The lady bartender I’m introducing to you in this article was introduced to me last summer in Sicily, Italy. Nicole Barker won the national finals of Disaronno The Mixing Star 2014 for the USA. The year before, I was the lucky bastard who’d won the international finals of this cocktail competition and for the 2014 edition, all winners got to get on this lovely trip to Sicily. Including the ex-global-winner, lucky little me.
That trip happened to include my birthday and Nicole and her husband made sure the spontaneous pool party wasn’t excluding a healthy dose of Disaronno cocktails. She’s a very fun bartender but also has a serious side as the President of the USBG in Reno. Let’s see what she’s all about, shall we.
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Nicole Barker, I am 30 years old and am the President of the Reno Chapter of the USBG. I am opening a restaurant this year called Red Creole Fusion here in Reno. I have been in the service industry for over 15 years.
Where or how did you learn the tricks of the trade? Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to in the industry?
I got my start behind the bar at an upscale steakhouse where I was trained by old men bartenders who taught me the value of hospitality and product knowledge. I worked in nightclubs and sports bars. I didn’t shake up my first craft cocktail until I had been behind the bar for four years. I was introduced to the craft world in Sacramento by Erick Castro and Rene Dominguez. I attribute much of my skill level to them and to Vincent LaForm. Vince is what I consider to be the ideal bartender; a perfect blend of knowledge, passion, creativity, wit and humor with a real, down to earth personality. He is pretty much my hero.
What was your first job ever?
My first job was as the accounts payable representative at my parents’ company, Rizzoli Trash Hauling. At the ripe age of 13, I was learning the ins and outs of paying bills, invoicing, accounting and payroll. And yes, I am Italian!
What is your educational background and have you ever done something completely different than bartending?
I studied Journalism in school. I am very passionate about art, psychology and sociology. I even considered becoming a politician or a lawyer. The service industry combined many of my passions into one profession. After my first shift, I knew I would never look back.
Do you see yourself tending bar for the rest of your life?
I love my time behind the stick, but my true love is concept creation. I love building things from the ground up and watching them grow and change. I have found that consulting really plays to my strengths and keeps me interested and engaged. I am looking forward to owning and operating multiple concepts.
What is it you love about the industry?
I love the people. More than anything else, I love the art of the human condition. In our industry we see people from all walks of life at their best and their worst. It is truly fascinating.
Any things you’d like to see changed in the wonderful world of bartending? Come on, we know it’s fantastic but I’m sure there is something..
I would like to see less division within our industry. It is a constant competition filled with political slander, mudslinging and bitter battles. It would be nice to see a little less of that.
Do you have a theory about why there are less women working in the industry then there are men?
In the US, there are actually more women than men, but not in the craft segment. I think that is due to the perception of female shelf life. In much of the industry, women are behind the bar to attract men, essentially because they are hot. As we age, we become less attractive and thereby get pushed out by younger, hotter women. Women simply haven’t had the opportunity of longevity like men have. That is changing.
What do you prefer to drink on your day off?
Mostly wine! I make a lot of cocktails and enjoy whiskey, scotch and rum, but if you walked into my house on a random night, you are most likely going to find me with a glass of some esoteric, little known red.
What’s your signature drink?
The Benton, which was created in honor of my late father in law.
2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz ice wine
4 dashes of bitters
– stirred and served up
– garnish with a flamed orange zest
This beauty will be on my cocktail list until the end of time.
Do you have some advice for girls who would like to start working as a bartender?
Be tough! There is no room for female bartenders who don’t have thick skin. You will get used and abused. You will need to learn to pick your battles and learn to think of the big picture. And most importantly, don’t take no for an answer. If you want something, work for it and don’t stop until you get it.
Which lady bartender would you like to nominate to take part in this interview?
My leading ladies here in Reno, Ilona Smith and Annalisa Suarez. These girls are rockstars and have proven that there is no such thing as gender bias in our city.
Ilona and Annalisa, you can expect mail from me soon. Very soon 😉
A photo posted by Nicole ? Barker (@nicolebarkerred) on