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‘Cool, old school bro’ voted favorite bartender in Jackson

August 9, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — His dad was sitting in his favorite chair. Something had angered him and he was trying to settle down.

Forty-five minutes later, he was dead at 63. Heart attack. His third.

“I was right there when it happened — 17 years old,” Kurt Monaghan says. “That’s a lot to take in. I had been in college (at Hinds CC) for one week. After that, I had a ‘whatever’ attitude. Nothing really mattered anymore.

“I stayed intoxicated — not every day, but I partied a lot. But looking back, everything happens for a reason. And it certainly made me evaluate things after a while, and it made me grow up.”

Today, the 47-year-old Monaghan is happily married (Rachael) and has two daughters — Olivia, 13, and Addison, 7. Clarion Ledger readers voted Monaghan their favorite bartender in the Metro Jackson area. Sixty-five servers received votes in the online poll.

After a photo shoot for this article, Addison looked at her dad and said: “You’re famous!”

“My kids finally think I’m cool,” he says, laughing. “But this award does mean a lot to me. It’s humbling. I had friends send me messages, saying ‘I’m voting for you.’ And it makes a guy feel good to get recognized for doing a good job.

“I came to realize a while back that this was what I was supposed to do in life. Being recognized reinforces that, and I really appreciate those who thought enough of me to vote.”

Monaghan works for Hal and Mal’s and handles bartending duties at most events at Duling Hall. He picks up some weekend shifts at Pelican Cove and fills in at Bonnie Blair’s.

A few of the voters’ comments about Monaghan:

“Cool, old school bro.”

“Always has a smile, willing to make whatever off-the-wall drink you request.”

“His professionalism is amazing. You can honestly see how much he enjoys his job.”

“Always greets you with a good word.”

It isn’t always easy to be the cheery dude behind the bar. Sometimes you have a headache. Or the mailman ran over your garbage can — again. Or all four tires need replacing.

“Really, leaving all your personal issues at the door is one of the toughest parts of my job,” Monaghan says. “But that’s what you have to do, something I’ve learned to deal with. People expect you to be respectful and courteous and somewhat entertaining. And rightfully so.”

Monaghan grew up in Jackson, attended Murrah High School for a while and graduated from Madison-Ridgeland Academy in 1988.

Before he became a bartender, Monaghan worked as a bouncer at The Dock, where closing time and sunrise weren’t far apart.

“It was interesting and fun,” Monaghan says. “I had to realize that people did a lot of stupid things because they were affected by alcohol. Some nights were boring, some weren’t.

“One night, a guy who was quite intoxicated walked up to the bar and knocked everything he could onto the floor. I grabbed him around the neck and put him to sleep in 3 seconds — I learned that maneuver, which has served me well — dragged him outside, woke him up and sent him on his way.

“I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. But somebody said, ‘That guy just put his fist through the driver’s side window of a car.’ I walk out there and it’s my car. Never saw the guy again.”

Turns out, the man was upset because Rachael — who bartended at The Dock before she and Kurt married — had refused to serve him any more liquor.

“He didn’t take it well and a lot of people don’t,” Monaghan says. “But we have a responsibility to that person, to others who may come in contact with him and to ourselves to cut people off if you think they’ve had enough.

“I try to be nice about it. I’ll say something like ‘Want to try some water?” or ‘How about a Sprite?’ ”

Monaghan was working as a bouncer one night when a manager at Marina Cantina, located across the parking lot from The Dock, said a bartender had called in sick and wondered if he might like to try his hand at serving.

“I came back the next night and started making drinks,” he says. “I went over the basic stuff beforehand — how to make a Cape Cod or a Margarita.

“I worked with a lot of great people, a lot of great mentors, who didn’t mind sharing their knowledge. After a while, I realized I could make pretty good money at this. Twenty-nine years later, I think I made the right decision.”

One night, however, he did not make the right drink.

A customer asked for a Bloody Mary. Monaghan made a strawberry daiquiri.

“This is not right,” said the customer — Rachael.

“Yep, that’s how we met,” he says. “She always says I made her a strawberry Mary.”

It’s easy to spot Monaghan behind the bar. He is 6-foot, 210 pounds and looks like he works out three times a day.

He eats a lot of turkey, chicken, fruits and vegetables. Drinks gallons of water. He is diabetic but has it under control with the help of an insulin injection every night before going to sleep.

He does not look 47.

“I had a woman who was probably in her ’60s kinda flirting with me the other night,” he says. “She said, ‘What are you, 26? 27?’ When I told her my age, she didn’t believe it. I had to pull out my license and show her.”

Yes, a lot of women like to flirt with the bartender. A lot of men and women enjoy baring their soul to the bartender, as well.

“As for the flirting, I just kind of cut it off and focus on my job. The fact that Rachael has bartended before helps a lot. She knows that’s just part of the job.

“And people will talk — and tell you everything. Sometimes, they’re looking for a little friendly advice, other times they just want to get something off their chest. I don’t mind.”

In his spare time, Monaghan enjoys sports and spending time with his family, which includes his 83-year-old mother.

“Not to sound rude, but bartending is such a social job. When I’m not working, I like to lay low and chill,” he says.

And he rarely drinks anymore — maybe a beer or two if friends are grilling.

“I had an old bartender tell me a long time ago, ‘This job will either make you turn to alcohol or away from alcohol,’” Monaghan says. “And I’ve found that to be true.

“I’ve done my share of drinking — and getting sick from it. That’s the last thing on my mind these days. And I think, somehow, that helps me be a better bartender.”

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Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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