Bartender, cocktail educator, writer, and performer, Jena Lane Ellenwood is the "Nikka Perfect Serve Global Runner Up" and "Marie Brizard Toast To HerStory Winner" for 2019. In her spare time she enjoys farmer’s markets and cuddling up with her six-toed black cat, Cash.
Jena has been with the Dear Irving family for almost three years, after she began teaching cocktail classes with them last year. She’s helped expand their program with her own anti-waste greenmarket focus on a few and helping people reimagine what their home bars can be! She also spent ten years at The Sparrow Tavern Astoria. We sat down with Jena to get a behind the scenes look at what it's like being a world class bartender.
When did that eureka moment happen when you realized your mission is to be a bartender?My parents gave me the Barbie Soda Shop when I was 4…we all should have seen this coming.
What are the TOP 5 skills every bartender should have?1. Foresight/multitasking- the ability to think and plan ahead and accomplish multiple things at once under pressure.
2. Communication- with your team and customers.
3. Empathy-we’re glorified therapists with shakers ya’ll.
4. A sense of humor- people are funny, and if you can’t laugh at yourself you are never going to make it.
5. Organization- everything in its place, everything cleaned and ready for whoever might take over after you.
Being flexible is the only way to survive.
Which cocktail is the biggest pain in the ass to make, pardon our French?Anything can be a pain in the ass if you’re not prepped and set up for it. The most complicated drinks can be executed extremely easily if you have everything where you need it when you need it.
And which cocktail is served in your version of heaven?A Piña Colada.
Which drink or cocktail would you say is way underrated? (And a tricky followup: Which one is the most overrated?)Under- Sherry Cobbler. Over- Last Word.
You come home, slide into something comfortable, and throw yourself on the couch. What's in your glass?Ha, if we’re being honest here… water!
What are the five essential ingredients every booze lover should have in their home bar?Angostura, Gin, Whiskey, Tequila or Mezcal, Campari or Cointreau (depending on what drinks you tend to make more of) bonus for having vermouth in the fridge.
Which booze is the most versatile?Vermouth! I love vermouth, keep it in the fridge and realize it’s more than just an afterthought in a martini.
Is there a favorite life hack you learned at your job?Pacing, timing, multitasking- I guess those are skills.
What's the craziest anecdote you're willing to share with us?My coworker Mike and I have a solid track record of having to kick people out of Sparrow while we’re wearing costumes. We once broke up a bar fight while he was dressed as Frankfurter (in the corset) and I was Magenta. We also had to 86 someone during our GLAM ROCK charity night while Mike was dressed as Klaus Nomi.
What are your passions outside the world of Spirits?I love to cook! I make a four-course Christmas dinner for my family every year; I like to make them feel special. I love to travel and experience places through local cuisine and especially farmer’s markets. I dream about this pear I had in France... I also love to write, I’m currently working on a few projects.
What would you be doing if you weren't a bartender?Wow, been thinking about this a lot recently—I’m sure we all have. I have a degree in performance and creative writing, I’ve been in plays and films and I’ve also written for websites. I also make my own films; I have a short documentary that I’d like to expand on the politics of women’s fashion.
I spend a lot of time advocating for others and volunteering to change the world for the better—I think I’d combine all of those things. I’d be making art for advocacy. I hate auditioning so I’d be making my own work. I’d also really love to have a cooking and cocktail show. Or I’d be in the circus. I’ve always wanted to do that and I have aerial training.
I dream about this pear I had in France... I also love to write, I’m currently working on a few projects.
Tell us what's your favorite tool of the trade and why.The Internet. Seriously, being able to look up things you don’t know is a lifesaver. I also love my knives, they’re from a family-owned company in Boston.
Fast-forward five years. Where do you see yourself?Hahahahahaha honestly, see me in five years. If this situation we are all in right now has taught me anything, it’s that my plans are irrelevant, and being flexible is the only way to survive.
A Genie tells you to pick someone to fix a drink for; dead or alive, real or fictional. Who would it be?Ada Coleman- I’d like to hear her stories.
Like what you read? Keep up with Jena by following her on Instagram.