October 5th, 2007
Everyone seems to know Joe McGuirk. He has tended many a bar in this city for the last 16 years, including the B-Side Lounge, Chez Henri and Green Street. Currently, you can find him at Highland Kitchen. He freely admits to moving from bar to bar in order to “keep it fresh.” But, like Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, he returns to his past workplaces fairly regularly for guest appearances. “If you need a shift covered, call McGuirk,” he quips.
McGuirk’s an expert practitioner, as skilled at stirring up a perfect Negroni as he is at cracking open Coors Lights during a Red Sox rush. He has an unusual knack for being comfortable working just about anywhere and an attendant ability to satisfy patrons who range from bike messengers to Brahmins. McGuirk credits his own “Upstairs, Downstairs” life experiences for this. He’s a waitress’ and truck driver’s son who grew up in the genteel town of Concord. He started his own family right out of high school and worked as a line cook while studying English, history and political science at UMass. As if his ease with bar patrons of all stripes wasn’t enough, McGuirk has a good memory for names and details. He understands something a lot of bartenders don’t: “My real bosses are the customers.”
OK, that’s all pretty impressive. But I’m convinced the real reason McGuirk’s famous in his trade, the reason he’s gotten press both locally and beyond, is the Twinkle — that flicker in his eye that both sizes you up and hints at a whole ‘nother dialogue going on beyond the drink-for-cash transaction. Women often interpret it as flirtatiousness. Men might recognize it as a warning against oafish behavior. Whatever. It works wonders.
Past bartending jobs
I have worked at many bars but the ones that stand out are Chez Henri, B-Side Lounge, Central Kitchen and the Enormous Room, Game On, and the Beehive.
Favorite bar in Boston other than your own
Favorite bar (that I have not worked at) is Eastern Standard.
Favorite bartender(s) in Boston
My favorite bartender of all time is Denny Lewis (retired). My favorite active bartender is Kevin Scott, the James Brown of bartenders. However, there are so many I love.
Most annoying myth about bartenders
That we sleep more than the average person. Friends call at 11:00 a.m. and are shocked to discover we are still in bed. Well, if I worked ’til 4:00 and got to bed by 5:00, then I am only in my sixth hour of sleep. Call after noon, and I promise to stop calling at 3:00 a.m.
The drink you most like to make
The Negroni is the prettiest drink when portions are corrrect, and if you burn the oils off of the orange peel, the smell is great too. But I am happiest when I introduce someone to a drink they have not had but really love. And that comes more from talking with my guests and trying to match them with a drink.
The drink you least like to make
After 3:00 p.m. the Bloody Mary is the most annoying drink. And a dirty martini is the silliest drink. You have to pay for a drink in which half of the spirit has been replaced by the brine of your garnish. Mind blowing.
The drink you most like to drink
Is Budweiser a drink?
If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be…
I probably would be a line cook if I didn’t tend bar. But I wanted to be a zoologist, college professor, sports announcer and the author of the Great American Novel.
Is Boston a good bar town? If so, why?
Boston is a great town for bars. Besides being home to some wonderful old bars and some beautiful new ones, the city has always celebrated its drinkers and the men and women who serve them. And although I am sure other cities do the same thing, it just seems that Boston is big enough to support a great bar scene, with wonderful variety; and small enough for most bars and their bartenders to get the recognition for their efforts. There is a fraternal feeling among the bartenders in this town, and although I might not know each one there is a very strong chance that if you have been doing this for a few years, we are destined to meet. And there is a very good chance that we know a bunch of people in common, whether they are patrons or peers. And the history … didn’t Paul Revere start his midnight ride from a tavern? And didn’t Ray Flynn personally poll his constituency at J.J. Foley’s? Not unlike Ken Reeves doing the same thing at the Green Street Grill?
After having tended bar in San Francisco, I know that Boston respects what we do, our trade, more than they do in SF. And while I like the hours, and I love what I do, it doesn’t hurt to have my community say what I do is a decent way to make a living.