Boozy Bartender Stories @ The Jamaica Pegasus
Let's lift your Spirits!Thursday, December 23, 2021
Dewayne Omar Barnett was born and raised in Bull Bay, St Andrew. Though he spent his childhood there he has spent the last seven years living in Portmore, St Catherine.
After graduating from Excelsior High School, the plan was to go to college but that did not materialise. Instead, Barnett found himself travelling back and forth between Jamaica and the US because his parents had migrated there. Truth is, Barnett ended up going to Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, and spent three years there, on a student visa. Barnett also started working, picking up little jobs here and there. He reflects on his time at Carrabba's Italian Grill.
“That was my first serving job!” he exclaimed. “Though I had no experience at the time I called them and asked if they were hiring.”
Barnett was encouraged to apply and come in for an interview. He was interviewed by the proprietor who looked up and said, “You have no experience,” to which Barnett replied, “You can teach me.”
He remembers they started talking about football, and being a “huge NFL fan, we really connected and realised we loved the same team!” It was magic after that, and Barnett got the job. At Carrabba's, he started as a server, and admits that he was terrible at it. Though it was a bad start Barnett stuck with it, tried to learn, and pick up as much as he could. During that time, he noticed the bartenders — the swag and confidence — they were so creative. He became even more curious about this world. He wanted in!
From La Carrabba's Barnett moved on to serving at the Outback Steakhouse. “One night, during a busy Friday night at Outback Steakhouse, I tried getting a margarita for a guest but couldn't get it because it was so busy.” The busy bartender then looked up at Barnett and said, “Can you come back here and make it? Do you know how to make it?”
“I said yes,” Barnett said, quickly jumping behind the bar and making the margarita, which he brought to the guest.
The guest drank it and replied, “This was worth the wait!”
“I thought, I can do this!” Barnett recalled. “Every now and then, when the restaurant was busy, and the same bartender was on duty, I was allowed to make the drinks and would get tips on mixology.”
Barnett says that the two “became good friends and would grab a couple of beers after work” and Barnett would ask questions and learn about making the popular drinks at the restaurant, and classic cocktails.
Once Barnett returned home to Jamaica in 2012 he started dropping off his resume at Kingston hotels and got called for an interview. At the time, the only available opening was for banqueting. But Barnett wanted to be a bartender. Though disappointed, he still took the plunge, got into banqueting at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. Thus, began his journey to bartending in 2013. “I met so many people in banqueting who I am still in contact with to this day,” he revealed.
After two months on the job, Barnett's employer needed someone in the banquet bar. “I accepted the role even though it wasn't about mixology. It was about serving simple drinks. I still took pride in making these drinks — rum & Coke, vodka tonic, gin & tonic. Though simple, the proportions must be right so as not to put off the guests. I enjoyed people coming to me and saying, “I want him to make my drinks” because I was so consistent! One thing about me is I don't forget a customer or what they drink. I always remember!”
His returning clients are always pleasantly surprised when they've barely sat down and before even asking, find themselves being presented with their drink. Barnett finds pleasure in delighting his guests with his thoughtfulness, their drink, well-made.
“The nod they give you when you present a good mix consistently, that makes you feel good,” he beamed.
“In 2015, while working in banqueting at Jamaica Pegasus, my manager encouraged me to enter the Taste of Jamaica competition in Montego Bay,” he continued. “The category was table setting. It was solely just setting and serving. There were bartenders (Barnett's colleagues) from the Jamaica Pegasus in attendance and competing. The following year, I entered the competition as a bartender. The category was rum, vodka and non-alcoholic. The vodka category was a culinary competition, so the drink had to be cooked. Call it nerves, I made a rum drink without the rum!
“The judge while tasting allowed me to add the rum and a little lime juice. Though the drink could not be counted due to the prior omission, the judge admitted, 'You have a gold medal drink, but it cannot be included due to the omission.' I did not win that year. I was the laughing stock, to my colleagues and friends, known as the guy that made the rum drink without the rum!
“It was not until 2017 [that] I was in the passageway downstairs, and I see a sign that says internal position available — Blend Bar Bartender. I immediately went to HR and told them I wanted to apply. They told me I had to be able to make classic cocktails and have personality. I applied and turned in my résumé. Two weeks later I went to HR and enquired about the position again.
“'We gave it to somebody else,' they said, and I was disappointed, but was happy for my food & beverage colleague who had successfully got the post. [But] I didn't stop there. I went to my Food & Beverage Manager Mikhailla Robinson and shared with her that I wanted to switch departments. Miss Rob was welcoming but did not have a bartender role available, only a server position in the restaurant was available. Thinking back on my serving experience I thought I can do that and if anything opens up in F&B for bartending, I would be right in line — as they tend to pull from F&B.
“I went back to Taste of Jamaica in 2017, better prepared, still nervous. I went back with the same cocktail and instead of blending the jackfruit I made jackfruit infusions in the form of a syrup. I made it a month before the competition to harness as much of the pure jackfruit flavour as possible (cocktail name: Hidden Jack). I remember making my rum drink (with rum this time!), and the vodka drink (culinary). I remember when they were calling out the winners — first the individual categories, then Bartender of the Year. I heard Bartender of the Year, Jamaica Pegasus hotel: Dewayne Barnett!
“When I went up to collect the award, the presenter gave me the award then proceeded to tell everyone (and I mean everyone) about the year before. We all had a good laugh. I won that title again in 2019. I was happy and proud. Just to know that you failed at something and getting the encouragement to keep at it and stick with it. Mikhailla was instrumental in mentoring, guiding, and coaching me. She was the one who taught me about competing and being prepared, trying new things, and exotic fruit like jackfruit. Miss Rob taught me about using alternative methods for infusions. That year, I was awarded the gastronomy ambassador, as well. It felt surreal. It felt good. I won this because I went for it! Though not yet a bartender, my fellow colleagues and bartenders called me with their well wishes — the camaraderie was encouraging.
“After the competition, when I returned to F&B I did a few more weeks in the restaurant as a server and was given the opportunity of a lifetime and placed right in the bar! I have been here since then. I still had to learn, and continued learning about making cocktails. I did not always get it right, but it is an adjustment. It is about being open to continuous learning. It is about adjusting and finding the right balance — in life and in cocktails. We say it here all the time, it is about balance. It is about having the right amount of rum, and other ingredients for it to taste good. Its about being precise. I learnt that and I am still learning about that today! Additionally, you want your drink to look good, as well. One of the best compliments I have received is when a guest asked me to make her a drink. I created a drink right then and there and I am going to make that drink for you today — The Pegasus Tease. After drinking two of them the guest said to me, 'You definitely understood the assignment.'
“The experience is what it is all about. The Jamaica Pegasus Hotel is an experience. People ask for us [bartender colleagues] by name. We have so much personality between us as bartenders! Guests ask for me, or Jacko, or Franz and Dwight. It is because of the ambiance, experience, and personality. I never come to work and act like I know everything. I always think about where I am coming from. I take pointers from the other bartenders that I work alongside and take a chance on trying something different.”
Find Dewayne Barnett at Blend Bar, inside the Jamaica Pegasus, seven days a week opening at 4:00 pm!
Tipple Time — The Pegasus Tease
1 oz Kingston 62 White (formerly known as Appleton Genisis)
1 oz shot of Cocomania Coconut Rum
˝ oz of Amaretto Liqueur
Stir it Up: “You have to be careful because we have Cocomania, Amaretto and Pineapple juice which are all sweet. We are going to “draw it out a little” by adding lime juice. Then you stir and taste. I don't shake this cocktail; I just build it in the glass. Then fill with ice. Stir and garnish with grilled fresh-cut pineapple (with the skin) to add a bit of smokiness.”
Served in a Belgium cocktail glass.
Taste Profile: Refreshing, tart and sweet with aromas of grilled pineapple. This drink is a real teaser and will draw you in.
Next Up — The Flying Horse (Signature Blend Bar drink)
1.5 oz Skyy Passion Fruit Vodka
1 oz JWN Overproof White Rum
The Shakedown: “Shake well for about 10 seconds or until the shaker is cool. We must taste after we shake to ensure it is blended well and balanced. Serve in a martini glass and garnish with a carved orange wedge.”
Taste profile: Tart cocktail. The vodka tempers the white rum, so it doesn't overpower.
Location Drop — Kingston 5 (celebrating the Jamaica Pegasus hotel, located at 81 Knutsford Blvd, Kingston 5)
1.5 oz Kingston 62 gold rum
1 oz triple sec
Stir and sweeten with brown sugar
Stir then dry shake to get the sugar to dissolve a bit more. Then add ice and shake again. Double strain into a brown sugar-rimmed high ball glass and garnish with a sugar cane skewer.”
Taste profile: Sweet Jamaica orange, rum forward cocktail. It is giving me all the notes and aromas I get from peeling and eating a sweet Jamaican orange with a kick of rum.
“Fourth and final cocktail – for now. In the last Taste of Jamaica in 2019 they had a category called Mystery Basket where they give you seven minutes to compile your ingredients and there is one that you have to use, that ingredient was Campari. This cocktail is called the High Horse. The idea is to elevate it to a certain level beyond the community bar scene. It is still going to be 'rumpari based' in that it still has certain elements of the rumpari – JWN Overproof white rum and Campari.”
It is Barnett's take on a crafted Campari Cocktail.
1 oz JWN white overproof
˝ oz triple sec
˝ oz lime juice
1 oz pink grapefruit juice (house-made)
˝ oz Campari
Shake, and double strain into a coupe glass (Pro tip: double straining ensures that there is no sediment, and it can be as clear as possible.)
Garnish with a carved orange peel.
Taste profile: Slightly bitter and tart
Let's lift your spirits! Find and follow me on Instagram @raihndrops