Life behind Bars

Conversations with KC's top bartenders

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J.T. Koenig-Riley Tom's Town Distilling Co. Kansas City

J.T. Koenig-Riley, Tom's Town Distilling Co.

Years in the business?

I started bartending in 2013, right after I turned 21.


What’s the best thing about your job? 

It’s really great when you make a cocktail and it’s your creation and you see someone’s face light up because they truly enjoy it.


Ever served a famous person?

I’ve served Travis Kelce. He drank what we called the Travis 86, which was essentially a cocktail we had already put on our menu called the Pinky Blitz. It’s a funny name. It’s a riff on a Moscow mule: vodka, blood orange and ginger. Simple and delicious.


In your opinion, how should tipping work at a bar?

I feel like the finer the quality, the better you tip. When we’re crafting something for you, that’s when the $1 per drink starts to…I don’t want to say annoys me…but I just spent two minutes making you a cocktail, and you’re giving me $1. 


What happens when a customer doesn’t like his or her cocktail?

If you bring your drink to me within the first half of the drink and say that you don’t like it, I’ll make you a new one. 


On a busy night, how do you prioritize the order in which customers are served?

I call it the typewriter effect. You start on your left or you start on your right, whatever makes sense, and just go down the line and start over. Cha-ching! Just like a typewriter.


Do you think people in the service industry have substance abuse problems?

I would say bartending breeds alcoholics. The drawback of trying to learn craft is you have to develop a palate for anything and everything that can create a cocktail…and the only way to get knowledge of it is to drink it. I wouldn’t say there are more people dependent on alcohol in this industry than outside it. Throughout the course of working here, I’ve definitely learned to appreciate bartending sober.