Local Miami Bartender Barbara “Barby” Pena has been positively impacting and servicing patrons for over a decade. Before the 2019 Coronavirus Epidemic, you could have stepped into The Local Craft Food & Drink and Pena would have crafted you a drink that is individualized, creative and inspired. However, Pena, like others in the service industry, can now only hope that she will be able to continue fulfilling her passion for bartending.
What inspired you to become a bartender?
A long time ago, there was a spot called Clandestino Pub on South Beach. Working at Clandestino was my main introduction to the craft cocktail world and ever since then I have fallen in love. Bartending is like cooking but with liquor and I love to cook.
What are your favorite aspects of the job?
From the type of people that you meet to the conversations that you have to the cocktails you make…Every day is a new adventure. There are so many different worlds that come with bartending. You can work in different atmospheres. You can work at a place where you have conversations and make bonds with people. Some of my regulars have become my friends. Some of them have gone to my kids’ baby showers. There’s something special about the industry that I work in. There’s something magical.
What have you learned about the people you serve? How has this knowledge influenced your craft?
I learn something new every day. It truly is incredible to experience things through my guests and my regulars. Also, I make different types of cocktails for people and decipher what kind of drink they would like. You can walk up to me and I will make you something that you like. I have played that game with a lot of people who never had a real cocktail and are intimidated about ordering a drink. One time I had someone tell me that they want something “witchy and romantic.” I made her a smokey drink that had a flower tea that changed color once you added lemon to it. She was blown away. It is crazy how you can change someone’s day so easily, someone who could be going through a lot. I’ve talked people out of doing dumb things and I have heard people out. Sometimes I feel like a psychiatrist but my prescriptions are drinks.
What are your favorite drinks?
My favorite drink is a New York Sour. They are delicious. It’s both boozy and refreshing. It’s a funky cocktail and it’s very pretty too. It has egg whites in it and it has a very beautiful process. I really enjoy making it for people who never had it. Every time they say, “Oh my God! It’s amazing!”
Do you have any remarkable opportunities/ stories that have happened because of your job? If so, what are some of these experiences?
I met the love of my life through working in this industry. You never know what the future holds and it was very sweet how I met him. He walked into The Local and was like, “ You are the bartender that used to work at Roll Call a long time ago!” Roll Call was a 24 hour bar that was open in Miami. It was wild. As a bartender, I have had very beautiful and touching encounters, very emotional moments. This industry has taught me how we are all so different but it is beautiful to be able to have a moment with all these different humans.
How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?
I have always had two jobs. I work at The Local and the crew is like a family. Everyone has been there for five or six years. We all have seen a lot of each other but this has changed since the pandemic. My second job was at 1-800 Lucky and they are running a tight, skeleton crew there. I haven’t gone back to work. The pandemic has definitely brought a lot of questions: How permanent is this? Is this going to affect the service industry unlike jobs where you can work from home?
What, if anything, do you hope a Post COVID-19 Word resembles for you as a person and as a member of the hospitality industry?
In a post-COVID-19 world, we are going to be more aware of washing our hands and personal space. I honestly don’t know what to expect. I just hope all of us as humans try to become better humans. I think this whole experience is very awakening. I hope we can take all the positives and create a better, healthier world. The uncertainty of the service industry is scary for all of us bartenders. I don’t know if things will go back to normal and whether we can rely on the industry as the main source of income as we have done for years. I do have a fall back plan of going back to school if all else fails. I was thinking about becoming a dental hygienist. I know it is so different but I would be going for job security. Let’s hope that things take a turn for the best and that our industry survives.
If you had your own drink, bar or business, what would it be like and why?
I would have a little coffee shop. Maybe I would make it a speakeasy during the night with wine and poetry. I would want a Mom and Pop shop that my family could visit.
To contact Barby or follow her journey: