In March, Kelli Nikanowicz was named the bar manager for The Century Bar this past March. When she’s not managing things at this nationally know bourbon bar, she took a few minutes to answer some question for us at Dayton937.com
How did you get into bartending?
It started as a side hustle to make money for college. I started working as a cart girl at the golf course by my house and we would occasionally get asked to work weddings/events. Once I realized how much fun I had doing those and how many people you could meet just by bartending, it was an easy choice.
What is your favorite drink to make?
Whiskey neat. Haha just kidding, thats just the easiest. I actually really like making a Sazerac. It’s such a great classic cocktail but you’d be surprised how many terrible ones I’ve had over the years. I’m forever on the search for people that are doing them right and this makes me want to make mine for everyone.
Do you have a favorite spirit you like to work with?
Bourbon would be the one everyone expects me to say, but I’ve really been into Rums lately. One of my favorite things to do is to take a classic rum drink and rework it to make more sense for the ingredients that are available to us today. There are some really delicious tiki drinks that really shine once you tweak the ingredients and rums.
When you go out for a drink in Dayton, where is your favorite place to go?
Because I am usually running around doing all the things required to run the bar, you will honestly see me wherever my friends are. I’m a classic “leaving in 5 minutes” person, meaning whoever I am meeting beats me to our set place and then decides where we’re drinking. I feel we have some fantastic personal bonds in the industry, so most of the decisions I make on where I go are based on who’s working that day. Connecting with them is more important to me than what I’m drinking or where.
Who is the most famous person you have served?
There have been some cool ones over the years, but a lady never tells.
What do you do when you are not bartending?
I try and spend a lot of my personal time relaxing with friends and family. I am extremely lucky to have made some amazing friends here over the years, they really are more like my Dayton family. I love going to concerts and seeing live music. I also really enjoy being outdoors or on the water, even though that has proven more difficult here than where I grew up.
What trends do you see coming to Dayton over the next six months?
My hope is that Dayton finally has a minute to grow. I feel like there’s been a slow and steady growth in the 10 years I’ve been here. Sadly, the last few years it seems like every challenge that could be sent our way has been. It would be fantastic to see things continue in the forward motion that they have been in the last few months. This city is so resilient and I have always loved this whole “if you’re doing something great in Dayton, they have your back” attitude. As a transplant to the city that was the first thing that won me over. It was the sense of community that I had been looking for that other places I lived just didn’t have.
What advice do you want to give bartenders just getting into the business?
It’s not for everyone. It’s hard. There are lots of long shifts and late nights. You will forever be on a schedule opposite from all the events that your friends will be going to. But it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done. You will meet some of the most amazing people and you will learn skills that you can take with you anywhere. Get your foot in the door, take any job that you can and work your way up. It’s how you learn how to do everything and you’ll be more successful for it.
What do you love most about Dayton?
Everything?!? I love the location, it’s just as easy to visit friends in Cincinnati and Kentucky as it is to go home to Michigan. In other cities I’ve lived in, 45 min – Hour was just my commute home from work. The community, as I mentioned before. There are just so many people doing great things here. We have amazing coffee spots, breweries, live shows, etc. (a Nationally ranked bourbon bar, cough, cough) The bike trails and metro parks. I really could go on and on.
Most interesting thing you have seen from behind the bar?
Oh, sooo many things. But hey, we’ve all had our moments so I won’t go airing other peoples dirty laundry. I have seen more butts than I would like to count though.
How has bartending changed in the time you have been in the industry?
It’s become much more respectable to have as a career. And shout out to all those before us that took it more serious than maybe others thought they should, it now allows us to make a profession out of it. When I first started, it was a way to make money slinging 50 cent beers and vodka sodas. Don’t get me wrong, it is still that if you want it to be. But there is now a place for people who want to learn and grow and who want to make it their future. One of the things that I love about the cocktail side of it also is that it has really become more of a culinary experience. I talk more with Chef friends about ingredients than ever before. There are some amazing things coming out of programs that grow the relationship between FOH & BOH crews.
What do you wish customers knew that helped you do your job?
Not all of us hate our jobs. Just because you met one “bartender” who was terrible at their job, most likely because they hate the service industry, doesn’t mean that we all do. Most of us are not “stuck” bartending because its just what we fell into. There are A LOT of us who love what we do. When you are in the presence of one of these people, who choose to serve you, give them the respect that you would want in your career. A great bartender told me something once that still sticks with me to this day, “Only dish out what you can take.” If you walk up to a bar snapping your fingers or waving your money at me, be prepared to wait 5 minutes longer than the person next to you. We’re here to serve you drinks, we don’t want you to wait. Be patient & you’ll get a better experience out of it in the long run. We’re all human.
If you were not a bartender, what career would you be pursuing?
Most do not know this, but I actually worked at an Architecture firm in Ann Arbor before I moved to Dayton. Part of my decision to not go back into that field was the insecurity of it all. One minute there are so many projects that you are working overtime every night and the next the firm is laying off staff because all the projects got canceled. I know that is true of many fields, as we saw over the last year. But something about this industry makes me happy. And I’m also willing to be that someone, somewhere will always need a drink.