BEST BARTENDER Minneapolis 2004 - Kristina "Lola" Lalor
Neighborhood bars really serve as an outpost for those familial feelings you could never, ever express to your actual family. That makes the bartender a patriarch, a matriarch, a brother, a sister, a spouse, and an ex-lover, all in one heady swirl. Who could be all of that and remember what the hell you're drinking on top of it all? Lola, that's who. (Everybody, including Lola's nine-year-old son, calls her "Lola." But don't ask why: "That's off the record.") Though she's only been bartending at Porter's--the kind of neighborhood bar you frequent because no one knows your name--for two years, Kristina "Lola" Lalor has been slinging drinks for more than 25 years. And with that experience, Lalor--tall, raven-haired, and imposing--has developed a demeanor that could only be described as crablike: hard on the outside, tender on the inside. It's a losing proposition to get into an exchange of barbs with the 43-year-old, who, aside from having a wicked tongue, happens to be damn funny. "When customers ask me for change, I tell them it comes from within," she quips. Lola also has been known to scold, "I don't go to White Castle to tell you how to flip burgers," so don't even think of coaching her on the finer points of mixing your cocktail. (And absolutely do not tap your fingers on the bar to get her attention.) However, she has to take it as well as she gives it. When we ask Lola how long she's been working at Porter's, one regular chimes in, "Too long." And everyone bellied up to the bar laughs. But the regular confesses to being a member of "Lola's Day Care," a group of staunch patrons who show for Lalor's afternoon shifts (roughly 2:00 to 7:30 p.m.) six days a week. In fact, Lola says she once wanted to be a teacher and has occasionally taken care of kids on the side. But serving drinks is where her heart is: "I see myself bartending in a nursing home someday," she admits. Then a classic Lola moment happens. She slides a box of cookies over to a fry cook, and as he returns to the kitchen with the box in hand, she shouts, "Now he's gonna be my slave the rest of the day." It's not unlike the ribbing you'd get from a big sister--if your big sister harbored the aesthetic of a professional wrestler and had a weakness for Bacardi and Coke. Ultimately, though, Lola has her fans because she can handle any cocktail with equal aplomb, and she never lets your glass sit empty for too long. As Lola says, "I like bartending. I like people." This, naturally, draws a groan from everyone waiting for another round.