Desert Companion

Profile: The bartender who knows all

“What should I do?” Matt McKenzie, head bartender at Giuseppe’s Bar & Grille on Durango, says that’s by far the most common question he hears. People ask him for help with their predicaments at work, with money, in relationships — yeah, especially that last one. “You’re like a shrink behind the bar that pours drinks,” he says. “You’re a psychologist, a parent giving them advice, a friend for someone who doesn’t have one.” So, what’s his typical answer? “Mainly, I just listen, or try to talk sense into them.” McKenzie has learned this sage approach during 17 years tending bar everywhere from the Strip to Summerlin. At casino lounges and nightclubs, he says, he’d get more questions about where to find and do stuff. At locals joints like Giuseppe’s, where he’s been since it opened in 2005, he fields more familiar queries: “Which one of us has bigger boobs? Which one of us would win in a fight?” Sports bar stuff, you know. McKenzie says one line of questioning has remained consistent across all neighborhoods and types of establishment where he’s worked: the hook-up. People look to bartenders for insider access to show tickets and table reservations (and yes, he admits, some illicit activities, too). At McKenzie’s counter, they’re barking up the right tree — for the legal stuff, that is. Regulars at Giuseppe’s describe him as being six degrees of separation from everyone who’s anyone in Las Vegas. “My friend Anthony is a casino manager for Encore,” he says. “I have a regular customer who works for Clear Channel… I worked at the House of Blues, so I have friends there… I know one of the owners of the Light Group ...” McKenzie’s also got a gold mine of velvet rope-skipping contacts on his speed-dial, he says, from years of being behind a bar. Regulars tip him in tickets to thank him for his service, and it works both ways. “We take care of them; they take care of us,” he says. The most memorable question? “If I wanted to leave town when I got off work. She said she’d pay for everything and we’d just go.” It was tempting, McKenzie says, but his answer let the attractive customer down easy: “Maybe another time.”

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