It was at a California pizza joint where Mellie Wiersma, then a recent high school graduate, first got an up-close look at bartending.
“[I] always admired the bartenders, their attitude, and knowledge,” she said. It took many years working a desk job, on a “normal” path, before Wiersma set out to bartend full time.
Nearly two decades later, and Wiersma has helped to build and manage craft cocktail watering holes across Boston. Ever grabbed a cocktail at Bronwyn, Drink, Eastern Standard, Shore Leave, or Chickadee? Maybe you’ve chatted it up with the local bartender at the late, great dive, The Tam? She’s worked them all, as well as several spots across New York and Brooklyn.
Wiersma is now serving up drinks to a happy post-pandemic crowd in East Boston at The Quiet Few.
On Thursday, Wiersma joined the Cocktail Club for mezcal cocktails, mixing a classic paloma and a spicy Tommy’s margarita. Ahead of the class, we spoke with the local bartender about The Quiet Few, what she’s seen shift since COVID-19 restrictions lifted, and the camaraderie of the restaurant and bar industry.
Can you detail your journey in the service industry a little more?
I really have a lot of people to thank for inspiration, [including] one of my dearest friends Wendy for helping me get the job at the first bar that thought I’d be better with a short slab of wood between me and a guest than rushing around a dining room.
At that bar, I was introduced to Eastern Standard, and I fell in love with food, cocktails, and wine. That led to seeking out the other places that were doing cocktails, which eventually led me to Drink. After many nudges and pushes from friends at Christopher’s, I eventually left for a bar program that offered more diverse cocktails. (I was still too scared to apply at Drink!)
But again, all paths led me to that little speakeasy in the Seaport. John Gertsen [Drink] took me under his wing, and I went a little wild. I learned to make cocktails amongst some of the greatest bartenders in the country all while throwing a huge party. I met some of the most interesting and amazing people, including the Prime Minister of Ireland!
What has kept you in the industry?
I’ve remained in the industry for so long because, starting at the first place that brought me in, I learned that there’s an amazing camaraderie amongst your staff, both front and back of the house. There’s an amazing passion that comes with each position: From the food runner at my first bar who just wanted to open his own bar back home in Colombia — he got advice from everyone he could on all the ins and outs and has been running it for over 10 years now; to the friends who own bars here in Boston — friends who’ve become sommeliers and are now hand-selecting the wines that are delivered to your home, friends who’ve moved to Asia to trace their roots and found a completely new community and are thriving.
I stay because of the people on the other side of the bar as well. During lockdown, my partner would come from his in-home office and find me crying randomly, thinking I’d been watching another episode of “Six Feet Under.” He’d often ask why I was continuing to do that to myself, but it wasn’t that. It was always that I just missed meeting and talking to strangers. My entire life, I was the kid who’d wander off and be found talking to some random person. I wanted to hear their stories, I wanted to share my own, and now, I just want to continue doing that, while also pouring them their favorite libation.
If you were a cocktail what would you be?
If I had to pick a cocktail that sums me up, it’d likely be a good old classic Champagne Cocktail, a bitter-soaked sugar cube topped with Champagne, because while I’m bubbly and sweet, there’s a little bit of an edge to me. One of the best parts of the Champagne Cocktail is that it’s simple enough to be made in a dive and elegant enough for a cocktail bar.
What’s been helping you through the pandemic?
The pandemic definitely took a toll on me. My partner was a big part of my survival. He dealt with my freakouts in a huge way. Making plans for future travel once restrictions have been fully lifted, having the occasional Zoom call to see faces without masks was hugely important, and also, being lucky enough to live on the beach, having a calming view and that bit of escape really helped out so much.
What are you most looking forward to with COVID-19 restrictions lifted? What will be most challenging?
With the raising of restrictions I’m most looking forward to the feeling of normalcy, hugs — so many hugs — high fives, meeting people at bars, and chatting with strangers with comfort.
I fear the most challenging part will be making sure we all remember how to recover from hangovers.
What do you like about the spicy Tommy’s mezcal margarita, or mezcal-based cocktails?
The Tommy’s margarita is just such an essential summer cocktail (but really, it’s perfect year-round). Using mezcal instead of tequila just really brings it to a new level: spicy, smoky, salty, and refreshing. Who doesn’t want that? It’s like all of the best parts of a barbecue in a glass. I really love mezcal in any type of cocktail. The obvious champions are traditional hits like the paloma or margarita, but you can throw it in with some of the sweeter classics. It just plays well with everyone.
Can you talk about a cocktail you are particularly proud of?
I’m super proud of a mezcal drink I had the honor of creating for friends Misty Kalkofen and Kitty Amann for their cocktail book, “Drinking Like Ladies.” It’s a stirred cocktail mixing the smokiness of mezcal with the bitterness of Cynar and rounded out with dry vermouth and elderflower liquor called the “Nina Brava.” This cocktail honors Kristin Beck, the first openly trans Navy Seal.
For the Eastie uninitiated, can you tell us what you like about the area?
Having recently found myself immersed in Eastie, all I can say is I love it. It’s a very diverse area that seems to have managed to deal with a bit of gentrification without losing the soul of the area.
The crowd at The Quiet Few is a little bit of everything. It’s really like what the show “Cheers” tried to show the world. Literally, everyone feels welcomed and like they’re part of the family; within my first couple of hours as the newest bartender there, I’d already gotten the names of everyone sitting on the patio. I have inside jokes with people, and every time a new guest comes in, they leave promising to come back soon (and do!).
It’s a very inclusive spot where you can be comfortable being yourself without any fear of judgment. I’ve seen sing-a-longs and cheering crowds for the Bruins; now with the regulations lifted, so many people are hugging and walking from one side of the bar to the other to greet each other. I’ve watched numbers being exchanged and friends being made. It’s really a wonderful little world and such a great spot to watch things get back to normal.
How can people support you and your colleagues in the service industry right now?
I think the way people can support all of us best right now is with patience and love.
We all went through this together, and a lot of us aren’t used to the volume we once were! This past year-and-a-half has been a struggle in so many ways, the best thing we can do is try to understand one another and listen. Just taking a moment to see outside of ourselves a bit.
Also, coming to visit! If we’re a bit too far, and you’d like to support, our Venmos are @thequietfew @mellie-wiersma.
Join our next virtual cocktail class
Join us Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m. for Boston.com’s Cocktail Club with host Jackson Cannon and returning guest bartender Ashley Sullivan. This week they’ll be making cocktails with pisco, the ever-intriguing Peruvian brandy, catching up about the Boston restaurant and bar scene, and sharing tips the pros use to make great drinks at home. They’ll be mixing the classic pisco sour and a sultry take on the Manhattan cocktail known as El Capitán. Everything you’ll need is listed here with a link to purchase your Boston.com cocktail kit through Gordon’s Fine Wine and Spirits.
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