I love being served by a woman at a bar. Even more so, I love it when I’m served by a blatantly dry, honest, mostly inappropriate woman at a bar. A woman that says things like “lady petrol” and “chattychatchat” and “it’s the wine that makes me fine”. Why? Like most girls that were born in the late 80s, I’m still looking for the answer to life’s biggest questions through the kindness of strangers, and weirdoes and Punky Brewster. I’m proud to say that Nikita Ward, infamous Sydney bartender and potty mouth lady, is now one of those weirdoes.
Nikita, or Kiki, has really got her personality down pat. She’s together, but not in the ‘has a mortgage and a thermomix and can always find matching socks in the morning’ way, but in the way that she can dip in and out of being mildly austere and cheekily irreverent at the clink of a drink. She knows what she can and can’t do and strives to do more, because she wants to be more. She’s really building herself, y’know. Whereas I’m over here constructing myself like I’m assembling an IKEA cabinet without the manual.
But, it wasn’t always this way, no. Fear not fellow underachievers. Kiki tells me that she has not always been the high performance product placed in the storefront window. She’s donned her skills at Hazy Rose, been an ambassador for William Grant & Sons, and left her fingerprints all over new bar Jangling Jack’s which is where I meet her for a rose on a stupidly hot Sunday. She is in sickeningly high spirits for someone with hair that pristine in 30 degree heat. We ‘chattychatchat’ over rose while she tells me how she actually used to be horrible at bartending. Just a straight up mess and probably someone who was not so hot at other things like doing beer bongs and wearing culottes, and more things that make us all feel better about ourselves.
But as they say, the only way is up. Here’s how she kicked ‘hot mess’ to the proverbial curb and became more awesome at life and liquor:
Doing art is kinda hard
A great story always starts with humble beginnings. Nikita grew up in Perth and bartending was something she started when she was in Uni while she did her first degree in art. But like most of us soon find, being artsy and creative is fucking hard mate and people pay you in ‘exposure’ and ‘networking’ and other made up things like ‘time in lieu’.
“I finished my art degree but then I realised they don’t make enough money, or like any money at all, and it’s really hard. I like challenges but I’m not dumb. So, I guess I wasn’t really cut out for it. Then I started as a waitress in this little restaurant and I saw all the guys in the bar making cocktails and thought it looked like fun.”
And so the fun began, almost.
Touching food, no thanks
Being a waitress is not for everyone, in fact it’s usually for a very limited amount of people for a limited amount of time. It’s for people that don’t mind picking up half eaten chicken wings, talking smack and sashaying the same strip of tables, back and forth, day and night. Turns out Kiki is not one of these people.
“I hate touching food, yuck. And, when you’re a waitress you’re walking up and down all the time, boring. Nah, I wasn’t cut out for that.”
So in testament to standing still all the time, Nikita decided she would become a bartender.
Time and time again, when interviewing female bartenders, I hear the same thing. They usually begin as waitresses, pester management to get behind the bar, have to continue pestering until they get their way. Personally, I think I would basically give up or pass out having to shake a cocktail for that long, so they have my complete and utter respect, and also money.
“I had no idea about drinks but I knew I liked wine and knew behind the bar was a place that would suit me, and my personality. Eventually I just kept asking to work in the bar until they got sick of me asking and let me do it. Then I ended up becoming the manager at that place. But, don’t get me wrong, I was horrible for such a long time but the boys were actually really supportive. I think everyone knows it takes a while to understand and taste drinks.”
You don’t have to listen to your parents
No one really has to listen to their parents. That’s why they’re called family and not ‘boss’ or ‘president’ or ‘Blink 182’. But after bartending for a while, Kiki decided she’d give the whole “appeasing her parents thing” a red hot go by becoming a teacher.
“I became a teacher because I thought I should get a real job and please my parents and do that thing, but then it wasn’t for me. You know, you can’t drink at school and kids can be really shit and mean, and you also have to wake up super early.”
Now eligible for trade
Starting over, Kiki packed up and moved to Sydney, to give bartending a real crack.
“I didn’t know anyone. I had to start over and break into the Sydney scene because Sydney definitely has its friend groups, which was hard because I’m not very friendly you see.”
After working at some of Sydney’s best bars, Nikita recently combined her skills of teaching with her love of drinking as an ambassador for WG& Sons and their innovation brands, before taming the Potts Point nightlife at new bar Jangling Jacks.
Today Kiki is infamous in the industry. Even after being self classified as ‘pretty shit’ she has paved her way into the land of credibility and drinkability. She makes you feel both comfortable and excited when she serves you, for some of you maybe even aroused. She’s one of those bartenders that makes you stay hours longer than you planned to. She’s bubbly, irreverent and warm.
And after recently serving her last lady petrol at Jangling Jack’s, she’s now eligible for trade. Contact her for bar consulting, lady petrol and maybe if you just want to let your hair down.
Served on the day: Les Girls.
“It was named after an all male show in the cross starring Carlotta Les Girls (1963-1990) The internationally renowned Les Girls was single-handedly responsible for introducing mainstream ‘respectable’ Australian society to the world of drag. Owned at different times by Sammy Lee, Reg Boom and eventually Abe Saffron, this Kings Cross hotspot recruited trans showgirls from the Jewel Box to its bigger, brighter and bolder stage.”