Behind the Bar | Meet Lisa Stewart, BLU Jazz+

lisa devil stripName: Lisa Stewart

Hometown: Canton, OH

Lives in: Highland Square

Job: Bartender, BLU Jazz+

What was your first night like? 

The first night at BLU Jazz+ was not what I expected at all. The official grand opening was scheduled for Friday October 24. The day before, the whole staff was getting in some last minute cleaning and training when Tony decides to tell us that this will be the day for our soft opening. We all panicked a bit, especially me since I was the only bartender that was available to work so last minute! I hurried home, changed my clothes and tried to mentally prepare myself for what was about to happen (Tony has A LOT of friends). It started out OK, then slowly but surely around 100 people showed up including an impromptu performance by Dorianne Denard. It was crazy, and scary and unfamiliar but in a way, I was really glad I was thrown into it before officially opening to the public. I now knew what to expect.

Good or bad, what’s one thing you wouldn’t have known if you weren’t a bartender?

I have a degree in Public Relations but I have learned more about people in my bartending experience than I ever learned in school. Reading people is an art, and bartenders have to master that skill. I have learned to become more patient and understanding. I have learned to become a great listener, whether it’s someone telling me a personal story or someone giving me a long drink order. I think everyone should work in a restaurant or a bar at some point in their lives to get a better understanding about working with the public in this capacity. It really gives you a different perspective.

Best tip you’ve ever gotten?

A few years ago on December 26—a day no one wanted to work since it was the day after Christmas—I had a party of four sitting at the bar that were in from Texas visiting family for the holidays. I had brief conversations with them, but mostly they kept to themselves. When it was time to pay the $50 bill, the man asked me what I wanted my tip to be. I actually hate when people ask that question because I obviously want to respond with a number higher than they want to give. I told him 20% was what I usually receive and that is all I expect. He handed me the slip with a $250 tip and said, “Merry Christmas. Buy yourself something nice.” It was pretty awesome, and needless to say, all the employees that didn’t want to work that day wished they had.

Where do you go when you’re not at work?

I love little local bars. I am not a nightclub-type of person, so you will find me at Frank’s Place on Market or at The Square Bar. I love bars where they have “activities” going on whether it’s music trivia, live music, or my favorite, karaoke! Anyone that knows me knows that I am obsessed with karaoke. I do like to switch it up sometimes and go see music at Uncorked and have a glass of wine, or go to an open mic night at Baxter’s, but I mostly just stick to the Highland Square area since it is close to where I live.

Favorite drink to make or order away from work?

I do not have a specific drink that is my favorite to make but I love getting customers to try new things. Our most popular drink at BLU is called the Maiden Lane, a bourbon-based cocktail with fresh blackberries. Some people will overlook it because it’s bourbon, but once they taste it, they never go back. I like getting people to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. I think a strength of mine is figuring out what a person will like based on what they normally drink. In turn, I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone as well and ordering specialty cocktails that other bartenders recommend. (Or beer, I really like beer, haha)

How do you know if it is going to be a good night?

At BLU, it’s never a bad night. We may be slower or busier than we can predict on any given night, but we can always count on good music and great guests. People’s attitudes are different when they enter our doors compared to any other bar I have worked at. Even if someone has a complaint or is unhappy for any reason, the overall atmosphere always seems to fix the problem. Someone may complain about something minor like their food taking too long on a busy night, we apologize and try to remedy the situation and when you look over a minute later they are too busy enjoying the music to remember that they were upset in the first place. The BLU experience is so positive and fun, I have honestly never had a bad night since we have opened. We have been very lucky.

What’s your favorite thing about your bar?

On a personal level, my favorite thing is the staff. Colin Cook, our GM, handpicked all of the employees, recognizing that we all bring something different to the table; we all have different strengths and Colin strategically placed us in the role that showcases our abilities. We have become more than just coworkers, we have become like a small family. …We all want the best for BLU, our guests, and of course for the city of Akron. I love how different we are from anything else that is happening in Akron right now. We are more than just a “bar,” we are an experience.