Photo by David Reamer

ROSCOE'S, JUST ONE BLOCK west of 82nd, is filling up with a Friday night crowd ready to do one thing: shrug off the troubles of the past week with a cocktail or two... or three. The crowd fits no overwhelming demographic. They are old and young, tattooed and not, hipster and blue collar, but they do seem to have a propensity for unique headwear—bowlers, flat caps, fedoras, trucker hats, and the ubiquitous ball cap are all here. The patrons mill about, talking over the music, laughing, and letting loose the occasional "woo-hoo!"

Kerry Reese is behind the bar. She looks very much like a "take no shit" type of person, with her long black hair, dark eyes, and rocker style. Her job, as the sole bartender on duty, is to make sure that everything runs smoothly. It's her against the drunken world. She's going 90 miles an hour.

There are essential things in this life that we often take for granted. We simply expect them to be there when we need them. Among them is a proficient bartender on a Friday night. If everything is working correctly, they are barely noticed. Your wait is painless; you pause your conversation just long enough to shout an order at them over the sound of a blaring jukebox; a powerful cocktail arrives promptly, you tip them generously, and you go on with the evening. But when things go poorly, it can put a damper on everything. The party screeches to a halt.

Reese has been in the industry for over 15 years as a bartender and server. She doesn't feel comfortable giving her age. "I could probably be your aunt, though," she says. Suffice it to say she is over 21, and she's been at Roscoe's eight months. As she steps away to fill another pint glass, she shouts out, "It's the best job I've ever had."

A good dive bartender is always watching. Reese paces back and forth behind the large U-shaped bar, waiting for someone to give a high sign. She holds her hands in front of her like a gunfighter who's just drawn her pistols, fingers pointed, sweeping across the crowd.

When she spots a new face at the rail, she launches a coaster, which lands on the bartop like an invitation. She looks them in the eyes; takes their order. Thus, the brief relationship begins.

Or, if things go well, maybe not so brief. Roscoe's is often filled with regulars. "I worked in the Pearl, in the Northwest, a lot of other places. People are cooler here," she says, proud of her customers. "They are way more down to earth. Not pretentious at all. I love my regulars, actually."

They, in turn, seem to love her. One brings Reese dinner on a regular basis. Another helped her set up a new computer.

A good bartender will engender this kind of devotion. A good customer receives the devotion in kind. Which is not to say that Reese has never gotten tough. Being so close to 82nd Avenue, the occasional run-in with hookers, tweakers, or the homeless and mentally ill is inevitable. Reese seems just as capable of staring someone down as she does of lifting them out of the dumps with a smile.

It's almost 11 pm and things are picking up. Reese has hit a steady rhythm: pour, add to the tab, scan for the next order, run a load of glassware through the dishwasher, repeat. All across the city there are bartenders engaged in the same activity. They've finally been placed in a shift with good tips, but in the chaos they still need to find time for a quick bite or a smoke, all while keeping everyone happy and maintaining a balance between friendly hospitality and steadfast authority.

As a veteran bartender, Reese makes it look easy. Everyone has a drink. Every drink has a coaster. Beneath the coaster the bar is clean and dry. At least in Roscoe's, until Reese shouts "last call," everything is right with the world.

When Kerry Reese isn't clocked out on the other side of the bar relaxing with a drink or two, she can be found in her neighborhood local, the Standard (14 NE 22nd). What makes the place the choice for this rockin' bartender? It's close to home and there is plenty of outside seating.

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