Next month marks four years since I picked up my bottle opener and went back to work behind the bar at the Beacon Pub. That makes a total of 6 1/2 years of bartending experience. When I started at the Beacon in February of 2004, it wasn’t a job I expected to have long term. In fact, it wasn’t even a job I set out to get – Scott Burns, the owner of the Beacon, just kept asking me until I took it.
I discovered the bar on the corner of Circle and Franklin in 2002 when my best friend moved into an apartment nearby. We weren’t much for the noise, the crowds, and especially the frequency of run-ins with people we went to high school with and didn’t like on Madison Street, so we were in the market for a friendly neighborhood joint.
The Beacon turned out to be exactly that, and it became our regular Thursday night hang-out. We tucked ourselves away in the dart room – something my co-worker DanO would later razz me about, asking, “Why didn’t you guys talk to anybody?” But being in our early 20s, we didn’t understand that this was expected if you regularly came in to a neighborhood bar like the Beacon.
We did talk to the bartenders, though, getting to know DanO, Jamee, Frank, and the owner, Scott. After a couple of years, Scott started pestering me about working there. I kept telling him I had too many other jobs, plus school, but he persisted and when one of my teaching jobs ended, I gave in.
Recently when I asked him why he wanted me to work there, he asked in surprise, “You don’t know?” Then he explained that like his other current employees, I was carefully chosen because I’d been coming in for a few years and he had a sense of how I’d be behind the bar. “I have a high opinion of the character of the people who work for me,” he said.
I definitely have to agree. My co-workers are some pretty amazing and interesting folks and so are the people who come to the Beacon. I left it for a “real” office job after finishing grad school in 2006, but when Scott put in the beer garden in 2008 and started bugging me to come back, I took him up on it, both because it was a better fit with my writing career and because I missed what had become like my second family.
Sometimes newcomers ask me, “What’s the crowd like?” and it’s hard to sum up because it really is people from the neighborhood – some young, some old, some quiet, some loud, some liberal, some conservative, some Cubs fans, mostly Sox fans, but all very welcoming.
Even though part of me hoped I’d be able to write full-time by now, I like bartending because the regulars keep it fun. In fact, my experiences have been so inspiring that I wrote a novel set in a bar to document the good (those unique customers) and the bad (washing “Irish Car Bomb” glasses – yuck!). I can’t say if it will be published, but I hope you’ll get to read it someday.
Though I limit my drinking to the Beacon, McGaffer’s (located conveniently around the corner from me), and Molly Malone’s (who did a great job hosting my wedding), Forest Park’s bar scene is big and an integral part of our culture. I’m sure many of you have stories to tell. The Review is updating their website and the paper is looking for some barflies and bartenders to blog for us, so if you’re interested in sharing your tales from either side of the bar rails, contact editor Jean Lotus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.