One Good Brew
Mike LaBrie was pleasantly surprised to discover that, just after Christmas 2016, he was voted Bangor’s Best Bartender in a large online vote conducted by Townsquare Media. Though he garnered more than 30 percent of the votes after two rounds of voting and amongst a pack of ten finalists, LaBrie, 43, was certainly not expecting to be nominated — let alone win.
But his customers at Micah’s Pub, the bar attached to Bangor-Brewing Bowling Lanes on Wilson Street in Brewer, beg to differ. They love LaBrie’s business, his food and drinks, and most importantly, the man himself — he’s unassuming, laid-back, funny and a good listener.
LaBrie, who’s owned Micah’s since 2014 after buying it from the bowling alley owners and renaming it (it used to be called Charlie’s), talked to Bangor Metro about bartending, friendship, and how to stay sober while you’re slinging drinks.
Tell us about yourself. Don’t be shy.
I’ve lived in Bangor my whole life. Went to Bangor High, graduated in 1991. We moved out to Orrington in 2009, built a house out there. My daughter was 11 days old. I’ve been bartending for about 15 years. I grew up working at the bowling alley as a kid. They built the bar in the early 1990s and called it Charlie’s. As people left the bowling alley, shifts became available, and eventually it was a full time job for me. Before you knew it, I ran the show. A couple years ago they sold it to me and told me to make it my own.
What do you think makes Micah’s so special that people ended up voting for you?
It meant a lot to me, to win that. It meant the world to me. There are so many bars around here, and I always say I’m not one of the big boys. A lot of people don’t know where we are. It’s a really relaxed place. You don’t have to worry about how you dress. It’s comfortable. You can bring your kids earlier, or have a more adult time later. I guess the one staple of the place over all these years is me. When I took it over I wanted to take the food to another level. Tweak the place a bit, clean it up. I didn’t want it to be a “bar in a bowling alley”—it’s a small bar, that’s next to a bowling alley.
What makes a good bartender?
You have to wear many hats. You have to read people. You have to be able to tell if they’re having a rough day. I know my clientele, and if they have a certain look on their face, I know they’re having a bad day. I’ll give them a beer and ask them how they’re doing. If they say, “I’m OK,” I still say, “Tell me what’s really going on.” I think a bar takes people away from life. You want to shut your mind off. And as a bartender, you want to make someone smile, tell them a joke, give them good service. You’re a therapist, and a comedian, but you’re really a friend. I like to think I’m a good bartender but a better friend. You can’t be everyone’s best friend, obviously, but you’ve got to be nice to people.
You’re now several years sober. How does staying in the bar industry affect your commitment to sobriety?
Back when my drinking was bad, and I wasn’t doing well on the job, I knew I had to clean up my life. The owners of Charlie’s saw how hard I was working on getting sober, and they told me when they offered me the bar that they wanted me to do it my way. It gave me a motivation to not drink. I let people drink for me. I like the atmosphere of a bar. If I had a 9 to 5 job, I’d really miss it. I work my program—the people at AA think I’m crazy, but I know that I can’t drink. If everyone else does a shot, I’ll do a shot of Red Bull with them. It’s probably a bizarre way to stay sober, but it works for me. And if I see someone that’s having a hard time, I’ll say something.
Three years ago, customers were giving me rides home and checking on me, but now I’m the one doing that. People come to me now, saying “I have a problem” or “My family member has a problem.” I won’t push people, but I’ll say that I see what they are doing. I’ve brought some people into the program. I’m here to help. I think the thing about a bar is that, you know, you can get a 12-pack and go home and drink it. But if you want to see people and have an experience and be social, it’s a lot harder to do that at home. You can get a Bud Light anywhere. But you can’t get that experience anywhere else.