It takes a lot of special skills to be a well-rounded bartender, from a knowledge of drinks and their ingredients to how you hold yourself behind the bar—and these skills often appear to the uninitiated as mundane or effortless, making them powerful weapons in making a room feel cared for, and for guests to leave happy.
When I think of what it means to have effortless cool under pressure, and limitless affability when needed most, I think of Dave Serna.
Since cutting his teeth 23 years ago at Mr. O’s (what is now 40 Mile Saloon), Serna has worked at some of the most influential bars at their inceptions, including Chapel Tavern and Reno Public House; he’s now at Corrigan’s Lost Highway on Wells Avenue. When I was just beginning to learn from my first cocktail books, Serna was already working the early craft-cocktail scene in Reno, making his name known as a person who could work any shift and make a killer drink.
“I just took to it,” he told me. “I love just getting to know all walks of life and seeing people who would never have known one another be together in that moment at the bar.”
It’s privilege to sit at Dave’s bar, and that is what it is when Dave is working: His bar. His ability to make everyone in a bar feel seen and taken care of is a product of his two decades-plus in the trade.
“You can learn to make drinks, but making people feel safe and cared for is about treating people like they are in your home,” he said. “I want to take care of you in my house—but you must also respect it.”
Serna has a way of making everyone feel comfortable that even his peers recognize.
“Dave can make great cocktails, but what makes him the best bartender around is his camaraderie and conversation skills,” said Kyle Aiton, owner of Reno Public House. “He finds ways to connect with literally everyone—the kid who’s freshly 21, the retired couple, the middle-aged professional, and the fellow service worker. He embodies the idea that the bar is a neutral zone, and everyone is welcome. Just don’t be a dick to the bartender.”
I asked Dave why I always see beverage-industry folks having the best time sitting at his bar.
“Try to leave dumb shit at the door,” he replied. “I appreciate when people just come and hang out and get in with the banter.”
Richard Jackson, the owner of Corrigan’s Lost Highway, said of Dave: “One of the marks of being a good tender is when you find other industry people sitting at their bar. Dave has no lack of that company. He does a great job of making strangers and regulars alike feel welcome.”
More than two decades behind the bar can make any job feel a bit tired, but Serna continues to approach his craft with pride and care. Dave makes near-perfect classics with the ease and aplomb of a true craftsman. Former co-worker Roxanne Hamner told me, “I am personally grateful to have worked alongside Dave, as he has been a bridge between the days of dark dive bars to fresh craft cocktails. … He knows all the tricks and techniques.”
When I asked Dave what makes a perfect shift behind the bar, he said, “Everyone in good spirits, goes by quick, full of laughter, great music the whole time. You make a bunch of money, and you are home way before the sun comes up.”
The idea of making classics perfect, treating others well, and prioritizing laughter, music and friends makes Dave a bartender for the ages—and one of the best to pour a shot.