime and simple syrup for a classic daiquiri.”

For McCann, she prefers making the French 75 and a sazerac. The latter is her favorite.

“You are muddling a sugar cube and expressing a lemon. You can bring it up to your nose and are getting the bright anise from the absinthe and lemon tones.”

Bartending gives McCann the opportunity to socialize and multitask, she said.

“I love chatting away while you’re shaking or stirring. I like how intrigued they are and get engaged asking what you are doing. Making cocktails is kind of like entertaining people behind the bar aside from just serving them.”

The role of bartender similar to a barber is also a plus, she added.

“Two weeks ago, I heard someone trying to quiet their conversation. But then a friend of theirs said ‘Don’t worry, you can pretty much say anything in front of us and our lips are sealed.’ I really enjoy that.”

Stobers: Joe Ray

Joe Ray said bartending is a lot like babysitting a crowd. The Stober’s doorman turned bartender took on the job three years ago at Lansing’s oldest bar.

“I like interacting with the cross section of people we get in town. We have every single kind of person here,” Ray said.

Ray said though he can make fancier drinks, his favorite ones to serve are the classic old fashioned and bloody mary. 

Knowing the line when to step in to diffuse a heated conversation is a skill he picked up as a bartender, he added.

“It’s a lot of verbal and visual cues I follow. It’s sometimes like watching kids get into fights over a candy bar at the playground,” Ray said. “The whole vibe can change in a matter of seconds.” 

Some of the worst offenses he’s seen at the bar are absurd.

“I had to separate some guys once who were watching a basketball game and rooting for the same team. They were arguing about who was the best player on their team. It was the stupidest thing to start a fight over,” Ray said. 

“Another few guys I had to separate after they were fighting about who the best ‘90s era power ranger was.” 

Ray said being a bartender at Stobers carries hometown pride.

“It never gets old to see people come in here and gasp at the woodwork.”

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