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Friday, July 9, 2010

Brasserie by Niche's Michele Bildner: Featured Bartender of the Week

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 1:32 PM

Welcome to Girl Walks into a Bar, a weekly Gut Check feature that spotlights local bars and bartenders. This week Alissa Nelson profiles Brasserie by Niche bartender Michele Bildner. Below is a Q&A with Bildner, followed by a video of her mixing a Perfect Pimm's cocktail.

  • Alissa Nelson

Michele Bildner is like a shark: "I just keep moving," she says over and over again, referring both to her time behind the bar at Brasserie by Niche and her jampacked life outside of the Central West End restaurant.

Bildner is currently preparing for graduate school, where she'll work toward a master's in public health. She has her sights set on working at Blackberry Farm, a small, sustainably run boutique hotel in rural Tennessee. "I'd like to do some more back-of-the-house-type stuff," she says. "After you've worked at the front of the house for ten years like I have, it's interesting to see what goes on in the back."

This insatiable curiosity has led her from her recently completed undergraduate degree in dietetics to a focus on community health education. "I think it's important to understand all aspects of food," she says. And Bildner practices what she preaches, from spending a day canning vegetables for fun in the Niche kitchen to volunteering with Operation Food Search, a food bank that also provides nutrition education to low-income adults and children.

All the while, Bildner has worked at the center of St. Louis' culinary and cocktail scenes for the past six years, from working simultaneously at Maplewood's Monarch and south city's departed Pitted Olive, to her move to Taste and Brasserie, where she has developed the two seasonally inspired cocktail menus. As an early member of the St. Louis chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild, she has made appearances at the group's Blood and Sand events at 33 Wine Bar (and earned the attention of Gut Check's Drink of the Week in the process).

{If you know of a bartender who's deserving of a profile, e-mail}

Click through for a Q&A with Bildner and a video of her making a Perfect Pimm's...

In three words, how would you describe your bartending style? Creative. Approachable. Efficient.

Favorite drink to drink? It depends on the season and what I'm eating or what I'm doing while I'm having cocktails. I like things with bubbles, definitely. I've been drinking a lot of Campari and Aperol lately, because it's so light. I also like a good Last Word cocktail [gin, lime juice, chartreuse and maraschino liqueur], it's such a classic drink. It just has such great depth and layers. It's a good drink to just whip up. And the tequila version is good too.

That right there is a perfect Perfect Pimm's! - ALISSA NELSON
  • Alissa Nelson
  • That right there is a perfect Perfect Pimm's!

Favorite drink to make? I like to make drinks for people that they haven't had before. Or that somebody has had before and make it even better. I like getting someone's flavor palette and their flavor profile just right without having to quiz them on everything they like to eat and everything they like to drink. I feel like I sometimes have a really innate ability to do that with people, and that makes it really fun.

Drink you hate making? I think there are some drinks that are really antiquated for their trend cycle, like energy drinks and vodka or chilled shots. But there's nothing I really hate to make.

What makes you ignore a customer at the bar? A lot of waving, or if they're on the phone. I won't ignore them, but I won't wait for them.

Can you spot trouble when it walks in the door? If you can tell that someone has just blatantly had too much to drink -- whether or not they are trouble, it just is trouble. If somebody's going to be picky or fussy, no, you can't tell. But I think it's our job as service-industry professionals to be able to deal with all kinds of people.

Best/worst song on the jukebox? I love the jazz we play here. Michael Jackson any time, though.

Worst/best thing you've ever seen happen in your bar? I feel like I always miss the good stuff. It's always the day after the shift that I miss, when everybody's like, "You should have seen this fight!" We did have Nelly's birthday party at Monarch, and at the end of the night he walked up to us and gave us all tips, and that was really sincere. But as far as people getting engaged -- that always happens in the dining room, so I miss it.

How do you keep yourself occupied on a slow night? Always moving. Especially in a restaurant, you can always run food or run drinks. You can always help somebody out and stay busy. Check in a classic-cocktail book and look for recipes. Try something new, make something up.

Who would you most like to have a drink with? My mother. She's been passed for a while.

Where are you most likely to be found when you're not in this bar? At home with my dog. Or in the park with my dog. With my dog somewhere. Or hanging out with my dad or my brother, relaxing and soaking up some cable.

Best hangover cure? Sleep.

Worst pickup line you've ever heard? When I had braces -- I just got them off -- I got a lot of interesting comments about my braces and being young. More sexual innuendoes than pickups.

Most unusual liquor you've ever seen? At this point it's not as unusual on the market, but I remember when Ted [Kilgore] brought this bottle of Damiana in. It's an herbal Mexican liqueur. The bottle is an Incan goddess, like a roly-poly little Buddha. I think there's a folklore story that says it was used in the first margarita, but that's not a cocktail historian saying it, probably just the brand saying it.

If you could start a band, what kind of band would you start? An all-girl '60s Motown cover band. Something really lighthearted, fun and sassy.

Best/worst drinking holiday? I have the luxury of not working in any restaurant or bar that was focused on getting holiday business, so for me I don't typically like to go out on Mardi Gras or St. Patrick's Day. Working New Year's Eve is a big challenge, because it's amateur night. The best drinking holidy would be something like the Fourth of July, with a barbecue and drinking outside in the summer.

Biggest tab you've ever seen? Probably working a private party at Monarch, in the four figures.

Drunk food of choice? French fries.

Three adjectives that describe your bar. Very logistically challenged. We have the pleasure of working in this old building with no basement, no sink behind the bar and no drain. So we're really hustling back there. It's a very tight fit.

If you know a local bartender who's worthy of a profile, e-mail!

Brasserie by Niche 4580 Laclede Avenue; 314-454-0600

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