Bartender Q & A: Laura Schneider of B-Side Tavern

It’s likely that Laura Schneider has opened a can of Rainier for you. In the 10 years she’s been in Portland, Laura’s tended bar at some of the city’s best dives: Billy Ray's, the Basement Pub, Crow Bar, Ground Kontrol and B-Side—where she now resides. In our interview, we talk Red Fang video shoots, Fernet, spraying customers with the soda gun and bar etiquette. 

Name: Laura Schneider

Hometown: Dover, DE

Bar: B-Side Tavern

Drink Portland: How did you get your start in bartending and how long have you been at it?

Laura: Like most other bartenders, I started at the very bottom, as a hostess at a chain restaurant. In complete naiveté, I thought I could just apply for the bar, get some training, and jump back there. I had to work my way up to server, then lead server, and after more than a year of running the front of house at different restaurants, I finally received a little training for apocalyptic sized emergency coverage. All of that ladder climbing occurred in Greensboro, NC. Little did I know that none of it counts in Portland. So I started over again and learned the secret to acquiring a bar job here. NETWORKING. I made friends with bartenders and their bartender friends and eventually one of them became the manager at Billy Ray's Dive. I was the first person Mara ever hired!  From there it was easier to meet people in the industry and show them that I have some Portland experience.

DP: A bumper sticker for your van might read, “When I’m not bartending, I’d rather be…”

LS: ...shooting guns, playing video games, reading a book, playing with my cat. Blowing off steam in one way or another, preferably without the general public around.

DP: Ever wanted to smash a bottle of Old Crow over someone’s head? 

LS: Oh, yes. And then light it on fire. Patience and thick skin are absolute requirements in this field. I've been assaulted, threatened, called some very creative expletives, some typical ones, and some shocking ones so very many times. Really? I'm racist because this bar doesn't have to-go boxes? Well, how about you just keep that plate then and never come back. One time, I fulfilled a bar dream of mine by spraying down two people with the soda gun. I had cut them both off separately. They found a bond in this and though they had never met, they started making out gratuitously at the bar. They fell off of their bar stools, got up, and went at it again. I warned them to chill out or they would get hosed. They just couldn't help themselves, and neither could I. The entire bar applauded the scene; a couple of people even ran up and gave me more tips. 

DP: What’s your poison?

LS: It would be easier to list what I don't drink. Gin can sleep soundly at night knowing this sot has other preferences.

DP: We heard about the filming of a Red Fang music video at B-Side, what’s up with that?

LS: The Red Fang video shoot was one of the most fun bar days for so many of us. I arrived at the un-bar-godly hour of 9 AM for my part.  

I was called on a couple of times to help out production with very important tasks like finding duct tape. I was inside for most of the time they were shooting Fred Armisen's part. Hiding behind a pinball game and being warned that my phone had better not make any sort of sound, I was able to watch a scene unfold.

Red Fang sits at the bar.

Fred bursts in and says, "Haven't you seen them?!? ZOMBIES!"  

Dave: "Let me guess ... they're eating brains."

Fred: "NO. Worse. They are drinking All The Beer!"

Oh, I get it. Beer zombies. The rest of the day was spent shooting bits of zombies trying to break into the bar and steal all the beer from Red Fang. Meanwhile, on the patio, all the friends in zombie makeup are talking in between the shouts of "Quiet on the set!" smoking, drinking, almost like a normal B-Side night but in zombie makeup.

Around 8 PM, I started assuming that they were not going to need me to play my part. I was on my way to a neighboring bar to do shots with friends when they called for me. I met the makeup lady who just dusted me with an anti-shine powder and was sent into my transformed bar. Every light bulb in the bar had been changed out, hanging lights added, tables moved, ladders and alien looking sound equipment were everywhere. I stepped behind the bar and the band guys, who spend a fair amount of time at the B-Side while in town, started ordering drinks from me. How natural. They had me fill their empty prop cans with cocktails.

The Sherman, as in John Sherman, drummer for Red Fang, is Monopolowa vodka and soda water with a splash of grapefruit juice. Brian was singing "Zombie" by the Cranberries until I stopped him. 

"Brian, you're fired. Why don't you sing the Roky Erickson zombie song instead?"

I was joking and being sassy but it actually worked! That moment when you are standing in front of local heroes who start harmonizing "I walked with a zombie last night" because you told them to. Pure Fucking Magic. 

I did about 10 takes of my short speaking scene in which I ask the guys to watch the bar and then I leave. I was really bummed to hear that they had to cut the scene from the video. Wah-wah. 

The rest of the night turned into a B-Side VIP party. Our fill-in bartender started bartending; everyone was smoking inside. The day is still referred to by those who participated as the best almost-but-not-really work party. Please watch and enjoy the video!

DP: It wasn’t until I served and bartended in Portland that I experienced the service industry’s fondness for Fernet. Any thoughts on service industry folks and Fernet? Do you like Fernet? 

LS: I fought with people over Fernet for three years. They coudn't accept that I don't enjoy anise flavor. "Try it on the rocks with a lemon. Try it with ginger ale. Now, try it with just a splash of cola." One day, it worked. Not sure what changed in my palette but I suddenly liked Fernet. These days, I love Fernet and have taken crap from buddies for having it in my flask. It's no surprise when the newest liquor becomes a trend among service folks first. We drink often enough that variety is paramount to enjoyment. Before Fernet waltzed in, you could easily spot a bartender if they order a "press." Short for Presbyterian, a vodka or whiskey press would be a cocktail with half soda water, half lemon-lime soda and garnished with a lemon. Simple but new enough at the time to only be known and loved by those of us who disperse and imbibe almost daily. Then fireball hit the scene, and curtains.

DP: Besides tipping well, is there anything our readers can do to earn the “customer of the day” award?

LS: Brevity, decisiveness, and simple acts like bringing your empty glass to the bar when you come up to order another drink enable me to spend more time making you laugh and watching the sketch balls. 

DP: Anything else you'd like to add about yourself/bartending/shitty customers/Portland?

LS: The worst thing I see from both sides of the bar is an "us versus them" mentality between bartenders and customers. It really shouldn't be that way from either group. Sometimes the bartender is not a snobby asshole on a power trip, they are just having a bad night and their job requires them to have 300 interactions with party people when all they want to do is play with their cat and watch Star Trek. And not every customer that asks, "What's good here?" is a total waste of the bartender's time, they could just be young and need a patient professional to teach them the bar ropes. Bars are communities and they should be able to make you feel that you can treat them with that respect.

Photo by Mary Locke


Tags: Beer, Cocktails, Spirits, Wine
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