At area watering holes, mixologists pour themselves into a demanding — but seldom dull — job
From the June 2015 issue
Ginger Breneman was working in the banking industry in 2004 when she picked up a few bartending shifts at The Frogg Pond Tavern in Rehoboth Beach (now The Pond Bar and Grill). Breneman, who had no experience in the latter line of work, was thrown into the fray on a Memorial Day weekend. “The first piece of advice I got was that if you don’t know what the drink is, make it pink,” she recalls with a laugh.
Today, Breneman is putting her business degree and restaurant experience to good use as the owner of Mixx in Rehoboth Beach — where she still works the bar. “People expect to see me here,” she explains.
Breneman isn’t the only beach bartender to develop a loyal following. On April 10, Paul Byron Rogers, affectionately known as “PBR,” hung up his apron after 30 years at the Summer House in Rehoboth Beach. His retirement was met with dismay from customers who’d been bellying up to his bar since the 1980s.
But Rogers, a special education teacher, grew weary of getting up at 5:30 a.m. for that job and not getting home until 2:30 a.m. Despite the long hours, he, like many bartenders catering to the vacation crowd, made it look easy. “Even on a very noisy evening, PBR can read lips,” says frequent Summer House customer Jose Morales. “He always remembers names. He has excellent mixology skills — he can mix you a Tom Collins as easy as pouring you a cold Bud.”
And like many coastal bartenders, Rogers says he’s seen and heard “just about everything.”
The back story behind the bar
Rogers jumped behind the Summer House bar in 1986 after playing Santa Claus at a Christmas party there. However, the 6-foot-2-inch burly ex-Marine was no stranger to the business. In 1975, while stationed in Japan, he was a doorman at a noncommissioned officers’ club. Back at the beach, the Georgetown native worked the door at several bars, including the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach.
Despite taking classes in mixology at specialty schools, many beach bartenders learned most of what they know on the job. Bee Neild, who’s been at The Back Porch Cafe in Rehoboth for 40 seasons, started as a “go-fer,” driving up to Dover to pick up desserts made by the mother of then-owner Victor Pisapia. “She had three pots on the stove and all these desserts and fresh bread, and she’d ask: ‘Are you hungry?’” After eating, the 20-year-old college student filled up his VW bug with carrot cakes and cheesecakes. He became a bartender when current co-owner Keith Fitzgerald moved from the bar to become general manager.
Tyler Tribbitt, the bar manager at Bluecoast Seafood Grill near Bethany Beach, started his career in the restaurant’s fish market, which has since given way to more seating. The bartender at the time taught him how to make drinks.
Tribbitt, who also works in his family’s construction business, bartends for extra income. So does Amy Pietlock, who’s now entering her 16th season at the Starboard in Dewey Beach. By day, she’s a real estate agent with Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s International Realty.
Rogers, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, was a full-time bartender before he earned a master’s in elementary school education. The impetus? His wife said: “You can’t tend bar the rest of your life.” And her mother wanted to know how he would support her daughter over the long haul.
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