It's quite possible that Ocean 27 in Virginia Beach is the perfect beach bar. What makes the perfect beach bar, you ask? Here are the requirements: A) serious outdoor activities (cornhole, anyone?) B) simple, refreshing cocktails to help you beat the heat and forget about your sunburn (your general smashes, crushes, etc.) C) food that requires no utensils to eat (bonus points for ICE CREAM) and, finally, D) fun, knowledgable bartenders who elevate your sunny vibes. Joyce Thaxton, the bar's General Manager, definitely adds the final piece to this boozy puzzle. As a 10+ year veteran of the service industry, this feisty bar maven can whip up tasty cocktails for huge crowds of patrons without breaking a sweat. We recently checked in with Joyce to try to get her to spill her secrets. Read on to learn her "Golden Rule" for patrons, her advice to bar newbies, and the recipe for the dangerously drinkable Virginia Beach Smash!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF…
I’m Joyce Thaxton, the General Manager and Head Bartender (but also known as “Mom”) here at Ocean 27 on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. I’ve been tending the bar for well over 10 years. I love it. I live for the high volume, getting weeded, and pumping out the drinks while throwing bangers.
What first got you behind the bar?
I started at 18 as a cocktail waitress at the ever-so-awesome Peabody's nightclub. It’s a staple at the beach, for sure - the longest running “nightclub” in the area. I fell in love with the energy, the nightlife, and the industry. My insatiable love for money and extreme work ethic led me up the totem pole from waitress to the GM of one of the busiest bars in Virginia, period. I am humbled, yet extremely aware that hard work is everything.
Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?
No one knows it all. No one. That includes myself. I’ve trained over 30 bartenders in my years, and you need to be a sponge. Observe, soak it in, and go for it! You need to be accepting of change, new information, and the fact that one drink can be made 789 different ways! Bartending is high energy and fun. If you aren’t a people person, multitasker, or all-around awesome, this is probably not gonna work out for you.
Favorite drink made by someone else?
The Agave Smash created by one of my liquor reps, actually! It’s made with blanco tequila, agave nectar, and fresh mint. You bruise it to all hell and serve it over crushed ice. The combination of tequila, the sweet hint of the nectar, the pulverized mint leaves, and the froth in the glass from the perfect beating is heaven in your mouth.
Favorite drink that you make?
Being a “tourist attraction” on the beach, my favorite drink to pour on the daily is a great Rum Runner. The look on the guest's face when you four-bottle hold and pour a strong, fruity, and delicious (not to mention eye pleasing) cocktail - it's what their vacation dreams are made of!
Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
Jameson. I’m a solid Jameson girl. We bartenders know it’s not the best, but it’s home. It’s comforting.
If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Fresh pineapple juice. It literally goes with any spirit and makes everything refreshing!
What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?
It’s literally a vacation with a paycheck. Don’t get me wrong - it’s high volume, and managing a staff of over 100 people, I will admit that sometimes I’m a walking, talking stress ball of energy. I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
What makes your bar unique?
Giant games throughout the park, live music daily, an awesome and fun staff, and the ocean view from sunrise to sunset isn’t so bad either.
Where do you like to stop in for a drink?
I used to be the life of the party, known in every bar as the girl dancing on the tables. That was years ago. I’m now the low-key one. I don’t want to go anywhere I can’t hear myself think and enjoy a few shots and drinks. I stick to small "locals" bars, and after a long week, I just want to go to Chicho's on 29th Street and have my Jameson and a slice of pepperoni pizza. Shout out to Matt Potter and his awesome staff!
What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?
I’ve done the whole fine dining scene, the high-volume nightclubs, and the vacation beach bar. I love seeing the spotlight on the mixology aspect. The precision, the building of the cocktail, the diversity of what you can infuse into a drink. The “crafting” of the cocktail. It’s awesome to see the recognition that a drink is not just a drink!
Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.
As a high volume bartender, this is to the guests: please know what it is that you want to drink. We are not mind readers, the liquor comes before the mixer, and, for the love of everything that is holy, just start a tab!
What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?
A chilled shot of Cold Brew Coffee after a long day. The fact that it has caffeine is just a bonus!
Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.
We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.
Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.
From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.
Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.