Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 17th 2019


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.”

I grab bottles garnished with pictures of tropical fruit and look towards C.B. for the encouraging nod, or the “that’s going to be gross in there” eye squint. Blueberry vodka with cranberry juice is the only drink I am comfortable making by the end of the night, and I recommend it to everyone: “Can I get a pear vodka martini, dry, with a twist and straight up?” “Well, how about a Stoli Blueberry and Cran?”

So, perhaps I’ll stick with what I know and continue waiting tables and writing. I know Albert is relieved with the fact that I’ll never ask him, as a favor, to hire me as a bartender.

Thus, rest easy Downtown Pensacola nightriders, your favorite bar Suite is safe from the likes of me. Although, I still think my Stoli Banana, Frangelico, with a splash of cherry and orange juice cocktail was pure genius. Maybe it’s just that no one could handle it–yet.

Be sure to try these tried and true drinks from Suite:


Lemon Drop Martini
Rim a martini with sugar. In a cocktail shaker, combine ice with 1 count of Grey Goose citrus, count triple sec and a splash of sour mix and Sprite. Shake, chill, and strain into martini glass. Works like a Lemon Drop Shooter, except without all the mess.

Blue Hawaiian
This neon blue drink is dangerously deceptive.
Combine ice, 5 counts of Coconut Jack Rum (or any coconut flavored rum you like) with count of Blue Curacao and a splash of pineapple juice. Serve over ice. Tastes like a tropical dream so be careful not to overindulge.

Alabama Slammer
The consensus at the bar was that this drink tastes just like a Jolly Rancher.
In a shaker, combine 3 counts each of Grand Marnier, amaretto, Absolut vodka, SoCo, pineapple and orange juice. Shake and serve over ice.

By Ashley Hardaway