With finals and papers looming over our heads as winter quarter draws to a close, I decided to do the responsible thing and head downtown for drinks at two of Riverside’s most popular speakeasies — The Hideaway Cafe and ProAbition. I decided to forgo simply spending a night with friends and chose instead to get to know the people who work behind the counter to better understand how to be a responsible patron.
Our stop Tuesday evening was the Hideaway Cafe, which is surreptitiously hidden underneath the Mission Galleria antiques store and Molinos Coffee off of Mission Inn Avenue. The bar is reached from a staircase that opens up at street level, and after descending the two flights of stairs opens into a room that wouldn’t seem out of place in “The Hobbit.” The entire place, which includes kitchens, several dining rooms, two bars and a pool hall, is lit with small strings of Christmas lights and faux fireplaces inset into the masonry. The beams that hold up the floor are disguised to look like giant tree trunks, and the room is filled with the soft tones of college radio and alternative rock music. The room, which was filled with about 30 people when we arrived, was served by David, who managed to find time to share a joke with the customers saddled up to the bar while also mixing and pouring drinks for the entire room by himself. A few games of pool and two Red Stripes later, I found a spot at the bar for my interview.
David opened up after a few moments, explaining that he got into bartending through his background in security, which gave him the real-world experience needed to be hired off the street. He liked interacting with people in his work, but disfavored having to deal with drunks and other customers who tend to get rowdy and rude after one too many. His biggest pet peeve is when customers snap their fingers to get his attention, or throw things at him in busy hours. “Just be respectful,” he stated about the best way to get service when a bar is busy. “Rather than yelling or being a nuisance, just say ‘Excuse me, sir,’ when you come up to the bar.” A man who had been listening in from a few feet back walked up to the bar. “Excuse me, sir,” he said. “Could I get another round?” Everyone crowded around the bar laughed.
David decided to forgo telling any personal stories, because “telling them tends to get him in trouble,” but advised that Long Island iced teas and Tokyo teas are the best value when it comes to drinking, and that it’s imperative to drink a glass of water after each drink to avoid a nasty hangover in the morning. His advice for future bartenders is to forego bartending school, as real-world experience is more than enough to get by in most businesses. When the interview was over, we continued to chat for the rest of the evening until the bar closed and we had to leave.
Our stop on Wednesday was ProAbition Kitchen and Whiskey Lounge, and I looked forward to a chance to have some craft cocktails in place of the draft beer that I’m accustomed to at most local bars. ProAbition boasts an impressive beer, wine and spirits list, and has some of the best food in the downtown area. Its warm lighting, old-style booths and soft jazz soundtrack truly give it a ‘20s speakeasy feel. The outside patio is packed with cushions and armchairs, while the bar is the centerpiece of the restaurant, underneath a case featuring their choice single malt whiskeys and other spirits. The bartender at ProAbition was Rachel, and she was amenable to answering questions in between mixing whiskey old fashioneds and gin and tonics for the thirsty patrons.
She began with giving her take on ProAbition’s goal, which is to provide a cozy, warm environment, perfect for groups who are drinking or couples who want to share a romantic evening, adding that on the packed “nightclub” nights the music is so loud that patrons often have to scream their orders at her. Her vexations are similar to David’s, adding that snapping and waving are an easy way to draw any bartenders’ ire, as well as being boisterous when drunk. Her tip for fast service is simple: Be ready when your bartender takes your order.
She didn’t have any tips for avoiding a hangover, as she saw them as unavoidable, but noted that knowing one’s limits was key when it came to enjoying a night out. She advised against ordering Long Island iced teas, as they could be subpar on busy nights; instead, a whiskey old fashioned was the best choice while at ProAbition. Rachel got into bartending to help pay her way through college, and stated that the best way to get a bartending gig was to start from the bottom and work your way up through the restaurant structure. After ordering another round of drinks, we made our way to the patio, bidding her a thankful farewell.
If you find someone complaining about a lack of culture or nightlife during your time at our fair school, feel free to check out the downtown bar scene as a rebuttal to their claim. If the night is young, you should offer to take them to the Hideaway Cafe or ProAbition to show what Riverside really has to offer.