Francis Kelly 

photo courtesy Francis Kelly

Many of us bartenders feel like “OG’s” just from being behind the stick for a couple of years. Not many of us can say that we have seen generations of bartenders come and go. Well, Francis Kelly has. He now resides here in Vegas and is ready to share decades of professional and life experience for his guests and fellow barmen alike. This native San Franciscan has been behind the stick for over 37 years and still somehow has the same passion since when he started in the 80s. We spoke to him about some of his favorite spots around town, the secret to keeping his passion and about the love of the craft. 

You have had the chance to work with a lot of great people, see trends come and go and meet some of the best in the industry. Who are some people that you look up to? 

I look up to people who have some done a lot for our industry. Like Steve Beal, Jim Meehan, Tony Abou-Ganim, Scott Beattie, Dale Degroff, the late Dave Pickerell and the late Micheal Jackson(whisk(e)y) to name a few.

2008 is when you’ve joined us the USBG. What does it mean to you?

It is an amazing opportunity to taste and learn about spirits that we can use in the continued education of our craft and the camaraderie you have with likeminded people in our profession. 

Vegas is your new home. What are some your favorite places to enjoy?

Places around town that I like for dinner are classics like Golden Steer, Herbs & Rye, Cleaver, Ferraro’s, Piero’s, Esther’s and Nora’s; and Atomic Liquors for cocktails and conversation. I’ve been coming here to Las Vegas since 1983 but still enjoy wearing a suit and tie when going out on the town.

Tell us about your approach to bartending and what “hospitality first” means to you.

My approach to bartending is to make that guest feel when they leave that they can’t wait to come back. Regarding the chapter’s motto, hospitality means when that guest walks in for the first time they leave as
a regular.

You have seen our profession change and generations of bartenders come and go. What are some things that we have now, that they didn’t back in the day?

What I enjoy now when I’m behind the bar is the ability to have 10,000 cocktails at your fingertips with the advent of the smartphone, the publication of some great books and cocktail events like Tales of the Cocktail, Whiskyfest, Whiskies of the World and Rumfest just to name a few. Also, the effort companies have made to promote education is great.

What are some things that we may have lost along the way?

What I think we can still improve on is guest service. From the proper way of handling glassware from the bottom or the stem and not have your hands over the lip (pet peeve) to listening to a guest and proper attire while on the job, whether that being a clean T-shirt or pressed long sleeve shirt or clean fingernails. These are things the guest notices, either consciously or unconsciously. 

San Francisco has a highly evolved beverage culture. How are you finding
Las Vegas?

People use to say to me you live in a ‘bubble’ in San Francisco because of the diversity of produce and cultural shops. I’ve found driving around here in Las Vegas there is a lot of different cultures that we can learn from in the way of working with spices and food products.

You are fairly new to Las Vegas; where can we find you?

I am currently working at the Mob Museum and T-Mobile Arena. Where I would like to be in the future is a dinner house. When I’m bartending, I love to make Manhattans and Reverse Manhattans. It’s fun to play with different Amaros and Bitters.

After many years in the game, how do you maintain your passion? 

I stay excited about our craft by listening and learning from other bartenders in this ever-evolving industry. I still have that same passion today as I did when starting out in the early 80s.

Any advice to to new or young bartenders?

Be honest. If you don’t know it look it up or ask. Respect both your internal and external guests, your delivery and janitorial staff. Respect your salespeople because you are one of them. Wear clean clothes every day and listen to your guest!

Any other advice?

Check the weather! We have people that come here from all over the country and the world. If you work in an establishment that caters to a particular clientele learn what the weather is like. The one thing we can all talk about is the weather. I watch the national weather report every day. I can talk to my guest about how was it coming into Las Vegas? It’s a great ice breaker.