WEDNESDAY, OCT. 10: They’re separated by nearly six decades — but two bartenders agree it’s a career with a kick, as long as staff remember the customer is king.
Earl Godfrey, known as “Happy Jack” and perhaps the island’s best-known barman, is hanging up his bar towel after around 70 years in the trade, latterly as senior bartender at the Barracuda Grill.
But Ryan Gibbons, 26, is taking up the challenge of making the customer feel special — and making the island’s finest cocktails.
Mr Godfrey, 83, who retired a few months ago, said: “You’re dealing with the public -— that’s who you’re working for and the staff are the main people.
“You have to get along with the other staff and the public. If you can do that, you won’t have any problems.” He added: “I really enjoyed it — I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t.”
Mr Godfrey began working in bars in his teens, originally as a bus boy because he was too young to work behind a bar.
As soon as he was of age, he started serving drinks and worked at the Hog Penny under a succession of owners before moving to the Barracuda Grill almost 15 years ago when it was taken over by the Island Restaurant Group (IRG).
He said: “If someone wants to be a bartender, they have got to like it and get to like talking to people. If you don’t like it you’re not going to do a good job.
“If you go home and say you’ve had a hard day at work, you’re doing something wrong. I never had a hard day at work.”
Mr Godfrey said he had seen major changes in the industry since he started work back in the 1940s.
He added: “There are so many different new drinks now. That’s the biggest change — a lot more different liquors. You have got to memorize more than 100 drinks that I know of and there are more coming every day.”
But Mr Godfrey was perhaps destined for a career helping to make people feel good — he got his “Happy Jack” nickname aged just 10 years old because he always had a smile on his face — even after getting beaten up in playground fights.
Mr Godfrey’s years of service were marked at a special party held at IRG’s Rumbar at the Victoria Grill in Hamilton last week, attended by company executives and Minister of Trade, Economy and Industry Patrice Minors.
Mr Gibbons, recently voted Bermuda’s Best Bartender by the Bermudian Magazine, passed his bartenders’ course in 2004 — although, like Mr Godfrey, he started out as a bus boy with Island Restaurant Group before graduating to a spot behind the bar.
Taste for adventure
His taste for adventure and variety was also signalled early — he tried to enlist in the US Navy aged 17 while living in America.
But his furious mother stormed down to the recruiting office and torpedoed his dream of a life on the ocean wave by telling staff he was too young to sign up as a sailor. Mr Gibbons said: “I had been doing computer science in school in the States, but I didn’t like it. My dad said I should take some time off and come home to Bermuda.
“I’ve worked in offices and I die there — I lose a bit of myself in there. I had seen the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail when I was really little and it looked like real fun — maybe that’s what propelled me into this.”
Whatever the reason, he’s never looked back – learning from IRG old hands like Mr Godfrey, Rudy Stroble and Magalie Favress, senior bartender and assistant manager at the Pickled Onion, as well as Kevin Rhyno, manager at Victoria Grill, Barracuda Grill’s Michael Maguire and Hog Penny’s Joanne Wellman.
Mr Gibbons said: “I’ve been doing this since 2003. When I came back, a lot of my friends were working in construction, things like that and talking to them about getting in this business, it didn’t hold any attraction for them. It was strange.
“I love working Fridays and Saturdays and having a fantastic time and great interactions with people. Bar-tending can also take you around the world — it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.”
Mr Gibbons was speaking as Barracuda Grill began to fill with a mix of local residents and visitors. One visitor — unsure of what kind of cocktail to try — said she liked Jack Daniels.
Mr Gibbons said: “Okay, I’ve got a cocktail for you.”
After she tried it, she said: “Ryan is just a magician.”
Mr Gibbons said afterwards: “It’s about service — making drinks is the smallest part of what we do. Customer relationships and talking to customers is the main thing.
As long as you make it fun and enjoyable — that’s what makes a good bartender.”
Barracuda Grill regular Alex Campbell, a Bermuda businessman, said: “Barracuda Grill is friendly, it’s lovely and the food and ambience are incredible. I just keep coming back.”
Mr Campbell added he had a weakness for cheese and onion flavoured crisps – and challenged Mr Gibbons to come up with a cheese and onion cocktail.
He said: “He did it, too. We’re still working on perfecting it.”
But Mr Gibbon’s bartending career was almost cut short in 2008 after a serious road accident which could have killed him and led to the loss of a leg below the knee — an injury that could have left many young men embittered and angry.
But he picked himself up and proudly showed off his state-of-the-art titanium prosthetic limb. And he added: “You have people who complain they couldn’t stand behind a bar for all these hours. “If I can stand up for eight or 12 hours, I think most people should be able to manage.”