A shot at the title

By: Ryan Sabalow
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It was a tough assignment. Being new to Auburn and a recent California State University, Chico graduate (Chico State was awarded No. 2 Party School in the nation by Playboy magazine last year, by the way), my editors thought I would be a perfect choice to see who is the best bartender in Auburn. So, armed with a notebook, a digital camera and $20, I braved the Auburn bar-scene Saturday night to see who could shake, serve and smile their way to the top. My first stop was the California Club where Rebecca Morgan was behind the bar. With an easy grin and good looks, the 34-year-old single mom was quick with the drinks and quicker with the jokes. When I asked her what makes her the best bartender in Auburn, she said it was her feisty attitude that made her a tequila shot or two above the rest. ?I?m spunky,? Morgan yelled to me over the California Club?s obnoxiously loud live band. ?It?s all about being ornery.? She said being a woman bartender meant that she had to deal with a lot more obnoxious customers than a man would, but she said smiling helps keep them in line. ?I just try to ignore them, but I can only take so much. Then I?m like, ?fsssshhh,?? Morgan said making a shooing motion, a big grin splitting her face. California Club?s doorman, Chris Douglass, said Morgan is the best because she has a passion for her work. ?You?ll be able to walk in, see her smile and feel like you?re at home,? Douglass said. ?Most bartenders hate their job, but she loves it.? I was convinced. But that was only my first bar of the night, so I decided to go to across the street to the Shanghai Bar and see what the competition had to offer. Out front, I met Angel Davis, whose daughter, Victoria Ribbeck, tended bar inside. Davis told me her daughter was the best, in her unbiased opinion. ?She brings in all the people. She?s really good at making them smile,? Davis said. ?She takes care of them. She?s even good at throwing a few out too.? Once I got inside, Ribbeck said she?s the best because she knows what she?s doing. ?I always make a good drink,? a very busy Ribbeck said in between pours. Ribbeck?s fellow bartender at Shanghai?s, Lee Stern, said he?s the best bartender in town because he can get the party started when there isn?t one. ?There were lots of women here when the night first got going. But no guys.? Stern said. ?So I called up a bunch of guys and comped all the ladies? drinks until they showed up.? Sounds like Stern and the gang at Shanghai?s knew what they were doing, but the night was young and I still had two stops to go. The next bar on my list was Pistol Pete?s Brew and Cue. I asked the man checking IDs at the door, Bill Click, what he thought makes a good bartender. Click said keeping a cool head is key, especially when dealing with rowdy customers. ?They?ve got to know how to talk and be funny with people,? Click said. ?The last thing we want is violence, so they?ve got to be able to talk someone down.? Bartender Anthony DiAngelo looked like he could keep a cool head, but it was still his first night on the job. ?I?m still learning all the drinks,? DiAngelo said. ?I just want to provide good customer service and a safe environment.? Pete Aroz, whose family owns Pistol Pete?s, said their bartenders are the best because they value the customer over everything else. ?Anybody can learn how to make drinks, but I think you need to be a people person or you won?t last long,? Aroz said. ?I want them to be as nice as they can, especially when they?re busy.? The other bartender at Pete?s, Di Deak, said that?s what made her the best bartender in Auburn. ?It?s all about customer service,? Deak said. ?Good atmosphere and good people are what bring people back.? The bartenders at Pete?s seemed the most professional of any bar I had been to so far, but I still had one more stop to go. So I made the short walk down the hill to Bob & Betty?s One Sixty Club. The guy behind the bar wouldn?t give me his real name, but he said he?s a local legend. ?Just call me Ronzo,? he said. ?Everybody will know who you?re talking about.? ?Ronzo? didn?t have much else to say, but he did tell me that he?d worked at the One Sixty for 18 years. Nothing seemed to get under Rondo?s skin. When I asked him what makes him the best bartender, he just shrugged. ?Ask these guys,? he said. So I turned to ask cousins Bryan and James Harp, who were sitting at the bar (and looked like they?d been there for a while), what they thought of Ronzo. ?This guy can make you any drink you ask him for. He made me a drink that I could only get on a cruise in Mexico,? James Harp said. ?No other bartender could make that drink, but he did.? There?s something to be said about a bartender that lets the quality of his drinks and his customers speak for him. I liked Ronzo on the spot (it also helped that he later gave me two rounds on the house). Well, the question remains: Who?s the best bartender in Auburn? I have no idea. But I had a great time figuring that out. And at the end of the night, that?s really all that matters. The Journal?s Ryan Sabalow can be reached at