Cocktails and Dreams: Behind the Bars of Downtown Casper
Don’t tell them to “smile more.”
The bartenders that work in Downtown Casper are pretty good examples of the range of demographics that make up Casper itself. It’s an eclectic group of people, all with their own stories to tell.
There’s Alex, the single mom who has been in customer service for the majority of her adult life and chooses to stay there because she knows she’s good at it.
Tessa is a transplant from Las Vegas who, despite her time in Sin City, is still surprised by some of the things she hears on any given night at the bar she works at.
Karen and Jim met and fell in love at the bar they now own and operate together
Gino has been called “Casper’s Best Bartender,” because he takes his job as seriously as a lawyer or a doctor does. He isn’t there to be your friend or to wipe your bottom. His job is to serve you drinks and he does it better than almost anybody, at least, according to his peers.
Each and every person that stands behind one of the many bars in Casper has their own story to tell. They have their own life, their own fears, and their own worries. They have their own dreams.
Chances are, you’re not a part of them. But, if you mind your manners, follow the Golden Rule and don’t stare for too long, you’ll get some of the best service in the world.
But, whatever you do, don’t tell them to smile.
Tamara has been a bartender for three-and-a-half years. She worked at a handful of different establishments before finding herself working for Karen and Jim Kanelos at The Office Bar & Grill. The Office is more of a laid-back kind of place that caters, generally, to an established group of ‘regulars.’ But The Office is open to anybody looking for a good time and it is Tamara’s face that you usually see upon walking in.
“I’ve learned how to make tons of new drinks since I started working here,” Tamara said. “I’ve learned how to properly pour beers and I’ve heard a lot of stories. It’s been a lot of fun.”
That’s the vibe that both Karen and Jim try to create, for their patrons as well as their employees.
“I definitely love my bosses,” she stated. “Everybody is a team player here, so that’s great. I’ve gotten to know quite a few people. We have a lot of regulars that come in and I absolutely love them. Everybody is really easygoing.”
Naturally, because Tamara is an attractive young woman, she has been the recipient of a multitude of failed pick-up lines.
“I had somebody tell me my name was ‘exquisite’ yesterday,” she laughed. “But then he said my last name needed to be ‘hottie.’
Usually, the bartenders working in any bar will just laugh off these lines. They’re more concerned with doing their best than about hurting your feelings. Make no mistake, though. Most of the people working behind the bars of Casper actually do care about the majority of their customers.
Cindy, a bartender at Frosty’s Bar & Grill has been a bartender for 16 years. She said she has never felt more “at home’ than when she started working at Frosty’s.
“The people that I work with; it’s been the same group of people, pretty consistently, for the past 3 years I’ve been here,” Cindy said. “We don’t have a lot of turnover. Everybody really trusts each other. Everybody works well together. Customers are always good. It’s a really homely, comfortable atmosphere to work in.”
Comfort is important, especially in customer service jobs. There’s no telling what could happen on any given night. Downtown Casper has had its share of…interesting scenarios. Whether it was a girl impaling herself on a wrought-iron fence, two brothers fighting over the same girl or copious amounts of throw-up to be cleaned up, camaraderie is what keeps these workers sane.
That’s especially true in the case of The Gaslight Social. It could be argued that The Gaslight is the most popular bar in town, and it’s easy to see why. It definitely caters to a younger crowd and the owners of the bar are always trying to innovate. The Gaslight features arcade video games, corn hole tournaments, concerts, volleyball games, beer pong and more. It’s more than just a place to sit and have a drink. The owners and employees of The Gaslight want to give their patrons an evening to remember, every time they walk into the bar.
“It started off completely, absolutely nuts,” remembered Tessa, one of The Gaslight’s bartenders. “We opened right before the Eclipse and it was crazy. I don’t even think we slept more than 3-4 hours a night because we’d go to work [and stay] until 4 or 5 o’clock cleaning the bar, and then we’d have to be back here by 2pm.
"But we made so much money.”
And really, that’s why these people do what they do. They may act like a therapist or a parental figure or a friend, but they’re there to make money.
Sam, another bartender from The Gaslight, said she makes more as a bartender than she did in her previous career.
“I was working about 50 hours a week [at my former job] and bringing home the same amount as I would here [at The Gaslight] 3 days a week.”
It is that desire to ‘get paid,’ that has, at least partly, contributed to the community-like atmosphere between the employees.
“We rely on each other to make money,” Tessa stated. “Behind the bar, if somebody isn’t doing well or somebody is sick and they need to go home, we all just cover each other. It’s our family, and it’s how we make our money.”
Bethanie, another Gaslight Gal, reiterated that point.
"The owners are really supportive of their staff,” Bethanie remarked. “It’s definitely more or less like a family environment. There’s a lot of understanding if someone is sick or can’t make it- we really work together to get that shift covered.”
Usually, in the bar or restaurant business, it’s tough to rely on anybody. It’s such an ever-changing industry with extremely high turnover rates, but almost every bar in Downtown Casper has been compared to a family. This is partly the owners’ doing, but it’s also because of the employees and, yes, the customers.
Shaye has been working at the Yellowstone Garage for 3 ½ years. She, too, has compared her job to a family.
“We aren’t really like a work crew here,” she stated. “We’re more like family. John [Huff, owner] treats everybody just like we’re his. We all get along very well and we all communicate with each other very well.”
Shaye continued, saying that “when it comes to the outside world, we all hang out and call each other and deal with our problems together.”
Bethanie reiterated that point as well.
“You’re in it together,” she said.
And that’s just how it is in The Old Yellowstone District. Whether it’s Frosty’s, The Office, Yellowstone Garage, The Gaslight Social or any other place in Downtown Casper, there is a sense of community. Everybody wants to see everybody else succeed, because that means Downtown Casper is succeeding.
“Being dead center in the middle of downtown and having all this competition…I don’t even want to say it’s competition at this point,” Shaye stated. “We’re becoming a huge group of people who can provide for everybody and make everyone enjoy downtown a lot more than they’ve been able to.”
Most of the bars and restaurants in the Downtown Casper area will work together. They will call each other to let them know about certain patrons, or situations that might affect the other.
Beyond that, every summer features a multitude of block parties and art walks. Business owners within the city have cultivated a sense of community between each other, and it’s the patrons of these places that have benefitted the most.
“Our block parties are some of the best parts about summer,” Sam said. “All the bars come together and create a fun time. We even have an open container license during the summer. People can just walk around and I think [the block parties] have brought a whole lot of business to the community.
Alex, a bartender at a burger joint/bar called The Branding Iron, said that she believes all of the businesses in the area are more successful because they work together.
“Nobody wants to see anybody else fail,” she said. “We all support each other and help each other. We all know each other, pretty much. Nobody knows how hard this job is, except for somebody else who is doing the same job.”
That, perhaps, is why there’s such a camaraderie between all of the businesses downtown. They all relate to each other. They see the same things, deal with the same issues and deflect the same creeps. They all watch out for their customers as well.
“We see a lot of Tinder meets and sometimes they don’t work out so great,” Sam laughed. “I feel like we look out for the girls to make sure they’re okay.”
The bartenders downtown try to take care of their customers and of each other. Because you never know who might be sitting at the other side of the bar.
“Every single night, you hear something you’re not expecting to hear,” Tessa remarked. “I eavesdrop a hundred percent when I’m bartending. Most of the time, [people] are talking to you- as a bartender and a therapist and a friend. You hear some of the worst things that you never want to hear, and they just trust you with that as a bartender.”
That trust goes a long way, and it’s something that, ideally, would be reciprocated by the customers. Bartenders would love to trust that their patrons are actually decent people. Sometimes, however, this just isn’t the case.
“There was this one guy that did the whole ‘You’re beautiful,’ thing,” Shaye remembered. “He said ‘I know you’re on your feet all day, but you always have a place to sit when you need to.’”
Shaye, along with most bartenders, can usually laugh off these comments. In a perfect world, however, they wouldn’t need to laugh these comments off because the comments wouldn’t be made in the first place.
Bethanie said that “sometimes it feels like we’re babysitting grown adults. Sometimes you have to, more or less, get down on their level, like a child, and explain to them the rights and wrongs of communicating with people.”
It’s not just harassment of the sexual variety that these people need to deal with, either. Nothing ruins a day or kills a mood more than when Karen comes in with her shoes and her haircut and demands to speak to the manager about something that happened 3 weeks ago.
“We’re humans,” Bethanie stated. “We’re trying to perform the best that we can. It might look like, on the opposite side of the bar, that we might not be doing much to bring you that beer right away, but in our minds, we might have 3 orders already in our head that we need to execute first.”
They’re doing their best. This is made all the more difficult when they’re trying to appease customers, all the while dealing with Brent or Trent or Kent or some other guy with an ‘ent’ name that thinks he’s the funniest, most charming guy in the world. We hate to break it you, gents- you’re not charming, strippers don’t actually like you and the girl serving you a drink is not your mother or your girlfriend.
“One thing that does bother me the most is when I’m working and men always tell me that I ‘need to smile more,’” Bethanie said. “They say I’d be much prettier if I smile or ask me what’s wrong. Listen, I’m not walking around like I’m Cinderella. It’s a 12-hour shift. If I smiled for 12 hours straight, I would look like a serial killer.”
Despite a few bad apples, however, the community within downtown Casper has been a mostly positive one. Everybody on this side of town wants to see it succeed, from business owners, to employees, all the way down to the customers. Everybody is trying to make this area something special, something unique and something beautiful.
“Without the community, we wouldn’t be the bar that we are," Tessa said. "Without the community, period, our owners wouldn’t have even had the idea to create the bar that they did, with the outside events and all the concerts.”
Without the community, the bars in Downtown Casper wouldn’t exist. But it feels like we’re on the verge of something big here. Everybody wants to be a part of it and everybody wants to see it succeed. So,
Mostly, don’t tell your bartenders to smile. Give them a reason to.