Bar Beat

A Chat with Emily Grymes of Fleming's

Ah, the steakhouse: full of red meat, dark wood and, traditionally, men. So upon meeting Emily Grymes, the crackerjack barkeep at Fleming's, we have to ask if she felt like a girl in a boys' club. "In certain restaurants I've worked at, if you were a bartender, you were a man. But here it's different, because I think Maeve [Pesquera, the owner] recognizes there needs to be a balance, particularly in steakhouses, which historically have been sort of male-driven, at least as far as the clientele goes. It's interesting here, because four out of our top six positions are held by women, and we have a female-driven bar," Grymes says.

"Every once in a while we'll get an older gentleman that will come in and tell me very seriously, 'I need to speak to the bartender,' and they'll suggest we get a man back here so they can talk about sports." Grymes laughs and points to J. B., who's working the bar with her. "J. B. is Malaysian, so unless you want to talk about cricket or soccer, you're stuck with me."

It's happy hour, so I request a white "cosmo drop" off the new "5 for $6 until 7" menu. Grymes, ever the seller, is ready to put Fleming's deals up against any others in town. "The place I went this weekend was using well vodka--not even our well, worse than our well--these have Grey Goose, Ciroc, Ketel One, top-shelf stuff," she notes. "It's bringing in a younger working crowd in their twenties and thirties, and more women. Men used to come in and ask where all the women were. Now they complain because there are women here, but they can't get a seat."

In the industry for 15 years and at Fleming's for four, Grymes knows her way around a martini glass. "One of my favorite things to do is to ask a couple questions the same way you would about wine--do you like red or white? do you want to know you're drinking it, or do you just want it to complement the food?--the same thing goes with spirits. You can tell me 'I hate peach, but tart is okay,' or 'I like blueberry and blackberry flavors,' and I can create something for you. That's the interesting part of the job. If all we ever did was make vodka and sodas, that wouldn't be as fun."

Asked about her favorite concoctions, Grymes talks about her last entry in the annual Fleming's nationwide contest. "It's a strawberry basil lemon drop, similar to the basil lemon drop that won, but with muddled strawberry to really blend with the basil flavor." She makes one for us, and in our humble opinion: She was robbed.

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Sarah Rufka