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Behind the Bar: Beau Butler / Star-lite

Behind the Bar, RichmondBrandon Day1 Comment

In our line of work, we meet a wide variety of brilliant and renown bartenders, each who bring their unique talents and personalities to the table. While most bartenders we know have built their credibility and clout behind the bar, one Richmond bartender has a legacy that followed him there instead.

Enter Beau Butler, formerly known as the hype man/cheerleader of Richmond's very own Avail. And while it's been close to a decade since Avail last took the stage, Beau's magnetic energy and garnered following within the local and national punk scene hasn't faded one bit. We stopped into Star-lite, Beau's stomping grounds for the past 13 years, to hear more on how his turbulent experiences have shaped his current status as one of Richmond's most quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and beloved bartenders.

Tell us about yourself…

I’m the head bartender at Star-lite in the Fan. Back in the day, male tattooed bartenders weren’t a thing, so it took me a really long time to get behind a bar. Star-lite is the first bartending gig I’ve ever had, and I have been here 13 years. This is it, this is what I know.

What got you into bartending?

I honestly had no real interest in doing it, but I came in as a barback and that’s where you really have to bust your ass and learn things quickly. After that, it was just a natural progression of mastering one thing and moving on to learning another. As I came to find out, bartending played really well into the skills I naturally have - being able to talk with people. That’s one of the biggest parts of the job for me.

What’s your favorite thing to drink? Any guilty pleasure drinks?

Drink of choice is probably Chopin vodka. I really enjoy that. The two guilty pleasure drinks come right from my dad, and they’re the worst things ever. The first is Kahlua and soda, it’s really good. And the other is Malibu and Diet Pepsi. I’ll drink the hell out of those.

Outside of work, what do you find yourself doing?

About 9 years ago, I had a kid. Since then, I’ve basically become a soccer dad. I go to hockey games, gymnastics practice, BMX races, and the list goes on. If I’m not here, I’m with my kids and wife.

Tell us about your bar…

Star-lite has changed over time, and that’s because the neighborhood has also changed in recent years - some will say for better, some will say for worse. There’s a lot more bars and restaurants around us now, so more competition for business. Bartenders don’t really see it as a competition per se. Everyone wants to have a busy night and a full bar, but not at the expense of someone else.

The drinking culture in general has changed, and that’s impacted our area. There’s less focus on “bar stars” these days. People used to go to a bar for a specific bartender they liked or that was popular - now it’s not as much that. It’s the other things a bar might offer, like drink specials or a DJ.

Who do you typically find coming in for a drink?

Star-lite’s customer base is still very neighborhood-centric. A lot of people like the fact that they can just walk right over and sit down for a drink. Tons of VCU and U of R students are in here as well. It’s not a place downtown, where you’re there to be seen, but it’s not like a deep neighborhood bar where you’ll get frowned at for not being from the area.

It’s the weirdest combination of downtown and Southside, all blended in with families in the Fan. Even my kids come in here and hang out all the time. My 4 year-old thinks scooping ice into a glass is the coolest thing in the world. Fingers crossed she like, goes to college or something, and finds some more interests.

You’ve been at Star-lite for a while now. What’s kept you here?

Consistency. The guy that hired me was really into consistency in every meaning of the word. For better or worse, I’m one of those guys who, once they get the job they want to do, I’ll keep doing it until I can no longer do the job or get fired - or hit the lottery and quit.

You know, I like to say I learned a lot by traveling around or from school, but I really didn’t. I spent my life in bars, it was always that thing you could come back to. This is what I do - it’s what I know. That little piece of consistency is cool, and it’s fun to still get to run circles around 22 year-olds. It keeps you young.

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What’s an average night for you look like?

Every night is sort of different, Mondays are typically have like a laid back, punk vibe. We’ll play like punk rock, metal, and hardcore and whatever all night. Tuesdays are crazy busy with our highball drink special, we’ve got a DJ, people dancing, that stuff. Thursdays, laid back too. And Fridays are Fridays, so you know how that goes. I definitely get to talk more trash to people on busier nights, I get to tell a lot of stories.

Now back to you - with November right around the corner, we’ve got to talk about your infamous mayoral bid. Any updates on your platform?

So here’s the thing - I was doing a lot of this in jest, but a lot of people were like “these are great ideas.” Which is crazy, because who would’ve thought banning Crocs and turning Carytown into a pedestrian-only district would resonate so much with people. Vice picked up on it, which was insane. Some random lady in Maryland from a radio station interviewed me. I don’t think it ever made it to air, because I talked a lot of trash.

Out of all the stuff I said, the funniest thing I think I proposed was doing an official campaign launch outside Star-lite, but it would be hosted by all of my stripper friends. Nothing sets the tone for a mayoral campaign like a bunch of dude and lady strippers blocking off Main Street. Granted, it never came to fruition, but there’s always another election. I thought about starting at the school board level, but I would be the guy who says the wrong thing and gets my kid kicked out of school.

Another one of your popular antics - your pre-shift Facebook posts. They’ve developed this cult following among bartenders and folks in Richmond. Where did all of that come from?

It stemmed from a few things - initially it came from my absolute disdain for people who post things like, “Hey, I’m at the back bar tonight.” or “Come visit me and say my name at the door.” Shit like that. All I could think was that if people don’t already know you’re working there, they aren’t going to come see you. If they do know you work there, that post isn’t going to make anyone want to come. Your job as a bartender is to be able to make drinks, make them quickly, and have banter. That’s where my posts came from, that extension of having banter with people.

So I started posting about who I’m working with and the drink special, but I’ll throw in whatever I want to say on top of it. It’s not something I plan out ahead, I just write something on the walk over and while I’m eating before I get behind the bar. The reason I think they got popular is because there’s always going to be that one person that says whatever they want to, whenever they want. But if they can get it to sound funny and a little insulting, that’s even better.

Not a lot of people can do that, you know, that gift of gab. Starting out here at Star-lite, I was anomaly. Here was this punk guy covered in tattoos, and no one really knew what to expect. They definitely weren’t expecting me to be as outspoken as I am. I think those posts give people a sense of who I am, and I guess they think it’s funny. It’s become a thing now - people come in, they feel like they know Beau, and they want to hang out. That goes back to the whole thing of consistency. I’ve been here forever, and people like to walk in and already know who’s going to hand them a drink.

Is that strange - to be a bartender but have an extended public persona along with it?

Yes and no. People think that they really know me, and to some extent I guess they do. I don’t change who I am when I get behind the bar and serve someone a drink. But I’m not as angry as people think I am! Do I dislike a lot of shit? Yeah… I dislike a lot of things. But am I really that angry about any of it? Not really. I’m a laid-back dude. At the end of the day, I’m just another guy propping my beach chair up with the rest of the moms on the soccer field so I can watch my kids play. I just happen to be covered in tattoos and work at a bar.

Can you share a cocktail or two with us?

I'm a simple guy. I don't mind craft cocktails, but I'm not going to wait around 20 minutes for one. A good drink is a good drink no matter what, but it's even better when you can whip it out quickly. That's the inspiration behind these two Belle Isle drinks.

The Dude Abides

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee
  • 1 oz. Milk (or cream)

Preparation:

Combine ingredients with ice, shake. and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.

Recipe by Beau Butler

The RVA Bloody

Ingredients:

Preparation:

Fill a pint glass with ice. Pour in Belle Isle Honey Habanero, top with Bloody Mary mix. Stir lightly, and garnish with a lime wedge.

Recipe by Beau Butler

Photos by Joey Wharton