There are a few reasons why I’m excited about introducing Drink Up readers to Joel Mesa at Byrne’s Pub. For one, Byrne’s is one of my favorite spots in town. It’s cozy. You can wear yoga pants freely without judgment. The drinks are strong. They don’t put up with bullshit. And Joel’s always going to have your back.
Joel is totally crush-worthy because he gives me an excuse to use some of my favorite descriptive words. He’s masculine without misogyny, genuine without cheesiness, kind while maintaining his respectability. While sitting with my old friend Joel, who I barely know from this side of the bar, he offered to bring me his favorite book to read and to pray for me. That’s the kind of person he is.
The feeling I get from being around Joel is of calm safety, like he’s looking out for not only me, but for everyone in the bar. Maybe that comes from being the eldest grandchild, or from his newly-gained fatherhood. What it comes down to, though, is that Joel is so much more than my neighborhood bartender. He has a presence of badassery and an essence of sweet: two opposites that mix to make a big Filipino teddy bear, of sorts.
Age: 37 (proven by ID, even though he looks like a spring chicken.)
Years Behind Bar: 14
Hobbies: Golf, taking Jersey Joe on man dates.
Beverage/Band/Book: Miller High Life & a shot of Jameson, Earth Wind and Fire, The Art of Life by Bruce Lee
Kelly Laine: Just being in this bar reminds me of how much I love this place.
Joel Mesa: It’s laid-back, comfortable. We don’t have nothin’ to provide people besides the people that come here, ya know what I mean? And everybody that’s here talks to everybody. There’s no static, really.
KL: How long have you lived here?
JM: 16 years I think. I’m from Toronto. Moved here in 1996, I think, for business. But it fell through and I ended up bartending. The head bartender here at the time, I was sleeping on his couch and he wanted me to get a job, okay? And I said no! [I] gave him five bucks for a pack of cigarettes, but he said I had to pay rent. One day he took me to work and gave me a rag. So I ended up behind the bar. Ever since then, that’s all she wrote. This is my story over here at Byrne’s Pub.
KL: What if you weren’t a bartender? What would you do?
JM: If I wasn’t bartending? I’d probably own a bar!
KL: Do you like Columbus?
JM: Love it a lot. Like most people say, it’s easy to make it. If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere, really. People here are very friendly. I like the Midwest life.
KL: If someone came into the bar from out of town, what would you tell them about Columbus?
JL: Well everyone knows about the football. That’s basically it, right?
KL: That’s what people think!
JL: No, no, there’s more. It’s growing. We have a great music scene. Everybody’s in a band here.
KL: What’s something that you really love?
JM: My daughter, Mia. She’s seven months old. M.I.A.: Missing In Action. Pretty soon I’ll have to be lookin’ for her! “Where you at?” She won’t get away with nothin’ when she’s older because every bar around the way knows me, ya know what I mean? I’m going to have eyes everywhere!
KL: She’s already in trouble.
JM: No, I’m in trouble!
KL: So how’s fatherhood? Is this your first?
JM: As far as I know! [Laughs] Yeah she’s my first. I helped raise my little sisters so it’s a smooth transition for me.
KL: Did you come from a big family?
JM: My parents’ families were big. I’m the eldest grandson, so growing up I was taking care of all my younger cousins. Every time I go back to Toronto, they all praise me. It’s all good because they remember. Now they’re all bigger than me, but they remember.
KL: It’s got to feel great to have that sense of family and community all the way in another country.
JM: Yeah, but Columbus is home now.
KL: Do you feel that sense of community here, too?
JM: Especially in Grandview. I just hope it doesn’t lose that neighborhood feeling with the new [Grandview Yard]. It is what it is, but there’s a bad element that comes with it, too. This is still recognized as a safe place. Young professionals come here and young families, you know? This is the perfect spot. You can’t go wrong living here.
KL: Totally agree. I love it here. So do you have a specialty drink?
JM: Well, I don’t necessarily have a specialty drink that I make, but the house specialty is known as Larry’s. Jager, splash of Red Bull. It’s synonymous with Byrne’s Pub.
KL: Where’d it come from? Who’s Larry?
JM: Um, it’s one of our bartenders’ alter egos. His name is Gary but when he’s drinking he turns into Larry. Everyone here has a drinking alter ego but me. [laughs] Everyone here just knows me as my name, Joel. Sounds cocky, but that’s just what it is. I stand out in the crowd, you know what I mean? I don’t look like everyone else here.
KL: Yeah, you used to have a pony tail.
JM: You miss it, don’t ya? Fatherhood will to that to ya, especially when Mia started grabbing it! This is the second time I’ve donated my hair. I donated 24 inches. So there are two kids walking around in my hair somewhere. One time I cut it here on stage. We raised $900, all for charity.
KL: So what’s the most popular drink order at Byrne’s?
JM: Larry’s, or car bombs.
KL: I’ve done plenty of car bombs here.
JM: I know you have! [laughing] I don’t know nothin’, I just work here! I just pour the drinks!
KL: Would you say you have a favorite regular?
JM: I like them all! If I had to pick, it’d be Jersey Joe. He’s from Jersey. He keeps it simple. He gets his Jager and a Bud Select. I know what he wants when he comes in. He doesn’t bother nobody, people come to him.
KL: So what are the best and the worst parts of your job?
JM: The best part? Seeing the joy in people’s faces when they’re drinking. [For the record, this is the best possible answer to this question that I can imagine.] The bad part is seeing the sad stories. I don’t focus on that though. If anything, I try to talk to them, you know, take them out of their reality.
KL: So where are you when you aren’t here?
JM: Meister’s. All the neighborhood bars.
KL: To finish up, let’s do some “lasts.” What was the last thing you ate?
JM: Sparano’s Pizza
KL: Last thing you bought?
JM: Pho from Lane Avenue
KL: Last person you spoke to on the phone?
JM: My wife.
KL: Last thing that made you mad?
JM: Mad? Uh, I guess laziness. You can’t really get mad when you have a daughter.
There’s Jersey Joe! “Joe, come over here!”
KL: Tell me a good story, Joel.
JM: One Sunday, we took every picture on the wall and flipped it all backwards. The boss came in and was pissed!!
Jersey Joe: Tell her about your buddy who has the tramp stamp.
JM: Oh! Our regular, Tj.
JJ: Well he’s not that regular, he has a tramp stamp!
JM: He’s going to kill me! But his name’s Tj , and he has a tramp stamp. It says “Unity” or something.
[For whoever’s keeping score, this is the second male regular in Grandview to have a tramp stamp. Sexy.]
JJ: So what do you do?
KL: I have bartender crushes. Every other week. They’re fleeting.
JJ: And it’s on Joel this week? Ha! Has he ever taken you out to dinner? Let me tell you this. Go to dinner with Joel and the service is impeccable. He knows everybody. Joel is sort of like having “that guy” you go out to the bar with, what’s he called?
JM: A wingman?
JJ: A wingman! I don’t know if that’s a compliment, but how many bars do you go into where people won’t even say hello, or introduce themselves?
JM: Yeah, I mean if you come in here alone, I’ll introduce you to everyone else that’s here alone. There are a lot of first dates that I’ve bartended for. And they come back married with kids.
KL: I used to only go on first dates if he was taking me to a bar.
JJ: Right. Of course.
JM: If I was taking a girl on a date [before I met my wife] I’d go somewhere where I didn’t know everybody, you know.
JJ: Yeah, but you didn’t speak English back then. You still spoke Canadian.
This is only a hint of the entertainment you can find if you stop into Byrne’s Pub. It’s on the corner of Northwest Boulevard and Third Avenue in Grandview. Check out the live bluegrass is every Friday night and daily happy hour specials.
This is a guest post by Kelly Laine. Kelly makes an infamous summer sangria, has a strong affinity for tequila, and favors an ice-cold Stone IPA or a tart Farmhouse Ale Saison when the weather’s right. Hobbies include hand-making custom bow ties, cooking while the music blares, Bikram yoga, and being inappropriate.