A Creative Interlude in Bartending

Weaving a tapestry of the unexpected.

Dawn Nelson
4 min readJun 8, 2022


At night I tend bar. A few years ago, as I was staying with friends up on the Inwood Hill in Manhattan, I realized bartending was still something I wanted to do.

The moment of clarity came as I was typing up my notes from a sustainability forum at the United Nations. I was frustrated with the dearth of paid work in the environmental field after having just finished a round of advocacy with a network of organizations focused on centering women’s rights in sustainable development initiatives. Lots of great advocacy, but not a lot of money to support the work. Go figure.

This was the precursor to becoming a bartender.

As I was preparing to return home from the forum, I knew I needed to find work that could bring fast money, and bartending seemed like it would do the trick. After many years of believing it to be a silly and unrealistic goal, I realized it wasn’t those things at all and I still wanted to make it happen. I needed to make it happen. So I did.

I reached out to a bar manager and scheduled an interview by email while traveling on a Greyhound bus from Penn Station to Detroit.

The next week I started working at a restaurant within walking distance of my apartment, serving food and picking up as many bar shifts as they would give me. Since it was primarily a beer tap room, it was only a matter of months before I started thinking about how I wanted to evolve my skills and where I might go next.

So I scoped out another neighborhood bar I had come to adore as a customer and decided it could potentially work really well for me.

[Pause approximately 1.5 years for pandemic and quarantine]

Which is how I came to tend bar five nights a week where I am now.

I work at a tavern across from a train station (many interesting travelers) that has a full bar in service to the whole restaurant (which means many interesting cocktail orders) and I love it. It appeals to my need for decision making in fast pace environments, to work with the general public, to work with my hands, to be creative every step of the way. It is satisfying work. I am grateful for the opportunity to grow and learn new things to hone my craft.

Since I approach bartending as a professional culinary art, I’m developing my own recipes and found a bartenders’…



Dawn Nelson

Artist, writer, strategist ~ writing creative nonfiction, memoir, essay. WIP: 0100 Series & The Sunday Dispatch. Contact: editor (at) dawnnelson (dot) blog