Ask bartender Charles Barnhart how he got his start, he’ll tell you he went to the “karate kid school of bartending”. And no, you aspiring bartenders won’t find such a place in a Google search, nor will it turn up in any phone book. “I got my first break bartending when I was 18 at Star Bar, which used to be in West End Marketplace,” Barnhart explains. “For three weeks, I never got to make a drink and they made me clean the bar from top to bottom. By the end of that time, I could find anything in the bar with my eyes closed.” See? Karate kid school of bartending!
Flash forward a couple of decades and Barnhart is now the general manager of Waldron Lodge, a wild game and fish restaurant in the Bishop Arts District. There, he is the first to admit the bar scene has changed since his professional career began. “Back then, everything was a shot of tequila and a Bud Light. Now consumers’ tastes have changed. I’ve learned to put some serious effort into my cocktails, like making my own mixers using fresh ingredients. It just tastes better.” Case in point, his apple pie moonshine, made from a secret recipe, has become a house favorite at Waldron Lodge. Ask him nicely, grasshopper, and maybe he’ll tell you how it’s done.
What would your customers say about you?
They would say I’m gregarious, outgoing. I like to think that they think I’m knowledgeable on many subjects, able to talk about works politics and comic books at the same time. You never know what conversation is going to be happening in the bar that day and you have to be prepared to talk about anything.
What life lessons have you learned as a bartender?
It’s not “women are from Venus men are from Mars”. Its “women are crazy and men are stupid”. Of course I meant that very lightheartedly. One of the things that have helped me with bartending is my upbringing. Both of my parents were therapists, so I learned early on to just listen. Part of bartending also is knowing how not to get yourself intertwined in your guests lives. I mean, you do care, and have to show them that, but if you let your customers into your life too much, it can become difficult.
What’s the best part of the job?
Creating menus and drinks—things like my apple pie moonshine. I like introducing people to something they’ve never had before. I enjoy the accolades if I make something well and I enjoy it when the guest enjoys it. A good drink is something they will talk about.
Who would play you in a movie of your life?
Bobcat Goldthwait. I have ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and he’s the epitome of someone with that condition. Like him, I tend to get very excited when things are not going my way. Maybe that’s why I enjoy bartending so much; its never the same night twice.
What’s your favorite drink?
When I’m going out fro a night of drinking, it’s usually well vodka club soda and Rose’s lime juice. I’m a simple man. Oh, and I don’t want fresh lime, I want rose’s lime.
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For more info: Waldron Lodge is located at 408 W. 7th Street, Dallas, Texas, 75208; (214) 948-3740.
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