By Betsa Marsh
“OK, Dave, make me something.”
“I have one customer who wants a different drink every time,” he says. “It makes me research and study more, to keep expanding the list in my head that every bartender has.
“If you know your customers, you know their tastes,” Schaefer adds, working behind the century-old bar. “You’ll know ‘he’s a whiskey guy,’ or ‘they’re beer people’ and you set pints in front of them. It’s amazing how quickly people start coming back.”
It’s not mindreading, just chatting and observing. “You can teach anyone to mix a very good Manhattan, but you can’t teach everyone to approach a table of people they don’t know, talk with them, fix them drinks and make sure they have a good time. The most important thing is the social interaction.”
One regular, who Schaefer speculates might have a better bar at home than Mojo’s, has introduced Schaefer to the classic drinks of the 1920s and ’30s: the traditional Manhattan, a classic Negroni and the Old-Fashioned. “These bring the alcohol to the forefront of the drinks,” he explains, “rather than modern drinks like Lemon Drops or Long Island Ice Tea that try to mask the alcohol.
“An Old-Fashioned is one of my favorite drinks to make and to drink. Bourbon is one of my favorite liquors, and when you make an Old-Fashioned with orange, it brings out the Bourbon.”
A woman who often pops into Mojo’s once wanted a spin on the classic gimlet, asking Schaefer to mix it with Tanqueray gin and elderflower liqueur. “It’s a light, floral drink. It’s all in how you mix the liquor.”
Schaefer learns with every request, and has yet to be stumped. “Google is a bartender’s best friend,” he says slyly. “No one is going to know everything – some drinks have 20 different names, depending upon the region. I have an app on my phone for every drink known to man. There are more than 1,500,” he says in wonder, “that start with the letter ‘B.’
“When I train bartenders, I tell them to fake it till they make it. Just being confident is a big part of it. ‘Go into the back room, look it up, then come out and make the person their drink.’”
Schaefer, too, learned on the job, from his days as a coffee barista through barback/assistant to fulltime mixologist/bartender. “Barista means bartender in Italian, so it fits me. I’ve always been outgoing, so talking to people in this setting was easy for me.”
The 30-year-old brings a fluidity to his career, moving from an associate’s degree in computer animation for video games and movies to his work behind the bar.
“Art doesn’t pay the bills,” he says matter-of-factly. But he continues to draw his online comic book, My Super Life, giving himself and his friends extraordinary powers a bit like Superman himself. “It’s my fictional autobiography—I can do what I like.”
He loves a bit of hyperbole on his business card, too, crowning himself “Beer Guru.” The frothy obsession also flows into his private life: Schaefer and his wife Amber devote half their living room and kitchen to home brewing. “It’s just like cooking,” he says. “As long as you have the ingredients, you have the freedom to make anything you want.”
As with many home chemists, Schaefer’s biggest hit was his biggest mistake: Putting way too much malt into his brown ale and ending up with a 9-1/2-percent brew. To his surprise, he says, “everybody loved it.” Schaefer’s home batches can’t find their way into Mojo’s, of course, but his radar is always scanning for the next craft beer – or a cocktail recipe that might surprise a regular with an inquisitive palate.
“In a small town like Troy, 80 percent of the people who come in are regulars,” he says. “You start learning their names, their kids’ names, where they work, and you start becoming more like friends with them.
“If you can create that bigger bond, it becomes very ‘Cheers’-y, where everyone, as the line goes, knows your name.” That camaraderie even spills outside Mojo’s brick walls, where Schaefer shoots archery with one customer. The same guy goes on movie nights with the Schaefers.
“If I’d just been a normal bartender and let him be, I would never have known he shot,” Schaefer says. By connecting beyond the glass and mug, “you get friendships you never knew you’d have.”
Mojo’s Bar & Grille, 937-552-9172; http://troymojos.com
By Patricia Kutza
Mixology™ Drink Recipes
How It Works: Consider it your all-in-one bartending guide
Where to Find It: Download from any Android, iPhone or iPod device.
The Beauty of It:
Knowing the difference between a shooter and a chaser is second nature to bartenders, and a definite perk for you when your guests request them. Mixology™ helps you bone up on “bartender-speak” and a whole lot more; it places thousands of alcoholic recipes at your fingertips, including low-calorie and non-alcoholic options. Missing a few ingredients for the drinks you ordinarily make? No problem! You can search for alternate choices using your available ingredients and a liquor store/bar locater helps you find stores near you when you need to stock up. Share great recipes using their social media options. This app may not help you spin drinks as well as Tom Cruise did in the movie Cocktail, but they may taste as good. Or even better. (Note: While Mixology™ is free, it includes ads and fewer features than its ad-free competitor, Mixologist™. The latter costs .99 for iPhone, $1.49 for Android.)