By CODY McDEVITT
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.”