Interview with a Bartender

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karina martinez bartender
Karina Martinez at The Snug

Karina Martinez, the widely respected bartender currently slinging drinks at The Snug, has learned a lot during her decade-long career. In this conversation, she muses on what’s new in her industry, the emotional labor required of the profession, and why bartenders need to get outdoors.

What is one trend in the industry you are excited about?

I think there was a long time with craft cocktails where there were a lot of pretentious bartenders and bar programs. While there are still establishments that are like that, I think the bar industry is becoming more playful again. They’re remembering what it’s like to have fun, and that includes using ingredients like whipped cream and sprinkles or adding in flavored liqueurs or vodkas.

How do you meet the emotional demands of tending bar?

Think about working a Friday or Saturday night where you’re stuck in a space that’s essentially a 7-by-7-foot square, and you have three employees yelling things back and forth and then you have 70 people staring at you, and you need to make everyone feel acknowledged, educate everyone if they have questions, say hi and be personable, make eye contact, tell your bar backs what you need and what you don’t need, ring up transactions and recite it all in your head eight times. It’s just a very overwhelming, sensational thing. It’s about multitasking but also being emotionally intelligent.

I don’t think there’s any greater honor in life than caring for another human, whether you do it for your parents or your partner or your child or your dog. As bartenders, we get the opportunity to care for 1,000 strangers on any given night.

You’ve been vocal about mental health issues in the hospitality industry. Tell me more.

We have one of the highest rates of addiction and suicide. In our industry, we have an unhealthy culture of wearing the number of hours we work as a badge of honor. The emotional stress of service-industry people is a very real thing. When you go to bed at 4 a.m. and you don’t wake up until noon, sometimes even making it to the post office is a struggle.

I grew up in a diner, so I’ve seen my family members and others make lots of mistakes. I think that green therapy and nature therapy is a really great thing. There is an association between mental and emotional health and the natural world. That’s why I’m drawn to being outside as much as I can and interacting through rock climbing or snowboarding or snowshoeing or hiking.

What do you typically do at the end of your shift?

I usually ride my bike home and lay in a giant beanbag with my dogs, take a shower and go to sleep.

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