Picture this: an 11-year-old boy stands on the mound getting ready to pitch. For the third time the ball hits the side of the batter’s helmet. A memorable event for the pitcher, though not the proudest. Each team goes its separate ways, the 11-year-old boys, too.
Three decades later, Phil Richardson, the then-11-year-old pitcher, is tending bar at The Palm in Copley Square. A patron enters, and the two men exchange pleasantries. At first, they don't recognize each other, but they find out that both are from neighboring towns in Connecticut and yes indeed he, Phil Richardson, had pitched those balls at the state tournament championship decades ago.
Well, it turns out the other fellow at the bar was the batter at the other end, Phil recalls with a grin. Stories like these are why he has been a professional bartender all his adult life - for these serendipitous moments when paths cross and re-cross transporting and connecting one to another place and time.
“I am an 11-year-old again,” says Phil when he recounts this story.
Isn’t this why one walks into a bar in the first place? To be transported and connected at the same time? Not just with the drink, of course, but through conversations and ruminations of shared experiences. The bar is the counter, which one can literally lean on, rest, and use to lift oneself from the mundane travails of the day. An expertly mixed drink, a nice glass of wine or a thirst-quenching beer helps as much as a good conversation.
The bartender plays a critical role in this.
"It's about making people feel comfortable," Phil acknowledges.
Kevan Norris, a patron, says that Phil has a way of bringing people together. The customers, in turn, have become Phil’s friends – a community that he has built over 15 years behind the bar at The Palm.
The bar's location in Copley Square, at the edge of Back Bay within throwing distance of the South End, attracts residents of both neighborhoods alongside tourists, commuters and people from all walks of life. For Phil, a former South End resident who has since moved outside the city, these people have made bartending more than a job.
“You can teach anyone to tend bar – what you learn from it after the bartending expertise…” Phil trails off as he searches for the right words to express the fact that bartending is more than just making gin and tonics.
“It’s about the stories, the people we meet,” he says finally. You have to learn how to treat people right no matter who they are – “a sincere hello, eye contact and a nice handshake- to start with."
His favorite drink to serve? Phil pauses again.
“A nice glass of wine that fits the moment,” he finally says.
Observing and talking to Phil Richardson I see that the important part of a bartender’s job is to understand that moment - one of celebration or solace - and to know which drink to serve.
Krina Patel started the Stir A Memory Project, read more about it here.