Kelly Galassi got her start in bartending as most people do – it was a quick way to pay the bills. It was only meant to be temporary; however, the longer Kelly stayed behind the pine the more she fell in love.

Over the years, Kelly became a makeup artist and dabbled in print and film work. She also moved to Las Vegas for a year with her husband for his job, which, if you’re curious, is as a Blue Man – yes, like the Blue Man group.

It was only when she returned behind the bar in Chicago did she feel at home.

Kelly recently won the Riot Fest Best Bartender Contest. Riot fest is a large music festival in Chicago and Denver featuring Punk Rock. The genre is actually where her featured cocktail Cha Cha Damore got its name – after the Chicago Punk Band PEGBOY’s album.

Kelly has no plans to leave the pine anytime soon. After all, it’s where she finds true happiness. Kelly will be spending the next month or two in San Juan, Puerto Rico, making tiki drinks at the highly anticipated Junglebird – an exotic tropical leisure bar in the heart of La Placita de Santurce. We recently caught up with Kelly to hear what she has to say about her time in the industry.

Where do you currently tend bar?unspecified
MONEYGUN and Crown Liquors

Where is that again?
MONEYGUN: 660 West Lake St., Chicago, IL, 60661
Crown Liquors: 2821 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618

How many years have you been bartending?

What is your favorite cocktail featuring Angostura Bitters or Angostura Rum?
Queen’s Park Swizzle           

With so many new bitters flooding the market, where do you see Angostura Bitters in the mix?
Angostura is a classic, a necessity. You can run a perfectly respectable bar program with just Angostura and one or two other types of bitters, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Angostura is an absolute must.

What is the most unique/interesting application of Angostura Bitters that you have seen?
Angostura Bitters on tap at Best Intentions, Chicago

What is your personal go-to drink?
Rye, soda, ANGOSTURA® aromatic bitters and lemon     

Define the perfect cocktail:
Balanced but boozy, complex flavors with just a few ingredients. It lingers and develops, and it comes in just the right glass.

Outside of the daily grind, what are you passionate about that helps keep you a balanced bartender?
I’ve been an avid gardener for the last ten years. Figuring out how to design a space that is full of color and texture year round is a great outlet for creativity. Sharing that space with loved ones is an added bonus. Gardening stimulates all of the senses – it provides both instant and deferred gratification. There’s nothing like it.         

What is one think you wish more people understood about bartending?
I no longer wish that guests or patrons would understand what it is we do. I’m comfortable enough that is doesn’t bother me if someone asks what my real job is, or any of the other silly things people say. I do, however, think a lot of young bartenders are focusing too much on technique, and forgetting that it’s just as important to make sincere connections with their guests. If you make a fantastic drink but forget to make someone feel welcome, you’re doing it wrong.

chachaDo you have an original cocktail recipe (featuring Angostura Rum or Bitters) that you would like to share with us?
Cha Cha Damore
1 oz Angostura 5 Yr Rum
1 oz Amaro Di Angostura®
1/2 oz Domaine Du Canton
2 dashes acidified ANGOSTURA® aromatic bitters

Stir, strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

For the Bitters, add 1 tsp Vintner’s Acid Blend and 1/8 tsp sea salt to 1 oz Angostura Bitters. Stir to combine.

What’s the most unusual/strangest request that you’ve gotten during your time behind the bar?
Virgin Long Island. What?

What is the most memorable story you have during your bartending career?
Earlier this year when we heard about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan several of my industry friends and I organized a Water Drive. People donated their time, tips, cases of water and emptied their wallets. So many industry people got involved and so many friends and regulars turned out. It was really something. The next day we loaded up a bunch of cars and vans and hauled all the water to Flint. Hangovers be damned. That was a special moment.

If you could serve anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
David Bowie

Did your bartending style influence where you work, or did the bar influence your style?
Both. I like to think we all take a little and leave a little everywhere we go.     

What do you like most about bartending?
I love the personal interactions we get to make on a daily basis. We get to host a party every time we go to work. We have the ability to turn someone’s day around, for better or worse. I love the challenge of trying to make it better in whatever small way I can, and I get to do that every day.

When did you know you wanted to become a bartender?
I fell into the industry as a way to pay rent like a lot of us do. It wasn’t until I started having some success in other lines of work that I realized I wanted to get back behind the stick – and stay there.

What drinks have you added Angostura Bitters to that normally don’t call for it?
Daiquiris, Mai Tais, and Mimosas