BABE #61: SHANNON PILCHER,
Bartender @ Sidecar Jax
I am so excited about this interview. I've been trying to connect with a kickass lady bartender since the start of BWH, and struggled to find the right fit until I was put in touch with Shannon. (Thanks Nicole + Calli!) Not only does she work at a crowd favorite local bar here in Jacksonville, but she brings such an important perspective to the table when it comes to devoting your career to being a bartender (and a female one at that.) I am super inspired by her work ethic and commitment to her passion (and I can't wait to swing by Sidecar for one of her daiquiris ASAP.) Thanks so much for chatting with me, Shannon! You're a total babe.
Hometown: Centerville, OH
Current city: Jacksonville, FL
Alma mater: N/A
Hustle: Bartender @ Sidecar Jax
Babe you admire and why?
Julie Reiner of Clover Club in Brooklyn. She has really helped trailblaze the cocktail scene for modern women. She has successfully co-owned and been a beverage director for four bars in New York and has elevated the craft for men and women in the industry. She's a true badass.
How do you spend your free time?
I’m a big self-indulger. I truly intend on living a Dionysian lifestyle as long as I can afford it. Wine, food, entertainment, connecting with people; these are all things I love and enjoy.
Must-have item in your purse?
Ibuprofen. I seriously wouldn’t be anywhere without it. Standing on your feet and hunched over speed wells for a long span of time can be rough on your body. My IBP is a life saver.
Go-to coffee order?
Bold Bean Iced Coffee. Black.
Go-to adult beverage?
In a craft bar: a classic hand-shaken Daiquiri.
At a dive: a Stella and a shot of Irish Whiskey.
Favorite beauty item?
If we are all 60% water as humans, at least half of the remaining 40% of me is dry shampoo. Early shifts after a late night in the bar call for a quick hair pick-me-up, and dry shampoo has saved me so much time in the morning. Perfect Hair Day stocks my favorite kind.
Three things we can always find in your fridge?
Water! It’s so important. good IPA (also very important), and definitely hot sauce.
Favorite social media account to follow?
Holy Champagne on Instagram. They’re a mobile pop-up bar based out of Buenos Ares that I admire. I drool over their creativity, and all of the events they host and have been hired for.
Of all time? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I blame my rebellious phase on this movie alone.
Tell us about your hustle:
My role as a member of the Sidecar team is to provide quality service and drinks in a really humble atmosphere. Every day at work is a little different than the last. We have a large amount of regulars that I see each week, but I also have the pleasure of meeting people who have never been to Sidecar before, or people who have never even had a locally crafted cocktail before. I tend to guide these guests down a list of things they already know that they like (sweet or tart, assertive or light, clear or darker spirits), and then use my library of fresh ingredients, unique spirits, and love for creating an experience they won’t forget. I truly have one of the best jobs in the world, and I am constantly experimenting and seeing what sticks.
What does your typical workday look like?
Depending on an opening or closing shift, it’s a little different. As an opener, I will check all of our syrups and juices to make sure they are at the right pars and levels of freshness. I’ll set up each station with whatever we will need for the day; ice, mint, syrups, fruit for garnishing, the right amount of tools for service, anything I can think of that will make the shift go seamlessly. As a closer, you have to be prepared mentally to be in work mode from the get-go. You don’t have the time that the opener does to gain clarity for the day, and you're there to make sure everyone has a good time, is finished with their drinks, and is out by 2am with a safe ride home. I’ll then clean up all of the bottles and the wells for service, count the money drawers back to their respected amount, tip out the other bartenders from the day, ensure the bar is in the proper shape and order for whomever comes in after myself, lock up, and head out.
When did you start bartending? What was your training like and where have you worked so far?
I became obsessed with bartending when I started working at Mojo no.4 in Avondale in 2011, and started learning as much about spirits and classic cocktails as soon as I turned 21. When they finally took me behind the bar in 2014, I had an upper hand; it was like I was preparing for this moment the whole time. After that, I just closely listened to everyone else around me. I was a sponge to those who had more experience than me and I was always asking questions. I still ask a lot of questions! Since Mojo’s, I have worked at The Loft in the King Street District, and now at Sidecar in San Marco. I’ve also offered my bartending services to private events and weddings.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
There are so many favorites to this job, but my most favorite are recreating and re-imagining memories. Bartending, like cooking, can help tap into sensory memory, and by using herbs, spices, fruits, and booze, I can take you back to being a kid and watching your grandparents swing on a back porch somewhere, or back to the time you had your first kiss just by serving you a certain drink. Any complaints that I could have about my job could never outweigh the joy it brings me and others.
How has being a woman affected your experience as a bartender?
Being a woman as a bartender has affected me in many ways. In one sense, I have to work a little bit harder to get recognized as a knowledgeable member of the staff. Not by my coworkers, but by some of the patrons. I have to know just a little bit more so I can prove myself to a certain type of customer, but by doing that, I break down that wall for them, giving them a new perspective on my gender in my job position. Bartending can be a bit of a “Boys Club” sometimes, and it can be hard to see people getting more respect upfront. The challenge to beat down the walls of the clubhouse and make it all-inclusive is a journey I will always want to be a part of, and it happens every day.
Like any career, bartending is a talent that requires some serious multi-tasking and time-management skills. What are some experiences from your past or personality that you think led to these skills?
I had so many after-school activities growing up, and as a child of a single working mom, I think I owe those skills to her. Getting her three kids up for school, dressed, and fed and then shuffled around from school, to dance classes, to cheerleading practice, to baseball games and still have dinner together at the end of the night, was a great foundation for learning to fire off quick orders and get things done efficiently.
What are your work hours like? How does your schedule differ from someone with a typical 9-5 job?
My hours can be so different. Typically on a weekday, an opening shift will be from 1pm-8pm and a close will be from 8pm-3am. We close the bar at 2am, followed by however long it takes to clean and break down afterward. On the weekends, there are three shifts; an open from 1pm-8pm, two closers from 8pm-3am, and then a volume bartender who comes in at 4pm and usually leaves when the busiest time for the bar ends. I don’t have a set schedule, so I don’t always have normal sleep hours, which can really affect how my days flow together. I don’t always have two days off in a row, or two days off in general. Our staff is smaller than most, so we have to pick up where others can’t. I am lucky enough to work for two great guys who understand the need for time off or vacation, so I’m never stretched too thin.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That this is just a side job for me! This is my career and my passion, and I couldn’t see myself working in any other industry. Frequently at work, I am asked “what do you do?” and that’s a hard question to answer when you’re standing behind the bar you love and work behind 5-6 days a week. In this generation, the renaissance of the craft cocktail has made it easier to start a career in this industry. From bartending to bar consulting, menu building, owning your own bar or even being a brand ambassador, this is no longer just a job you maintain to put yourself through college, it's a job you can spend your life doing.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
As mentioned before, Julie Reiner, but also Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero. Those two ladies have put together a wonderful national competition called Speed Rack. It's an all-female speed cocktail completion that hosts women across the United States to compete regionally and nationally, gaining awesome recognition in their field while also supporting to a cause. Proceeds of the tickets go towards the funding and awareness of Breast Cancer. I was honored this past February to be picked as 1 of 25 women from the Southeast to compete in the Southeast regional, and all of the other women I met during my time there were an inspiration.
What is your favorite drink to make? Least favorite?
My favorite drink to make is also my favorite to drink, the Daiquiri. So simple, yet so easy to get wrong or off proportionally. It contains three ingredients (rum, lime, sugar), but it needs to be incredibly balanced. My favorite things to do with a daiquiri is tweak it a little, and add different flavors or spirits to it so it really takes on a new life. I’ve been stuck on banana daiquiris with a little hint of Jamaican rum for some funkiness. Least favorite? A Long Island.
What are some of your favorite bars?
Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco - it’s a tiki bar that is dressed like The Pirates of the Caribbean ride for adults and with lots delicious, authentic tiki cocktails. The Broken Shaker in Miami - it started off as just a pop-up bar at the Freehand (a hostel in Miami Beach), but then gained so much popularity that they decided to keep it. Did I mention they have a saltwater pool? Lastly, Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Atlanta’s Little Five Points. It is by far one of my favorite dive bars, it has everything you want from surly bartenders to fried food and cheap beer.
Where are your favorite places to drink in Jacksonville? Any standout drinks at local places we should try? Restaurant Orsay has to be number one, for sure. I’m up at the bar at least 2-3 times a week for a cocktail and some snacks. Their menu releases are always something I look forward to and I enjoy volleying ideas back and forth between the bartenders. I also love Flask & Cannon in Jacksonville Beach, not just because they’re our sister bar to Sidecar, but because it’s such a breath of fresh air. I love tiki, and they do it right! Also, Ice Plant in St. Augustine. If you haven’t gone yet, GO. Grab a seat at the bar, order at least three different cocktails and eat some of their delicious food. I’m so happy to have made friends with these amazing artists - they are truly dedicated to their craft and are willing to color outside of the lines a little bit.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
I am always overcoming obstacles in this industry, but I feel like it’s a good thing because it tests my passion and my vision. One of the biggest obstacles is just being taken seriously. By patrons, by peers, by family and friends; but what I enjoy every day is proving how valuable I am to my team. My bosses took a chance on me, and they have never doubted my abilities for a second. The love and support that I get from them every day is unparalleled to any other job I've ever had.
What advice would you give to a Babe who is trying to break into your industry?
Do it the right way: with hard work and knowledge. People are going to offer you handouts, and they're going to try to tell you there’s no other way to succeed as a bartender other than taking those handouts. Don’t listen. Read the books, do the work, put in the time, and make sure that everyone is watching you while you do it. You may need to bite your tongue along the way, but the payoff is so worth it.
What motivates you every day?
The opportunity to be creative and make something new motivates my every day. Whether it’s a new cocktail I’m working on or making memories with guests, that’s what gets me out of bed every day.
What helps you wind down / how do you manage stress?
I have the cutest and most loving 8 month old pitbull, and he is the light of my life. Looking at his face every night after a long shift instantly makes everything better. Drake loves belly rubs, puppy snacks and just making me happy. There’s no greater love than the unconditional love of a dog, and he makes me feel at ease almost instantly.
What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
Every night is something new, but one of the most notable moments of my career was about a year ago on a Saturday. We were getting slammed and were about four people deep at the bar, and I had this younger guy come up to my well. He wanted to know about a certain beer we had on tap, so I answered his questions efficiently. He then proceeded to ask me if more men or women drink the beer. If there’s one way to get under my skin, it's when people try to sexualize their drinks or glassware. I had to have a small conversation explaining that his question doesn’t matter, so I got him a water to drink while he sat there until he made up his own mind about what he actually wanted that evening. Quite frankly, I just don't have the time to take us back about 60 years.
What are your goals for the future?
My goals for the future are to continue to grow into a better bartender and hone my craft even more. I would love to get a chance one day to create my own bar program, and team up with someone I respect to create our own bar. I'd love to make some changes to the cocktail culture here in Jacksonville. I want to expand peoples minds, and have our sweet, southern city put on the map for our drink scene.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Be you, unapologetically. You are not lesser than anyone because of your softness or your kindness, or even your jagged edges. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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