Q & A

Tallahassee’s bartender serves ’em up
Bill Terrell Jr.He Knows ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’

Bill Terrell Jr. is part of a liquor legacy. His dad’s father-in-law was a bootlegger on the St. Johns River; his father – Bill Terrell Sr. – ran a local-landmark liquor store near the corner of Magnolia Drive and Tennessee Street; and his brother works for a liquor distributor. Now 54, Bill Terrell Jr. has been bartending at parties, weddings and other social events for more than 35 years. He says he has served every governor and Florida State University president since 1970, as well as football players, professional wrestlers and myriad other interesting people.

Terrell spoke recently with Tallahassee Magazine’s Mackenzie Turberville about what he has learned in a career spent pouring drinks. (And, oh yeah, even if there’s not a jar at the open bar, bartenders always appreciate a tip.)

TM: Do you remember your first impression of Tallahassee?

BT: I remember the day we moved (to Tallahassee). I woke up and we were at Monroe and Tennessee and I said, “Dad, when are we gonna get there?” and he said, “We are here. This is it, we’re in the heart of Tallahassee,” and I said, “Take me back to Jacksonville.” There was nothing there.

TM: What do you remember about your father’s liquor store?

BT: Guys would come in and buy a half a pint and just talk to you about their problems. They wanted you to be their counselor. People at the liquor store don’t help you anymore. These young kids don’t give a damn, they don’t want to work.

TM: How did you get started in bartending?

BT: I started out managing my dad’s liquor store. One day when I was 19, I came in and he said, “I’m one bartender short. Go home and get a shower and a bowtie,” and I’ve been bartending ever since.

TM: What’s the hardest part of the job?

BT: Trying to cut somebody off. When somebody tries to order a drink and you say, “I don’t think you need anymore,” people don’t like hearing that. You just have to say no, and usually you get somebody from their group to talk to them.

TM: Have you seen anything scandalous?

BT: Nothing that hasn’t been in the newspaper. But I knew about it before it was in the newspaper.

TM: What’s the secret to bartending?

BT: To remember what people want and have it ready for them. When my dad would see the regulars drive up outside, he would get their liquor and cigarettes or whatever, and when they’d walk in he’d say, “What else?” That and remembering names. People love personal recognition.

TM: What’s changed about bartending?

BT: A lot of times now, a party will just have beer and wine. They’re afraid to serve the liquor nowadays, and people don’t drink like they used to because of DUIs and how they look in public. The old drunk is a thing of the past.

Some people go to the bar after work. What do you do to cut loose?

BT: I get home from working a party and my girlfriend says, “Hey, let’s go out to a party,” and I’m like, “No way.” You get enough of partying at work. I want to relax – go to the beach or something.

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