Jacki Schromm has come a long way from slinging pizzas as a teen in the ‘burbs of Jacksonville, Florida. These days, you’ll find her in Boston’s Ink Block, behind the bar at Lion’s Tail, where she’s shaking things up (beyond the glass). Schromm launched a series at the South End cocktail den called Woman Crush Wednesday back in October 2017 to celebrate bad-ass lady bartenders around town. On the first Wednesday of each month, she invites a female guest bartender who is welcome to craft innovative additions to the spot’s libations line-up, and half of the evening’s sales are donated to a nonprofit of the guest bartender’s choice. It’s proved to be powerful (and popular), and it’s an example of what truly matters to the Salem State grad. Below, she describes how working on the beverage distribution side of the industry helped her find her path, shares her take on Boston’s bar culture and explains why she’s obsessed with cachaça.
Where do you work now? What’s your position? Where else have you worked in the last five years?
I am currently the proud mama lioness (AGM & Director of Events) at Lion’s Tail in the South End’s Ink Block development. I feel like I’ve literally worked everywhere and done just about it all in the hospitality biz. But these were my latest gigs, about 2 years ago I was the bar manager at the Joshua Tree in Davis Square while I was finishing up my degree at Salem State University. When I graduated I decided to do something a little different and spent a summer working on Nantucket, at Cru. It was truly the experience of a lifetime, that little island will forever hold a small place in my heart. When I came back from Nantucket I gained some experience on the distribution side working for Diageo as a brand representative in the Somerville/Cambridge market. Gaining industry insight into the sales and distribution side was valuable but I soon realized my love and passion was meant to be behind the stick which is how I landed at Lion’s Tail!
How did you get involved in restaurants (and, specifically, bartending)? What draws you to this line of work?
I think I was maybe 14 years old when I first started working in the hospitality industry. My mom held a second job at a mom and pop pizza store in Jacksonville, FL. I got bored one day and just started folding boxes and making meatball subs. Then before I knew it I was taking orders and slinging pies to people in the dining room. My first bartending job started in 2011 when I worked in the Fenway neighborhood at Game On! I popped Bud Lights and served all the vodka sodas there – that spot taught me how to be efficient and fast behind the bar. I’m forever thankful for that! There are so many things that I love about this industry but if I had to choose one, which is incredibly hard, I’d say that I love that fact that I’m always learning. No matter how many books I read or recipes I learn, this business is constantly changing and evolving and I love that!
What’s your favorite drink to make (or wine or beer to pour)? Least favorite?
As cheesy as it may sound I really enjoy making a drink that makes my guest happy! There’s no better feeling than that guest who says they were having a crappy day and then tells you “this is exactly what I needed, thank you so much.” There’s a surprise and delight element that happens on a daily basis with guests. Not all heroes wear capes, ya know!
How do you feel about the ‘mixology’ movement—does that term appeal to you, not appeal to you? What do you think it means to be involved in the bartender culture, if you agree that there is one?
Mixology is not a word that I personally feel comfortable using but that doesn’t mean no one else should. I create drinks and I love what I do, I don’t need a label for that as long as a person is passionate about what it is they are doing. To be a part of the bartending culture is something that I am forever grateful for and humbled by. Especially here in Boston, everyone takes such good care of one another – whether it’s helping someone in need, offering tips of the trade, or just being there for a friendly face and a drink after work, there is such camaraderie in this city. Recently I had an opportunity here in Boston to surround myself with 150 other bartenders from all over the country – you’d think meeting a group of strangers like that would be daunting and scary, except it was the most welcoming and warming experience I’ve had. The bar culture is one big family without pretension, labels, or prejudice. We love one another as we are. No questions about it.
On your days off, what kind of places do you frequent? A lot of industry folk are happier with a Miller High Life and a Fernet than composed cocktails or craft beer. You?
I’m a Bud Heavy and Jagermeister girl myself!
What do you always keep stocked at home? Are there different things you like to drink or to make for special occasions? Snow storms, sick days, having friends over, drinks for dinner, etc.
I’m not a huge drinker at home, which I guess is kind of strange considering how many bottles of booze and wine sit on my home bar. But when and if I am drinking at home its usually a glass of red wine (whatever I’m interested in or learning about at that moment) or a negroni.
Are you excited about one spirit in particular? Is there something really overrated or underrated, in your opinion?
Cachaça! Until about 6 months ago it was a spirit that I was familiar with but really knew nothing about. I started reaching out to our brand reps, attended trainings (aka lots of tastings), and have read countless articles. There are some brands out there doing some really cool and interesting stuff with cachaça, feel free to come get nerdy with me about it at my bar anytime!
What’s something you wish the average guest knew about your job—not service-wise, but related to the craft of bartending. (In other words, apart from common courtesy and being a good guest, what’s something you think everybody should know about bartending?)
I think this answer circles back to what I love most about our industry, the fact that we’re always learning. I think it’s amazing that the guest wants to geek out with us and know what they’re drinking. We have such savvy, educated consumers in this city which always makes the person behind the bar feel appreciated. I also know that sometimes it can be a little daunting to walk into a bar and be unfamiliar with a lot of varietals and spirits. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, it’s what we are here for and it’s what we love to do. And hey, if we don’t know the answer we’ll learn together!