Pensacola, Florida
Monday August 20th 2018

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Startender Night at Suite

By Ashley Hardaway

Needless to say, I’m probably not cut out for bartending. When Edwin Banacia, co-owner of Suite, told me I’d start my one-day stint as a “Startender” at 9:30 p.m., I immediately thought, “Ohh–that’s late.”

Luckily the brisk night air and poppy music emanating from the club’s vibrant speaker system instantly woke me up.

Over Lady Gaga’s catchy hooks, the animated and spunky Brandy Reames introduced herself as my teacher for the evening. It soon became very clear why she won “Best Bartender” in IN’s 2009 Best of the Coast poll. This girl can juggle multiple drink orders, cash out a check, toss a bottle and concoct a new beverage simultaneously. Tell her you “don’t like shots” and within a few seconds you’ll have a neon-colored beverage in front of you that will change your mind.

Delightfully dangerous, this girl was the one to teach me.

The concept for “Startending” at Suite really began when Edwin and his co-owner Albert Lao were in New York. Weary of inviting music executives out to clubs to listen to new music, they decided to make them a part of the act by putting them to work behind the bar. The “Startenders” would then invite their friends out, have a great time, hear some new music and even make some extra cash, which they could keep or give to charity.

Recently begun here in Pensacola at Suite, this event is sure to snowball into a big thing. Who doesn’t want to see local celebrities “working it” behind a bar and getting humbled? I’m holding out for Sandy Sansing. I bet he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.

“Let’s make an Alabama Slammer,” Brandy says as she hands me a shaker. I fill it to the brim with ice and am immediately corrected–less is more when it comes to ice, evidently.

Albert Lao is sitting at the bar looking at me as if he’s glad I’m not his new hire. I awkwardly grab a heavy new bottle of SoCo and do the recommended “three count.” I feel foolish when I realize that I am actually counting, out loud, to three.

Albert laughs and asks me if I could ever do this as a profession. I watch Brandy effortlessly talk to people as she grabs colorful bottles and pours exact measurements without a second thought. I, on the other hand, cannot count and talk to Albert at the same time. I consciously put down the bottle and tell him that I am obviously lacking, but that maybe someday bartending will be my choice profession. The look on the face is an encouraging, but ultimately doubtful grin.

Throughout the course of the evening, the bar rotates with familiar faces along with a few strangers. My friends who have come out to support me are challenging my inadequate bar skills with complicated drink orders and the ever ominous “just come up with something” request. C.B. (also known as bartender Chris Brown) has just arrived and encourages me to “freestyle.”

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