Know Your Craft



Jack Tillman

Age: 26

Job: Bartender, Bittercube Bitters, Lawless Distilling Company Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota


When my college professor shared her son's story with me, I knew I had to interview Jack. With a slightly less conventional career path than others, Jack moved from a professional theater job to a career in bartending. You'll love hearing about how he got here, why he has stayed, and of course, what his favorite drink is to make.


Give us a brief overview of yourself.

I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and moved there at the age of three because my mom was a Furman professor. I came to Minnesota for college at the University of Minnesota, where I got a BA in Theatre Arts, and now I work professionally in the craft cocktail world for Bittercube Bitters. I am a jack of all trades and do whatever is needed, whether it's helping with training at different bars or creating menus to batching drinks. I also am a bartender at Lawless Distilling Company, a distillery and cocktail lounge here in the city. We make all of our own booze, and then we also have a little cocktail lounge.


What prompted you to get into this career? What is the story behind it?

I have a theater degree and was working professionally in theater for about three years here in Minneapolis, which has an amazing theater community, but I'd also been in the service industry before, back when I still lived in South Carolina. I needed to start looking for a little more stability than theater had to offer since it became difficult finding a new job every six to ten weeks because a show was ending. Being in the service industry allowed me to fall in love with bar culture and craft cocktails. I started doing research on my own and going to different bars and I eventually became really good friends with the guys over at Lawless because it was right near my apartment. I wanted something more stable that combines the organizational aspects of stage management with the creativeness of design.


Are you financially sustaining yourself in the way that you want to?

Things could be better. I'm working three to four jobs at a time technically within this umbrella. However, I am able to make a pretty good deal for myself. I get decent hourly from Bittercube as well as being on the bar with tips, so it all balances out.


What is your schedule like?

It really depends. Right now, it is very crazy. On an average day, I begin working from home at about 11. Then, I go into the bar and typically work until about 1:30 AM. I usually get one day off a week and it's not even a regular day off. It's just when it happens that week. Some days I'll have off on a Thursday and then a day off on a Monday. I am always really busy.


How do you get your release from work? How do you get your sleep?

The biggest thing that I do is play video games. I always have since I was a little kid, and so I come home and play Pokémon for a couple of hours and I feel like I'm six years old again. I also adopted a cat about six months ago. I literally found her in a bush with little kittens, so having a little furry friend definitely helps make things easier. And time with my partner always makes things better as well.


I bet you have met some really interesting characters working in this career field. Who is somebody that comes to mind?

Well, I've got people like an older gentleman when I used to bartend at the hotel in Minneapolis who offered me two and a half thousand dollars for two hours of me saying “yes, sir,” to which I said, “No sir, can I get you a drink?”. At the same time, there are regulars who come and stay at the hotel twice a month and own a couple of golf courses out in the suburbs and treat us like family. They tip us like crazy. Another time they brought one of my co-workers a double porterhouse steak from a steakhouse downtown. You meet and see all types of people in the service industry; we also see people at their best and we see people at their worst. You see entitled people and you see the kindest people. Something about the service industry allows you to see people for who they really are. I think everybody needs to work in the service industry at least once in their life.


What has been the biggest challenge for you since starting this career path?

I would say finding time for myself and being able to make sure that I’m staying happy and healthy outside of work. I’ve found something I really love doing and people I love working with but sometimes I have to take a step back and realize I cannot do everything. It matters more to give 100% of what I can do. I love asking service industry people “what is the stupidest thing you've ever heard a customer say?”. It is a very intense and knowledgeable job because you need baseline knowledge to be a good bartender. People do not always treat you well so it is important to remember patience.


What is your favorite drink to make?

Rather than having a favorite drink, I prefer to make drinks that make the customers happy and surprises them. I ask them questions about what they like and make something based on that. The fun is having them put their trust in me, after reading their energy, and then I enter into a relationship with the guests. If they don’t like it, I will fix it.


What would you tell somebody new who is scared to jump into a career like this?

Trusting yourself is probably the biggest thing. I was very scared to fully abandon the thing that I thought I was going to do since I was a little kid. It's very difficult. If you have the desire to do something like this, you pretty clearly care about it. You do not necessarily have to get rid of the other experience, but rather, just add on to it. Stage management was some of the best preparation for life I've ever had because you're trying to keep track of the center of a show, you're communicating information, you're keeping track of everything, you know where everything is. That's super helpful with bartending or working in a corporate setting where you've got all these balls that you have to juggle to make everybody happy.


What drives you?

I don't know if the right word is competency. I am very competitive and I do want to be good at things. I want to be seen as a person that you can trust and who you can rely on for help. I want to be a person people can call on in a pinch and will come in and figure things out and be calm and find the solutions.


Is there a favorite drink of yours?

Oh, a Daiquiri, hands down. Classic Daiquiri, no blending, just lime juice, simple sugar, rum. Sometimes you can put bitters in it, sometimes you don't. At the core, it is just those three ingredients and I think that shows so much about bartending. There is so much individuality that can be expressed in a drink.


Any last words of advice?

I want to emphasize the way that skill sets can be transferred from one thing to another. Any job that you have is going to train you for something in the future. You don't know what opportunities lie around the corner. You are always able to learn something from everything you've done, and it might come into play one day when you land your dream job or build your own company. Everything is not clean-cut but things are rather very transferrable. Knowledge is very important in all fields, not just the one you are in at the moment.


The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

- Why everyone should work in the service industry at least once

- Giving 100% is more than giving 50% to two things

- Remember patience

- Skillsets can be transferrable


Check it out: Bittercube Bitters, Lawless Distilling Company, Furman University, University of Minnesota

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