On Alabama’s Gulf Coast there are no shortages of men and women qualified to serve cold drinks in the summer heat, but tucked away on Mobile’s St. Francis Street, one bartenderess stands out not only to a slew of regulars, but also to the readers of Lagniappe.
Whether you’re looking for a bulky petite sirah, an obscure riesling or a standard merlot, Avril McRae at the Firehouse Wine Bar has you covered. Though she admittedly falls short of the depth of knowledge befitting a sommelier, McRae knows well the extensive variety of labels Firehouse offers, and is quick to describe the small but shifting selection of beer the bar features on tap.
Perhaps any “bartenderess” can pour a glass of wine, but it takes motivation and interest to keep customers engaged and enjoying themselves enough try a glass of something new, then keep coming back for more.
“I love going to work everyday, so It doesn’t really feel like a job,” McRae said of her work ethic. “It allows me to get my social fix and make money at the same time.”
McRae explained that she needs the fix because she spends so much of her spare time pursuing an accounting degree at the University of South Alabama. A self-proclaimed “nerd,” McRae said she’s always been good at math, going back to her high school days at St. Paul’s Episcopal School.
Though she graduated in Mobile, McRae hails from Dauphin Island. Her coastal roots may contribute to the casual and laid-back vibe that seems to attract customers. However, it probably didn’t hurt that she was also a finalist for the 2015 Nappie Award for “hottest bartenderess.”
McRae said she likes Firehouse, where she has worked for more than a year, because of its atmosphere — one she described as low stress and relaxing. However, some may also recognize her as one of the “Champangels” from Cafe’ 615, where she’s been serving the bubbly on Sunday Fundays for more than two years.
In an interview after being notified of the award, McRae mentioned her regular customers on several occasions, and said getting to know people on the other side of the bar is one of the better parts of the job. She also agrees with the adage that a bartender can be a cheaper alternative to a psychologist.
“My regulars hold a special place in my heart,” she said. “When you see people on a consistent basis, you develop a special relationship, and we have some regulars that come in six days a week. It’s amazing the impact you have on somebody you don’t know.”
For most at Firehouse, McRae can steer them toward a perfect bottle, glass or flight, from what can seem like an intimidating inventory. Innocent Bystander, an Australian pinot noir, is her personal favorite. When asked about her least favorite, McRae responded, “Does Champagne count?”
However, it also isn’t uncommon for some of the clientele to be more savvy than McRae. It isn’t unusual to run into the city’s movers and shakers catching a drink at Firehouse after a day of work downtown. For that reason, McRae said, she stays motivated even after she hangs up the last piece of stemware from her shift.
Once she receives her undergraduate degree, McRae said, she’d like to find a career allowing her to utilize her math skills, but still providing an outlet for the personality that makes her stand out.
McRae also says graduate school is still on the table, and her regulars may be glad to know USA offers a master’s in accounting, with flexible hours.
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