It’s 2pm on a Tuesday in July. The streets downtown are quiet as I make my way towards The Eddy, the trendy Manhattan-style craft cocktail bar just off Westminster’s main drag. The air is on when I enter and I gratefully succumb to its cool embrace. Co-owner Jay Carr, dressed in a simple black t-shirt and jeans, is righting a small army of upturned stools to their proper position on the floor. The Eddy doesn’t open its doors for another two hours, but there’s plenty of work yet to be done.
“I come in at noon, get on the bar at four and leave at three in the morning,” Carr explains. “I’m always here and I never get a day off.” Luckily, the 35-year-old carries a blazing torch for the profession, having previously served thirsty patrons at Cook & Brown Public House and The Dorrance, as well as a restaurant in NYC. “I enjoy interacting with people so it never feels like work,” he says with a swipe of a rag to the countertop. “I actually like the stress of it. I love being in the weeds and crawling right out. I love walking behind the bar and saying, ‘Game on. Let’s do it.’”
While many 9-to-5ers could never imagine foregoing a world in which heads hit the pillow by midnight and weekends are reserved for leisure, Carr burns the candle at both ends in exchange for the social interactions and challenges that his profession provides. Such sentiment may be at the heart of the career bartender’s argument. “But the lifestyle does take a toll,” he admits. “You get old pretty quick in this industry.”
The door opens and with it a burst of hot summer air invades the room. Jen Ferreira, Carr’s co-worker and close friend, reports for duty. Her shift doesn’t begin for another hour but there’s work yet to be done for her, too. She scatters her belongings – a gold clutch, a smoothie and a sandwich – on the bar and begins her prep work. Carr notices the food and remarks, “Crap. I haven’t eaten anything yet today.” The sandwich sits untouched and I wonder if bartenders ever get a chance to eat.
“I never eat at home,” he tells me. “If I made money all week, I want to give it back to the people who gave it in.” As co-owner of one of the hottest bars in Providence, Carr is able to give quite a bit back these days. “We’re doing well. Luckily I found a great business partner who lets me do my thing 100 percent, like putting gin and tonic on tap. That’s something that I borrowed from the bars in New York City.”
According to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, there are 2,470 bartenders in the state. “The money’s good,” Carr says, “but there’s no medical and no stability. Because craft cocktails take longer to make, you can earn more working in a high volume bar. But it’s a different vibe in here – I’m serving people who eat and drink at the same places that I do. There’s nobody coming in here and ordering Red Bull and vodka.”