B is for Bartender: Student enjoys fast-paced job

Russellville senior Brandon Thomas works as a bartender at 440 Main in Bowling Green. Thomas has been bartending since he was 20 years old, he is now 27.

Mary Anne Andrews

Cold fizz hits ice chips. A sloshing bottle flips through the air and lands upside down in the bartender’s hand. With the other hand, he slides on a slice of fruit, tosses in a straw and sends a drink down the waxy bar.

Last year, bartenders were responsible for an estimated 4,270 jobs in Kentucky. The average salary for a bartender in 2011 was $19,360, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Russellville senior Brandon Thomas is one of them. Thomas said bartending is a great way to make money and a perfect fit for his fast-paced personality.

Thomas, 27, works at 440 Main.

“Behind the bar is an atmosphere of go, go, go,” he said. “On a busy night, people are screaming my name and throwing up money.”

Thomas said he likes working at 440 because of its upscale but casual vibe. A lot of customers come in just to sit and relax, he said.

“Bartending is a good trade to have. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I graduate,” said Thomas, a geology major graduating in December 2013.

While Thomas said he doesn’t do a lot of flaring or bottle juggling, he said it’s faster to flip the juice and catch it while he pours the liquor — and it doesn’t hurt that it looks cool.

There’s an art to it, like being a chef, he said.

A “Chapter 11” is a drink he learned to make in Louisville and now makes at 440. It requires more than ten steps for one drink, including searing an orange peel.

Down the block, Landon Senn is a bartender and co-owner at Rocky’s.

Senn, 28, moved from Eugene, Ore., to launch the bar last year. He had never waited or bartended before.

“I love my job,” he said.

He said WKU students are largely to thank for their regular business.

“If it weren’t for Western we wouldn’t even have a bar,” he said.

Large artwork by WKU students covers the back wall of the bar.

“The students are really passionate about what they’re doing and I’m passionate about what I’m doing,” Senn said. “This is my opportunity to be successful. The bar’s going to be successful, or I’m not going to be successful.”

As a bartender, Senn said he’s met many awesome people.

Kingfield, Maine, senior Will Nalle said Rocky’s is his favorite bar, largely due to the friendly staff.

“It’s more like a group of friends than a bar,” Nalle said. “Every time I come here I know people here.”

Senn said that’s exactly what he wants Rocky’s to be.

“People seem a lot more real without a mask,” he said. “You can get to know people a lot more intimately than in other settings. They let their walls down — alcohol is like truth serum.”