Meet the Pros: Bonny MacDonald
Allow me to introduce Bonny MacDonald, bar manager of Portland’s Altabira City Tavern.
How did you first get into bartending?
I came of age during rise of the "coffeehouse culture" and espresso counters of the 1990s (back when people mistakenly called it "expresso"). Starting at age 17, I found my way into barista jobs where I learned about drink quality and coffee preparation techniques. When I turned 21 the microbrew movement was a part of Portland culture, and I fell in love with learning about beer.
Shortly after, I moved down to New Orleans, and while working at a coffee shop, my boss hooked me up with a part-time "day bar" job at his friends's dive bar. I never had to make a cocktail that was more than 2 ingredients there but from that point on, I learned from watching all of the badass bartenders in New Orleans- the kind of things that you can't learn in a book or bartending school. I zig-zagged in and out of bartending over the following years but I often ended up with double-duty manager/bartender jobs. My compass kept pointing to the bar, and I finally said, "fuck it, I'm good at this" and dove in.
What was the first original cocktail you ever came up with?
This is the first cocktail attempt that I was and still am proud of; someday, it will find the right menu to call home. "Oyster Girl," Scotch, matcha, St. Germain, lemon, seaweed salt rim; on spherical ice with an oyster shell inside.
What aspect of your job do you love the most?
Helping customers and co-workers to have their "a-ha" moments, when they fall in love with a product, recipe, or skill set (for customers- that would include what they can do at home to achieve what we made them at the bar). And getting to watch the nightly sunsets up at Altabira City Tavern.
What aspects do you not enjoy or would like to change?
The most personal issue, is my hours are opposite of my family, so quality time suffers, yet I know this is my path for now. Also, something aspiring bartenders may not realize is the burden of liability that we carry in trying to host a good time but make sure everyone leaves safely. I do not like cutting off 70 year old men who get pissed at me and leave me $1 on a $100 tab, or a 40 year old woman who leaves $0 and writes a false and negative internet review- but I do it anyways because I believe someone's gotta do it. We all want to get home safely. Issues greater than this are being discussed at national bar conventions and I support and look forward to the conversations to make our industry better.
How would you like to see your career progress?
I am not sold on any particular industry route, but I prefer to grow with companies that allow me to be myself. It seems like being a beverage manager would let me get to wear all my hats at once, but I am open to the random, unexpectedness of things that I have never even thought about yet!
What other bartenders or beverage professionals really inspire you?
I don't know her, but I admire what I have seen produced and accomplished by Lauren Mote from Vancouver BC. Locally I have been inspired by Sierra Kirk (Hale Pele) who I met while we both lived in New Orleans; in addition to the two people who shared so much insight after I moved back here, enabling my "a-ha! moments": Beau Burtnick (Kask/Bistro Agnes) and Erica Namare (Mediterranean Exploration Company).
Excluding your current workplace, what bars do you enjoying visiting?
Visiting Hale Pele is a good way to forget we live in a cold, dark, rainy city (or to forget that I am just always cold); Pairings Portland is a wine bar/bottle shop that is helping to maintain that last shimmer of "Old Portland" weirdness. You can go in for just a glass and leave- in love with a new wine. I know the Sandy Hut is always crowded with all the young whippersnappers these days, but I adore the Mid-century rumpus room style and loud music on the rare occasion that I have the energy to go out after work with co-workers.
Try Bonny’s Pacific Wonderland cocktail:
Combine ingredients with ice and shake. Double-strain into a cherry-wood smoked martini glass and garnish with a dried hop flower.