Los Angeles native Lindsay Nader hasn’t been behind the bar for very long, but she’s made the most of her three years in the business. She started on door duty for Jim Meehan at PDT in New York’s East Village, soon stepped up to bartending duty and worked as a Deputy Editor for Food & Wine Cocktails 2011 before returning to the West Coast to launch the Son of a Gun bar program. She currently bartends at Harvard & Stone while continuing to pursue an acting career. She even makes time to share industry stories and impressions for Shakestir and N.A.D.E.R. On November 10, we met in the R&D bar at Harvard & Stone and Nader shared several spirited insights while prepping for her Celebrity Endorsement themed cocktail night.
What was your very first bar job, and why did you take it?
Oddly enough, my very first bar job was at PDT in New York. I was coming off of an independent feature and I needed some cash. I was kind of running out. I got hired there to work the door, which is a very infamous job. There’s kind of this crazy string of Yelp reviews about the bar girls and how they’re hardasses and bitches. I got hired. It was kind of this exciting experience, and then I started seeing the drinks that were going out and kind of the bar culture that was being created inside. It was such a small, amazing room, and I remember the first I had was a Sazerac. I was like, “What is this? Oh my god, this is so amazing.” So then I asked to be promoted and start cocktail waitressing. Loved it, fell in love, started reading about drinks and learning how to make them, and then gave Jim Meehan a year commitment to be trained behind the bar.
What was your very first night like behind the bar?
Gosh, I remember it was really nerve wracking. It’s strange. The clientele there are very mixed. It’s become a tourist spot. A lot of people come from out of town and that’s a destination they have to hit. There were tons of write-ups in travel magazines and in planes, that kind of thing. And then there’s a whole other crowd of hardcore New York cocktail geeks. So I felt a lot of pressure from the clientele, because they were so well educated that it was hard for me to find my own groove, like – “No, there’s a bar between us, I’m going to make you a drink, you’re going to like it and we’re going to have a good time.” I didn’t want to feel controlled by the clientele. That was really kind of how I felt when I first started.
What was the turning point where you started to feel comfortable and felt like you might want to do this for a living?
I think it came a lot from extracurricular work that I was doing. Jim does a lot of events and I pretty much expressed interest. I said, “I want to learn as much as I can. I want to do as much as I can. I want to meet chefs. I want to meet the community. I want to go to all the bars.” He kind of took me under his wing. I learned how to set up for events and batch cocktails, to throw shit in a cab and run Uptown, run downtown. I think once I started doing that and meeting more people in the community, I just felt really comfortable.
Who would you say any mentors have been so far, and what was it that they taught you?
Definitely Jim. Jim taught me professionalism mixed with humility, which I think is really important. I think it’s something I hope to teach if I become a mentor one day. I can pass that on because I think there’s kind of a bad trend right now. A lot of bartenders think they’re the shit, and they kind of have a god complex, and it’s become so serious. It’s such a serious craft. It’s supposed to be fun. Yeah, you are kind of a liquid chef, but you’re also the host. You’re also the one who controls the room, the one who can talk about any subject. You should be reading the newspaper, you should be watching TV, you should be up on current events. You should be able to talk to anybody. Jim really taught me that.
In what way?
Oddly enough, teaching me speed. I remember when I first started working here, Pablo worked with me one-on-one with just getting my free-pours down, ‘cause I was missing like half of my bartender. I had the very skilled, professional mixing half, but I didn’t have the high volume, quickly moving half.
Between PDT and coming out here, where were you working?
The summer of 2010, I worked for Food & Wine magazine. I was the Deputy Editor for their cocktail book, which was amazing. I went up there to their Midtown office four times a week and tested through about 150 drinks, worked with the editors, helped style the photo shoot and helped put that book together. From there, Kate Krader, the Restaurant Editor, she introduced me to Jon and Vinny. I met with them and Helen, and they hired me to do their bar program for Son of a Gun. So I moved here in December and had about a month to acclimate. I started going to like The Roger Room and The Varnish to get the lay of the land. I went to my first Sporting Life at Musso & Frank’s, which was awesome, and then we opened. I stayed with them for a few months until the program was up and running, and then moved on.
Are you bartending anywhere else, other than here, at the moment?
No. I’m here. I’m doing a lot of writing. I’m writing for Shakestir, which is great.
I saw you have a blog now too.
Yeah, I just launched a blog – [N.A.D.E.R. – Next Level Advocate for Drinking and Eating Right] – because I told Scott [Goldman], he wants me to just contribute bi-monthly, but I have all these other ideas. I should just put out my own work. The more I write, the better it gets.
I’m trying to be as prolific as possible.
It builds on itself.
Yeah, as you would know.
So that’s just a creative outlet for you?
Yeah, I do the acting thing too.
Okay, so you’re still pursuing acting?
Yeah. It’s a really interesting balance, because I would love the opportunity to take on another program, but I can’t because I just can’t commit to it. I need as much of my day as possible free for auditions. It’s already hard being out until 3 a.m. working, getting up and being beautiful and being a big personality going into auditions. It’s been a fine line. I’ve been walking it for a couple of years.
How do you think being an actor helps you as a bartender?
Oh my gosh, it helps me so much. I studied this technique called Meisner, and the basis of the technique is called the Repeat. It’s all behavioral based. You never really do anything until the other person makes you. Based on this exercise, you’re constantly reacting off of other people’s behavior, and I find that – I instinctually talk to people that way and it really helps in the bar world. Someone comes in and I sense their energy and I kind of change my energy to meet theirs a little bit. I change my energy to reach someone else’s, a bit. It’s nice.
Do you have a first cocktail memory, good or bad?