Category Archives: Bartender of the Month

To Press Bistro bartender, cocktails are a canvas

Press Bistro bartender Adam Santichen. Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Press Bistro bartender Adam Santichen. Staff photo by Cody McDevitt

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

The Press Bistro in downtown Johnstown is a bastion of creativity for both the chefs and bartenders who work in the establishment. And bar manager Adam Santichen is the resident Van Gogh when it comes to developing the cocktails available there.

“It’s almost like an art project. It’s a canvas,” Santichen said. “People like this and you try to do that. You have free creative control.”

Santichen, 27, started his bartending career at the Press Bistro more than two years ago. He is entirely self-taught, and he has become one of the most innovative bartenders in the city if the restaurant’s cocktails are evidence.

Some of the interesting things on the menu include a ghost pepper margarita, a caramel espresso white Russian, a ginger mojito and a blackberry old fashioned.

Part of the reason the bar program is so ambitious is because of how innovative executive chef and restaurant owner Jeremy Shearer is in the kitchen. They push each other, and those that patronize the restaurant reap the rewards.

“He’s great. He goes above and beyond,” Shearer said of Santichen. “Bartending used to be about speed. That’s what made a good bartender. People wanted more drinks. Now people don’t drink like that.

“Now they want something creative. And the cocktail list Adam puts together stands out from most other venues in the Laurel Highlands region.”

The craft cocktail scene in Johnstown is picking up, Santichen said.

“It’s pretty good,” he said. “The scene is starting to come around. People are trying to get out of the traditional cocktail mentality.”

Santichen thinks bartenders should not be afraid to think unconventionally. There are a million things you can do with one bottle of liquor, he said.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But success can come from failure, as Santichen said some of the best drinks have come about almost by accident.

“I think the biggest thing is to be creative,” he said. “If it’s something you want to do, keep playing around and keep experimenting. Some of the best drinks we have came about because of a mistake.”  

BigDogz bartender makes a good Bloody Mary

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt Michele Ziants has been a barkeep at BigDogz Grill in Johnstown for 13 years. She owns the restaurant with her husband.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Michele Ziants has been a barkeep at BigDogz Grill in Johnstown for 13 years. She owns the restaurant with her husband.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

Men wearing trucker hats threw darts during lunchtime at BigDogz Grill as the the Smashing Pumpkins “Disarm” blared out from the speakers. When they took a break, they ordered beers, which Michele Ziants got for them in between cleaning behind the bar.

Ziants, of Johnstown, is one of the better bartenders in town, and she has impressed the crowd that comes in when she’s working. Ziants does multiple things as part of her job.

“You have to know the menu and drinks. You have to be able to juggle multiple tasks,” she said. “We have to wait tables, answer phones and manage the bar. I also handle beer and liquor orders. You have to maintain a good relationship with the customers while doing all of that.”

Mike Ziants, her husband and co-owner of the establishment, said his wife’s personality, diligence and understanding of people makes her a great bartender.

“She pays a lot of attention to detail. She is also personable and knows the people’s names,” he said. “And she’s very organized. She’s been doing it for a number of years. You have to keep improving. And she has.”

Michele has been a bartender at Bigdogz since it opened 13 years ago. She brings a lot of expertise to the bar. She knows a lot about craft beer, even though she serves mostly macro brews. And she takes an interesting approach to making a Bloody Mary.

“You have to know what a customer likes in a Bloody Mary,” Ziants said. “You have to ask them. Some people don’t like them as spicy as other people. We normally ask if they want it spicy or not.”

She’s also trained a lot of barbacks, which is an often overlooked and unappreciated skill from bartenders, as some get frustrated by the slow progress that most newbies make when learning the difficult trade.

“You have to be patient,” Ziants said. “Everyone thinks they can be a bartender, but they can’t. There’s a lot to it. It’s not just pouring beer.”

Her customers said they could enumerate countless reasons for why Ziants is good at bartending. Eric Heptner, of Johnstown, has been coming for 13 years largely because he’s enjoyed being served drinks by her.

“She’s awesome. The list is endless why she’s good at bartending,” Heptner said. 

“She knows what I want when I come. She knows who you are. And she treats you like family even though you’re not.” 

Tulune’s barkeep understands craft brews

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

Angelia Raymond sells more than 300 types of beer as part of her work at Tulune’s Southside Saloon, a bar in Johnstown that can satisfy the most selective beer drinker while also pleasing newcomers to the craft beer scene.

Raymond knows she has to be patient and helpful for the people who are unfamiliar with what’s out there.

“Sometimes when you’re trying to sell craft beers, it’s a lot for them to take in,” Raymond said. “For them, it’s a whole new world.”

Raymond, 23, graduated from Johnstown High School. She worked at Sheetz until 2011, when she began her bartending career at Tulune’s.

People used to frown upon drinking craft beers, Raymond said. It was considered less manly if you weren’t drinking Miller Lite. But that’s changed, as people have opted for enjoying flavorful beers rather than throwing back watered-down brews.

“I think people used to stick their noses up at it,” she said. “But now I bring them samples, and they’re like, ‘This is really good.’ Nine times out of 10 they’ll pick the craft beers.”

Raymond reads the brewers’ websites and the beer labels to educate herself on what she’s selling. She understands there’s a wide variety of beer because there is such a variance in people’s palates.

“Everyone is attracted to different things,” Raymond said. “Some people like sweet. Some people like bitter. I’ll get them to try different things. The more they taste them, the more refined their tastes become.”

Raymond enjoys introducing people to craft beers.

“There’s a lot of people who have never had any of this stuff,” Raymond said. “They’re used to the macros. But whenever they try double chocolate milk stout, it has a lot of flavor. Miller Lite doesn’t have those flavors.”

Raymond’s enthusiasm and dedication to her work has impressed her colleagues, including fellow Tulune’s bartender Marlyce Lowery.

“She knows a lot about beer. She’s very friendly,” Lowery said. “And she runs the bar really well. Her attitude and excitement toward her job separates her from other bartenders. I feel like she’s really into what she does.”

Raymond thinks familiarity with people and alcohol are the keys to being a great bartender.

“Getting to know your customers and getting to know your product is generally my philosophy,” she said. “There are a bunch of variations of styles. Customer service makes a bartender good. It’s not hard to make drinks or pour beers. It’s more getting to know what your customers like.”

Bartender of the Month: Amber Saade

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt Amber Saade
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt
Amber Saade

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

Amber Saade is constantly moving. She’s behind the bar at the Back Door Café in Cambria City, making exotic cocktails like the Salted Caramel Chocolate Apple, the Peach Mule and a Pumpkin Latte-tini.

Saade, 24, of Westmont, is the head bartender there, and her customers, co-workers and boss respect her for her disarming demeanor and understanding of bartending. She’s picked up a lot of tricks while working at the bar.

“I’ve learned everything there is to learn as far as the basics go, and then I added my own elements,” Saade said. “I think this is a lot of hands-on (learning). That’s how I learned everything. I think I can apply that anywhere else I go.”

Her first job was in a gelato shop. Then she lived in Arizona with her dad, working at El Pollo Loco, a Mexican restaurant chain based on the West Coast. She went to high school for a year in 2007 in the suburbs of Phoenix before moving back here.

Saade returned to Arizona after she graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School. She worked again at El Pollo Loco. She then had a stint at P.F. Chang’s.

The well-traveled Saade moved back to Johnstown most recently in 2012, and she started work at the Back Door soon thereafter.

Saade doesn’t think there is a large craft cocktail scene in Johnstown like there is in Pittsburgh, but there are benefits to working in a smaller community.

“We have a lot more downtime to observe what goes on in the town,” she said. “That’s kind of to our advantage. It’s a little more personal.”
Denise Thompson, co-owner of the Back Door, praised Saade’s meticulous nature.

“Her attention to detail makes her a great bartender,” Thompson said. “Our recipes must be adhered to precisely so our drinks have consistency. She is also beautiful inside and out. That makes the customers want to come back.”

Tom Chulick, chef and co-owner, said Saade is reliable and talented.

“She knows all the cocktails and mixes them well,” Chulick said. “She’s a great employee. She’s always on time and she does all the things we need her to.”

Saade thinks that overcomplicating the bartending craft is what trips people up in their efforts to be a great bartender.

“Essentially, I don’t think you should be super-duper fancy,” Saade said. “I think actually caring about people makes a good time overall.”

Bartender of the Month: Eric McClintick

Staff photo by Cody McDevitt. Eric McClintick stands by a beer tap at Pour on Center in Ebensburg. McClintick has been offered jobs in the Pittsburgh area at high-end bars.
Staff photo by Cody McDevitt.
Eric McClintick stands by a beer tap at Pour on Center in Ebensburg. McClintick has been offered jobs in the Pittsburgh area at high-end bars.

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

At Pour on Center in Ebensburg, Eric McClintick oversees an extensive cocktail menu that rivals anything you’d see in Pittsburgh’s swank bars and gastropubs.

“We really push the envelope with the cocktails we do,” McClintick said. “This is a very progressive place, especially for the area. Even before I worked here, I came up here to eat. We have a city vibe in a country atmosphere.”

McClintick, 27, of Dubois, started at Pour on Center about three months ago. Prior to that he worked at the Windber Hotel. He’s been a bartender for about five years since he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

His career nearly ended as soon as it started. He started his bartending work at Tulune’s Southside Saloon in Johnstown. He had no experience making cocktails, and the managers expected him to be proficient from the start.

“My first night was a train wreck. I almost got fired my first night,” McClintick said. “They put me in as sink-or-swim. I didn’t know how to make a mixed drink. It was one of the busier nights in a while. I probably made 100 different drinks. I had to keep asking other people. It was a lot of guesswork.”

He’s come a long way since then.

At Pour on Center, there are a number of elaborate cocktails the staff has come up with. In addition to classics like the Old Fashioned and Sazerac, they have the Strawberry Rhubarb Collins and a number of ones with egg whites in it.

Charlie Sheridan, of Carrolltown, is a server at Pour on Center. She holds McClintick in high regard.

“He’s made the best drinks I’ve ever had in my life,” Sheridan said. “He’s a really good manager. He’s really good at putting people at ease and making our customers comfortable. It’s a good place to work, and he’s a large reason for that.”

Nick Periso, his boss, notices how much he connects to his coworkers and customers.

“He’s a very good bartender. He likes to make drinks people like,” Periso said. “He’s always trying new drinks and new things. He has a very good rapport with the customers and the sales reps as well. And he runs a good show.”

The craft cocktail renaissance has filtered down from Pittsburgh to the country areas, McClintick said.

“It’s growing. The craft cocktail scene used to be a niche that people turned their nose up,” McClintick said. “We wanted to offer some really great cocktails and involve some of the better spirits.”