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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Bartending in a college town


The Aggie sits down with Red 88 bartender, Davis alumnus

Working at a bar is full of diverse experiences. Bartending in a college town is full of adventures. Ricky Lee, a server and bartender at Red 88 Noodle Bar, knows a lot when it comes to surviving the nightlife of Davis. Working there for the past year and a half, Lee has witnessed many 21st birthdays — and has some advice for being prepared to step into a Davis bar.


The California Aggie: What is it like bartending in a college town?


Lee: Bartending in a college town is a great experience. You see regulars that pop in every weekend and you also get some people’s friends that come and visit them from other colleges and want to see what the nightlife scene is like in Davis. One of the other things about being a bartender in a college town is that you see a lot of 21st birthdays, so you see a lot of people come to the bars for the first time ever.


TCA: What is the best bang for your buck?


Lee: When ordering drinks, I always recommend the daily specials or what’s on happy hour because they usually feature some of that establishment’s specialty cocktails or drinks. For Red 88 Noodle Bar, FMLs are $6 on Wednesdays, and we have beer tower specials on Sundays.


TCA: What should people be ordering?


Lee: I usually recommend drinks to people based on what they like to drink [type of alcohol] or if they’ve had something that I served them before that they liked. At Red 88, I feel like our Red Rocket doesn’t get as much attention as I think it should. It’s a cocktail with blueberry and raspberry vodka, citrus vodka, sweet and sour, Sprite and a dash of grenadine. It’s garnished with a cherry and a lemon wedge, and it’s a nice refreshing cocktail and it’s also one of our happy hour offerings.


TCA: What gives someone away that it’s their first time in a bar?

Lee: I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are coming to a bar for the first time don’t know that they have options on the type of liquor they can have in their drinks. A good example would be when someone orders a Moscow mule and I ask them what vodka they want and they give me blank look. Another dead giveaway would be people who have their foreheads marked with a sharpie from another bar or if they’re wearing a sash that says “21st Birthday.” So when I see that it’s their 21st birthday it’s always a safe bet that they’ve never been to a bar to order drinks, but they usually come with a group of friends that have been around the bars already to show them around.


TCA: What is the best advice you could give someone walking into the bar for the first time?


Lee: For anyone walking into a specific bar for the first time or going to one for the first time in general: try their signature cocktails and drinks. Some bars have drinks that they’re known for that you won’t find being served anywhere else. Some examples would be bar-specific drinks like Red 88’s FML, Bistro 33’s Devastator, Cafe Bernardo’s Wiki Wacky Woo, etc.  Another thing would be to find out which nights they have specials on drinks. Some bars have theme nights, trivia nights and discounted drinks.


TCA: What do you personally enjoy about being a bartender?


Lee: I definitely enjoy the social aspect of being a bartender. In a college town like Davis, I run into people I lived in the dorms with, people from my lectures and discussions and getting to know new people that come out to the bars a lot. Over time, you start getting to know people pretty well just from them visiting your bar. It’s like talking with your favorite local barber and talking about the stuff going on in your life.


TCA: Can you tell me a funny anecdote from working at the bar?


Lee: Red 88 has a birthday wheel for people to spin on their birthdays, and when they can’t reach the wheel from the side of the counter, we offer them a chair to stand on to be able to reach and spin it. Not to long ago, a birthday girl thought it was the prime opportunity to dance on the chair while the wheel was spinning and her friends were recording and she lost her balance and fell. As much fun as she seemed to have, not to mention how much her friends enjoyed watching her drunkenly dance on the chair, I definitely discourage people from dancing on chairs, tables or any other elevated surfaces when you’re at the bars. Time has proven that gravity always gets the last laugh.



Written by: CaraJoy Kleinrock — arts@theaggie.org


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