When Atlanta residents want an eclectic intown option to satisfy their Mexican food fix, or just a spot to grab a drink, the answer in recent years has often been Across The Street in Old Fourth Ward. Lesbian couple Ali Wild and Lana Banks opened the eclectic neighborhood patio bar and bistro in 2006, and later added neighborhood grocery store The Market, that’s, well, across the street from Across The Street.
One of the reasons ATS, as regulars call it, has proven popular is bartender Epiphany Louis. You can usually find the Atlanta native there on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when she’s not freelance writing, running marathons or traveling with her girlfriend.
We bellied up to the bar and got the scoop from Louis on ATS, her favorite and least favorite parts of the job and more.
How long have you been bartending?
I’ve been in the service industry since I was 18. I am now 27. I first started out at Texas Roadhouse in Valdosta my freshman year in college [at Valdosta State University]. I transferred up to Atlanta to finish college at Georgia State and I worked at Nino’s Cucina Italiana [on Cheshire Bridge Road] and did a few catering gigs, and it was through catering that I fell into bartending.
After catering I ended up working at Jack’s Pizza, the dive bar over there [in Old Fourth Ward]. I did some work with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], like disaster relief and recovery, so I did a bit of traveling with that. From there, I came back from a contract and ran into Ali and Lana and they gave me a job about three or four years ago.
What was it like starting out at Across The Street?
Initially I came in for training just to kind of do a look-see and see how I liked it. They kind of just threw me out to the wolves, man. I went up to my first table and was like, ‘Hey, it’s my first day. I haven’t trained, so if you have questions I probably don’t know the answer but I’ll figure it out for you.’ I try to build relationships with people and make them feel like the most special person out there, or actually the only table out there really.
A few bartenders came and went and they had a bartending opening one day and they asked if I had bartended yet and I said yeah. They said, ‘Well, if you want to do it, it’s your time.’ So I got behind the bar and was nervous as shit because it had been so long and I was fairly new at the restaurant. I didn’t know where anything was behind the bar, I didn’t know anything [laughs]. But I just kind of made stuff up as I went and it stuck.
What do you like about bartending?
It’s so multifaceted. You have to wear so many hats. You’re an expert on everything for the most part. You’re a part-time psychiatrist, a hairstylist, you give relationship advice. You just meet so many different people and nothing’s ever the same, ever. Every day is a new day.
What are your pet peeves about the job?
I hate when people come in and say, ‘Make me something special.’ I’m like dude, I don’t even know what you like, number one. I don’t even know you [laughs]. Like, what do you mean make you something special? So generally I just give them a glass of water [laughs].
I also hate when people say they want something strong. I try to make a cocktail and if they want to pay for a double shot then great, but if they wonder why they don’t have a lovely cocktail anymore it’s because it’s loaded up with alcohol and it’s not balanced anymore.
What’s something that customers should know about your job that would surprise them?
As much as I try to give attention to all of our customers, a bartender is always busy. Whether it’s prepping, counting alcohol, making sure we have cold beer. And then when you have on the managerial hat as well, you have to go do table checks and make sure the customers are happy while maintaining your bar.
And when your bar guests are asking for drinks, you also have a service bar as well, so you’re making drinks all over the place while making sure you don’t run out of anything. And since we use all fresh lime juice and lemon juice, I have to juice all of this stuff too [laughs]. It just doesn’t end.
What are your specialties or most popular cocktails?
For the restaurant, our margaritas are absolutely divine. We use all fresh ingredients. A lot of people use simple syrup and fill it with too much sugar and too much fluff and it comes out giving you really bad heartburn. We don’t have any of those problems here. But hands down my favorite drink is a Sazerac. (see recipe)
3 ounces rye whiskey (preferably Bulleit Bourbon)
1 sugar cube
Peychaud’s Bitters to taste
Lemon twist for garnish
1. Chill an Old Fashioned glass by filling it with ice. Let it sit while you move on to the next step.
2. Soak the sugar cube with Peychaud’s Bitters in a mixing glass and muddle it to crush the cube.
3. Add the rye whiskey and stir.
4. Discard the ice in the chilled glass and rinse it with absinthe by pouring a small amount into the glass, swirling it around, then discarding the liquid.
5. Dump the whiskey mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
6. Garnish with a lemon twist.