Welcome to Girl Walks into a Bar, a weekly Gut Check feature that spotlights local bars and bartenders. This week Alissa Nelson profiles Novak's bartender Kelly Washam.
Kelly Washam never plans to close out her nights off at Novak's.
"The staff here is so close. And there's a group of us, of about twenty, who when we go out will always say, 'We're not going to Novak's tonight,'" she says, laughing and shaking her head, "and no matter what, we always end up at Novak's."
So goes the blessing and the curse of working at a 3 a.m. bar.
Despite the bar's gravitational pull on its staff, Washam had only been to Novak's two or three times before she was hired six years ago. At the time she had worked as a bartender for eight years at a sports bar in south St. Louis County. Owner Nancy Novak met her on one of those early visits and hired her almost immediately.
"I'm not sure what she saw in me," Washam says, but it becomes crystal clear when she moves confidently behind the bar, laughing carelessly but mixing drinks with precision, cocking one ear toward a regular while pouring her drink.
Washam's unabashed enthusiasm for the bar's patrons and staff is infectious. She is as positive and animated when talking about amateur drag night and bachelorette parties alike: "All different kinds of people just mesh well together here," she says. "Gay people, straight people, transgendered. Everybody just gets along here."
Click through to read a Q&A with Kelly Washam...
In three words, how would you describe your bartending style? Fast. Consistent. Efficient.
Favorite drink to drink? Flavored vodka and club soda.
Favorite drink to make? Ice water. I do like making margaritas, because I have my own strange things -- like beer -- that I put in my margaritas. If somebody comes in and just asks me to make what's good and they wind up enjoying it, I like that.
Drink you hate making? A shot called the Sexy Alligator. It's layered in a martini glass.
What makes you ignore a customer at the bar? Anybody who snaps, or anyone who mistakes my name for "Hey."
Can you spot trouble as soon as it walks in the door? I'm a good judge of character, so usually when somebody walks in you can just tell. It's the way they walk in or the way they carry themselves and it's like, "We've got a live one here."
Best/worst song on the jukebox? Hearing the DJ say "Last call" is always good. Worst songs involve any kind of a line dance.
Worst/best thing you've ever seen happen in your bar? Worst: probably one time when we had a girl pass out in a stall. I walked in and all I could see was ass cheeks on the floor. I had to climb over the stall to get her out, and as I helped her walk out, her pants kept falling off. Or one time we had a guy trying to pay who obviously had too much to drink, and while he was trying to get out his wallet, his pants fell to the ground. For the best: Cindy Lauper once came in.
How do you keep yourself occupied on a slow night? I like to play practical jokes on other bartenders. I will do anything from tape their bottles together in their wells so that when they go to pick one bottle up they'll all pick up, tape their drawer shut, unplug their drawer. Sometimes I get other people involved.
Where are you most likely to be found when you're not in this bar? On a golf course somewhere. I have a motorcycle, too, so if it's nice out I'll be on my bike.
Best hangover cure? Hair of the dog: a bloody mary.
Worst pickup line you've ever heard? Oh, God, I've heard plenty.
Most unusual liquor you've ever seen? We carry bacon vodka, and I can't figure out how you would use that, other than in a bloody mary. We also have cotton-candy and whipped-cream vodka.
If you could start a band, what kind of band would you start? A rock band. I've always wanted to play the drums.
Best/worst drinking holiday? I would have to answer both with one: Mardi Gras. The money's great and it's busy, but we get our asses kicked.
Drunk food of choice? Bar 5 pizza.
Three adjectives that describe your bar. Exciting. Entertaining. Different.
My bar is the only bar in St. Louis where _______. You can see a one-armed drag queen.
Novak's Bar & Grill 4121 Manchester Avenue 314-531-3699