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Bartender of the month: Emma Contreras of Bob's Steak and Chop House

Emma Contreras blows a kiss for the camera at Bob's Steak and Chop House
Robert Stahl

If you’ve been to Bob’s Steak and Chop House on Lemmon Avenue, you probably know Emma Contreras. For 26 years, Emma has held court at the restaurant’s bustling, dimly lit bar, where she’s known for her sparkling personality and deft drink making abilities. “I’m not much of a drinker but I’m a great cook,” she says feistily. “So I love making drinks that taste good. Classic martinis are my specialty.” But you won’t catch her basking in the limelight about her skills; Emma isn’t the type to enter bartending contests. “If I’m going to be known for something, I’d like for it to be my work with dogs.” That’s right, during the daytime Emma works as a dog behaviorist. That means she trains and conditions pets for their owners, a job she does pro bono, by the way. “If my bartending makes my customers happy and pays my bills, then that’s good enough for me. But my heart belongs to the dogs.”

What is your signature cocktail?
Like I mentioned, classic martinis are my specialty, but I also do Lemon Drop martinis. Oh, and I make the best Cosmopolitan in the universe. Old Fashioneds, too. I use my dad’s recipe; he always used to make them for my mom. The secret is the process. A lot of places don’t do the muddling right. You have to crush the fruit and sugar up and turn it syrup. That’s what makes it taste good. The final thing you put in is the ice. People love my Old Fashioneds. Last night they were lined up drinking ‘em like Jesus was coming in the morning.

What has bartending taught you about life?
It’s not about you, the bartender. Sometimes when you’re helping a guest, he or she can be rude to you. Like this one time, it was late at night and the crowd had died had out. This guy comes in and sits down and he’s kind of short with me. So I’m counting my money, getting ready to close down for the night, and another guy walks in and sits next to him. They start talking. I’m thinking, being young and immature like I was, oh great; I’m going to be here all night. Then I start eavesdropping— because that’s what bartenders do— and the second guy turned out to be the first guy’s lawyer. The guy’s family had just been killed in an accident and they were going over everything that had to be done legally. It was so tragic and it just gutted me. That day I learned it’s never about you. If someone is rude to me these days, I’m so sweet to him or her. It’s not worth it. You’ve really got to climb up to the top of my tree to get to me these days.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Sofia Vergara, from Modern Family. Well, minus the accent. She’d be great because she’s so passionate.

How would your customers describe you?
I think they’d say I don’t come to my shift just to make money. I look at the job as a profession. I don’t drink on the job; I’m always early and conscientious of details. I look at the job as a banker would. If I’m supposed to start at 9 p.m., then I’m there at 8:30 and when 9:00 comes, I’m working. I make a good living here so I treat the job with respect. If you treat the job right it, it’ll treat you better.

What’s a sure fire way to get kicked out of your bar?
Being excessively rude to other people or being rude to me, or rude to the waitresses. Rude is really the only thing. If you’ve had too much to drink, we’ll take care. If you get ugly with us then you’re out the door.

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For more info: Bob’s Steak and Chop House is located at 4300 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas, TX, 75219; (214) 528-9446.

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