Katie Loeb Wants You to Leave the Oyster House Happier Than When You Came In

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Katie Loeb Photo: Collin Keefe

Bartenders spend much of their time, well, behind bars. They make drinks, make jokes and make you feel welcome, even when youve had too much. The good ones do, anyway. In the Behind Bars series, we give barkeeps a chance to speak their mind. This week, we catch up with the Oyster Houses Katie Loeb, who tells us about her finely-tuned palate, how to pace a drunk and why she hates maraschino cherries.

Name: Katie Loeb

Where she is serving: Oyster House

Time served there: A little more than a year.

Where else have you served?

Chicks Café, M Restaurant, Amada

How long have you been behind bars?
Five years

What do you do when youre not bartending?
I like to eat and drink well. I also do some freelance writing on the side. I write about wine and spirits for the Jewish Exponent.

Do you have a favorite beer?
Im not much of a beer drinker. I have a hyper-sensitive palate. Seriously, Ive had tests done. I have more taste buds per square inch than the average bear, so hops and bitter flavors are off the charts for me. I dont mind malty beers and I like some Belgian beers, but I cant do bitter flavors.

Bartender or Mixologist?
When Im creating menus or creating cocktails, Im a mixologist. When Im just working, Im literally tending the bar. Thats what I do.

How did you get into bartending?
I was a bit of a wine geek before I was a cocktail geek, back when I was working for Neil Stein. I was beverage director for his company Meal Ticket when he still had four restaurants. I was doing all of the purchasing for Striped Bass, Rouge, Bleu and Avenue B. I started getting into it more and reading a lot and participating in different seminars. And then I started attending Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2007, and Ive been going back ever since.

Where did you pick up your bartending skills?
I guess it was kind of like trial by fire. At home and bartending for caterers many, many years ago.

How did you go form being a catering bartender to one of the citys leading artisan cocktail makers?
I think it has to do with my palate evolving and my understanding of pre-prohibition cocktails growing right at about the same time that it started becoming fashionable again.

Do you have a favorite cocktail?
It depends on my mood. Sometimes Im in the mood for something stupid and easy, like a gin and ginger ale with a squeeze of lime. Sometimes I like to get a little more involved and make something old-school and complex.

Is there a cocktail that you consider your specialty?
I think I make a pretty mean Manhattan. If I have really good rye around like Sazerac, that makes me very happy. I like to use high end vermouth, a little bit of brandy from brandied cherries. I hate maraschino cherries. They are a pollutant. I never use them. I only like to use things that, like, resemble something organic.

Describe your ideal customer:
Someone who is open to trying new things, willing to take my advice and is trusting.

Describe your worst customer:
Belligerent, loud, drunk and unpleasant in every way. Skeevy, immature and looking for Jager bombs and Red Bull and vodka.

Have you ever had to break up a fight?
No. The worst thing Ive ever had to do is ask drunk people to leave.

How do you deal with unruly drunks?

The best thing to do is try to recruit one their friends to help you. It makes them feel important. The other thing is to pace them. If it looks like theyre putting drinks away a little too quickly, or theyre getting a little too cheery, I refill their water glass more frequently but try to walk away before they can order another drink.

Do you think its okay for bartenders to hook up with customers?
I never have. I met my ex at a bar, but I wasnt working. I guess its okay; as a bartender you spend so much time at work, where else are you going to meet someone?

Whats the best part of being a bartender?
Fundamentally, Im not a very patient person, and with bartending every day is a new show. The curtain goes up and different customers are ordering different things every day. Its never boring.

Whats the worst part?
Dealing with drunk belligerent people and people who arent there to have fun.

Whats the most disturbing thing youve witnessed from behind the bar?
I saw a guy smack his girlfriend once.

Where can we find you on the other side of the bar?
The Franklin, Southwark, and Chicks.

Why should I come get a drink from you as opposed to the woman at the next bar?
Because I try my very best to make sure you leave happier than when you came in, because I found something that was exactly right for you.

Know someone whos spent time Behind Bars? Tips gladly accepted here.