Bartender Chronicles: Ian Fenger, Pete’s Candy Store

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Photos by Sarah Jacobs

Have you ever wondered what life is like for those kind and patient people pouring shots behind the bar? This summer we’re bringing you a meet and greet with some of your favorite faces behind the bar at your favorite haunts. After the jump, Ian Fenger from Pete’s Candy Store shares his tips for bar etiquette, his post-shift choice for a grilled cheese, and his favorite drink to make behind the bar.

How long have you been bartending, and where did you get your start?
Well, I started bartending at Pete’s I guess maybe 10 years ago in a meaningful way. I’d been sort of working random — I mean, I’d been barbacking or working sort of random, like, you know, beer and wine and kind of things, I don’t know, since maybe ’99 or 2000.

So, you started at Pete’s?
Yeah, my first real bartending shift was at Pete’s.

What specifically do you like about bartending there–especially after a decade?
It’s sort of, it fits my hours, I guess, because I’m sort of a night owl. I guess at Pete’s, I love the people there, I love the staff. All of us have been there— in a lot of ways I’m still kind of the new guy. So it’s a little bit like a dysfunctional family, but everybody’s really great. It’s been a good crew to work with and learn from and hang out with. I like getting here and meeting different people when I come to work–that’s the best part of the whole gig.

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What’s your advice for bar etiquette?
There’s a lot. Bring your glasses up with you, especially if you’re sitting, you know, in a backyard or patio space or something somewhere. You know, when you go out— when somebody comes up and it’s two people and they’re getting their fifth round of happy-hour beers and they just left 10 glasses still sitting on their table in the backyard… All the standard ones that I guess people… Don’t tip in nickels.

What’s the worst way for a customer to get your attention?
Yeah, I was going to say, that’s another one, but don’t snap your fingers at me. If I have my head down and I’m making somebody’s drink or actually in the middle of taking an order from somebody else, don’t just start shouting at me, “I’ll get two mojitos,” while I’m talking to somebody else. Obviously not my favorite thing. You know, if you, if you walk up to the bar and sort of make eye contact, you know, we know what we’re doing back there and we know where people are. As long as you don’t see us standing there on our cell phones playing Words With Friends, we know you’re there and we’ll get to you and we usually have a reason for… We know who was there first and what the deal is. So, like I said, we’ll get there. There’s generally sort of a method to a bartender’s madness and serving people in the order in which we do.

What makes a good bartender? What’s rule No. 1?
I guess being fast and pleasant. That’s really it. You know, managing to… You know, over the course of a night you’re dealing with a lot of people at various levels of inebriation and some of those people are great, and some of them on their best, silver days are probably not going to be your favorite people in the world. So to be able to get through a 10-hour shift and sort of keeping an even keel, and I don’t know, I guess, like I said: What impresses me is when you go into a bar and you see somebody who’s hustling and can make multiple people, even if they’re waiting for a minute, feel like they’ve been noticed and seen and, you know, they’re going to get to them and they’re going to get to them fast…service with a smile is best.

Pete’s Candy Store has a lot of different types of events. What’s your favorite night to work there?
The trivia night to work is great, actually. That’s a crowd that’s been, for the most part, coming in for a long time. Those are…for the most part, those are good customers. They’ve kind of got the etiquette down. They’re really pretty easy in terms of what they order and how they order. You know, another about…I can’t stand, if you’re with four or five people, you know, and it’s busy, especially, figure out what your order is. If I come and you order one drink X and I make it, come back, “Okay, what do you want?” “Oh, I’ll have another drink X.” Make it, come back. “Ah, we’ll have another drink X.” That’ll drive you nuts, too. Have your, having your money ready when it’s busy. Again, its’ a busy bar and you walk back and people are surprised that they might have to pay for the beers that you just poured for them, and it takes them three minutes to find their wallet. So, [that crowd] is kind of a veteran bar crowd, and you know, the trivia when you’re behind the bar is fun. You get to listen and maybe help some of the people with a question. It just helps in making the vibe.

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Any traditions you carry on there?
Not really.

When you’re done with work, where do you go to get food after a shift?
Well, Hana Food is definitely a good one. That’s probably my go-to more than anything else, just go to grab a sandwich, grilled cheese, something late-night.

What’s your after-work drink?
Bud and a Jameson.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Bud and a Jameson.

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When you’re not working, what do you do? What are your hobbies?
Definitely a lot of sleeping until your shift, as much as possible. I play softball on some teams in the neighborhood. I play in a pool league. I have a little backyard where I live, so I’m trying to do a bit of gardening.

Come say hi to Ian at Pete’s Candy Store during Northside Festival–check out the show lineup at Pete’s Candy Store coming up.

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