Welcome to Girl Walks into a Bar, a weekly Gut Check feature that spotlights local bars and bartenders. This week Alissa Nelson profiles Moolah Theatre & Lounge bartender Sean McElroy. Below is a Q&A with McElroy, followed by a video of him mixing an Old-Fashioned.
Despite his current position as bar manager at the Moolah, McElroy readily admits to having bluffed his way into his first bartending position during a summer home from studying film at SIU-Carbondale. "And then I just kind of crashed and burned," he recounts. "Luckily I was working with another experienced bartender who saw what was going on and got me to the point where by the end of the first week I could handle it."
Since those first days, he has put in five years at Catering St. Louis, worked in the kitchen for the entirety of the existence of Jasoom on South Grand, then moved to Zöe's Pan-Asian as it transitioned to Sapphire, in the Central West End. And it's clear that McElroy has come into his own since that first sink-or-swim week; you can't imagine him floundering as you witness his smoothness behind the bar.
But it has been his nearly three years at the Moolah that have allowed McElroy to spread his wings -- or, to put it another way, his tentacles. "I got in here like an octopus and remade [the bar] in my own image," he says, pointing out his own framed photographs of drive-in theaters and collection of Charles Bronson movie posters, not to mention the flicks playing on the television at the corner of the bar. New releases are celebrated with a special drink menu, which McElroy helps to develop -- though if Sex and the City 2 was easy, he shakes his head at the thought of doing the same for Toy Story 3.
Click through for a Q&A with McElroy and a video of him making an Old-Fashioned...
Favorite drink to drink? I'm a beer guy. Beer out of the tap. Whatever the coldest one is.
Favorite drink to make? An Old-Fashioned, because you bring out the muddler and everybody's like, "OK, he knows when he's doing." Old-school drinks. Just really bourbony, rocks, old-man drinks. 1940s, guy walks into the bar, throws his fedora down....
Drink you hate making? I just don't understand the martini ritual as it's evolved. I enjoy a martini, but when you just want the glass and it's sugar-sweet junk and it's a fun color and a drizzle of whatever, it's just not a martini any more.
What makes you ignore a customer at the bar? Snapping the fingers. That's good enough to get you cut off. And anyone calling me "Bro". I bristle at that.
Can you spot trouble as soon as it walks through your door? Every time, and I'm never wrong -- I've got a spider sense about it. Work at this job long enough and you get bartender eyes.
Best/worst song on the jukebox? It's all iPods here.
Worst/best thing you've ever seen happen in your bar? This was more than a year ago, when we used to do midnight shows here. It would lead to these really late closings on Friday and Saturday. One night we had this young couple here, and the guy was an amateur magician -- or maybe a professional magician. He asked me some leading questions, and you could see his girlfriend roll her eyes, like, "Oh, God, here we go again." Then he proceeds upon this ten-minute magic show, making coins drop to the bar, producing hardboiled eggs and making them disappear, making things float. It was a mix of being here so incredibly long and being so tired and being receptive to this incredible magic show. And at the end we all clapped and he bowed -- it was like a real show. And they ran up a big tab and tipped really well too. I love it when people are spontaneously awesome in a public place.
How do you keep yourself occupied on a slow night? My vast collection of VHS tapes.
Who would you most like to have a drink with? Iggy Pop, but from 1970 -- before he cleaned up -- drinking mezcal in an abandoned train.
Where are you most likely to be found when you're not in this bar? I go to Tin Can on Morganford, just because I live about half a block from there. Right up the street is Local Harvest Grocery, and for some reason I think I'm there every day of the week.
Best hangover cure? Tiffany's on Manchester in Maplewood: the chicken-fried steak and eggs, and then have a nap scheduled after that.
Worst pickup line you've ever heard? We're still talking about this: There's a guy who is a friend of employees who one night just showed up hammered. He's talking about visiting some SLU frat house and they showed him a secret room with no windows, and I guess there's a king-size bed in there with fancy sheets and a bunch of names on the wall -- it's basically the creepy frat boy sex room. I forget what they called it, but after a while the rest of us just called it the "Rape Room." Then eventually he started calling it the Rape Room. So later on he's trying to pick up this girl and the line he's using is, "Hey. Hey you. Put that drink down right now. Pay your tab. We're going to the Rape Room."
Most unusual liquor you've ever seen? Recently absinthe was decriminalized in the U.S. So I got to try that. There's also a bubblegum vodka now -- that doesn't make sense to me, because with bubblegum you chew it and then spit it out.
If you could start a band, what kind of band would you start? I have had a project that I've been trying to get off the ground for about the last six months that's just straight horror-punk with costumes, like 1979 Misfits. More vampire punk than straight-up murder fantasy punk. Songs about alien invasions and werewolves and Frankenstein.
Best/worst drinking holiday? Worst: St. Patrick's Day, just because it's all about the Irish Car Bomb and nothing's a bigger mess on the bar, nothing is more impractical to put together and nothing makes people vomit quicker. Though I love the money I can make on St. Patrick's Day. Best: Christmas. People are feeling generous, and people in the bar on Christmas are typically my kind of people.
Biggest tab you've ever seen? A few weeks ago I saw $2,200. It was so much that the computer didn't understand.
Drunk food of choice? In the old days, it was a pack of ramen noodles prepared at 2:30 in the morning. These days if I can make it to a place by 3:30 in the morning, it's the U. I'm a big fan of the salmon pesto club. Outside of that, restaurant leftovers from the last place I went, eaten over the sink.
Three adjectives that describe your bar: 1980s exploitation posters.
My bar is the only bar in St. Louis where... You can get an excellently prepared, reasonably priced cocktail and take it into a movie with you.
Moolah Theatre & Lounge
3821 Lindell Boulevard; 314-446-6868