It’s fun to get Brad Hensarling of the Chat Room Pub going on about bar life. His eyes get big as moons and his hands start gesturing wildly, the cherry tip of his cigarette arcing and dancing like a laser beam. Even his sentences become infused with electricity as they collide against, then spill into one another. It’s passion, for sure; a quality that’s served him well in the Fort Worth bar scene. Hensarling is also co-owner of the Chat Room Pub as well as two other popular Cowtown hangouts, The Usual and The Gold Standard, all of which are celebrated as go to spots for classic cocktails. In fact, Hensarling’s such a bad ass, you’ll even hear his name mentioned in certain bartending circles all the way over here in Dallas. Not bad for a guy who admits that several years ago, he didn’t know an Old Fashioned from a French 75. “I had just taken over the Chat Room Pub and it was a slow afternoon,” says the Haltom City native. “I started reading some old bar recipe books and trying to replicate some of those old recipes, Sidecars and drinks like that. Our customers started responding favorably to them and it all just kind of snowballed from there.” Once Hensarling found his groove, one thing became abundantly clear; Fort Worth nightlife would never be the same.
How’d you get into bartending?
Actually, I conned my way into it. I was 19 and a server at a busy Bennigan’s here in Fort Worth. One day my manager pulled all of us together and asked if there was anyone that had any bartending experience that they could send over to another location. I lied and told them I did. Back then Bennigan’s had this “fifteen minute lunch guarantee” and when I got to the restaurant I noticed there were only two guys working in the kitchen because this wasn’t a very busy location. So I got this idea. I called all my friends to fill up the bar, and when they got there they all started ordering food. The kitchen couldn’t keep up so they all got their meals free. Meanwhile, I had incredible sales behind the bar for the day. Consequently, I got to keep that shift every Sunday and it all took off from there.
What life lessons has bartending taught you?
Never forget your “ghetto skills.” Don’t be afraid of quick thinking, or finding quick creative solutions to problems There’s a million little things you have to do as a bartender, but primarily if you’re busy, your job is to move units, keep people happy, haul ass, and get the money in the till. There are a lot of things that can potentially go wrong. So yeah, don’t forget your “ghetto skills.”
Who’s your bar hero, and why?
Paul Pacult, he’s the world’s foremost authority on distilled spirits. He’s put out a book called Kindred Spirits and also a monthly newsletter called The Spirit Journal. He’s also the only American to be voted the French Cognac Personality of the Year 2011 and he’s also a member of the Master of Keepers of the Quaich whisky society. As a person he’s the coolest uncle you’ve never had, really kind, so polite, always wants to hear what’s going on with you. This guy just knows so much. You talk to him for an hour and you pick tons of information just through osmosis.
What’s your biggest bartending pet peeve?
The one thing that drives me crazy is if a bartender just works from one place. If you do that you’re always missing something. If you’re not moving, you’re not properly monitoring your bar. I tell people to keep your eyes up. It’s a tough thing, because most of your work in creating cocktails is down, so it’s only natural to want to keep your eyes there, but there’s so much gong on in the bar, new customers walking in, situations developing, you have to keep your eyes up and ears open.
Tell me something about you that most people don’t know.
I’m not as smart as everyone thinks I am. A lot of people come up to me and admire what I’m doing in Fort Worth, and like to ask me for advice. If people knew all the plans for my bars are written on bar napkins! It’s not like I have this grand design. I just figure out that I’m at point A, and I want to be at point B, then I figure out the best means to get there.
For more info: The Chat Room Pub is located at 1263 W. Magnolia Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas, 76104; (817) 922-8319.
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