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From club to craft

Muddling through the cocktail scene

Bartender Jackie Hiskett at Juniper Restaurant

Greg Bollinger

It was the type of smoky dive bar one could easily slip into if they were underage. Jackie Hiskett had been doing it for several years. But in 2009, Hiskett found different circumstances as she sat face to face with the bar manager while he asked a final interview question.

“Jackie, how old are you?”

Forcing out the uncomfortable answer, she replied, “Twenty-one.”

Judging from his shocked reaction, Hiskett knew she’d just tanked the job interview. Apparently, years of customer loyalty mean nothing if you were underage.

In the near-decade since, Hiskett has added a diverse range of experience to her resume, from serving morning shifts at IHOP to bartending in countless Tulsa clubs.

For a long time, Tulsa didn’t have a craft cocktail scene, but Hiskett enjoyed concocting new drinks for patrons at those fly-by-night clubs. The guests' palates may not have been the most refined, but she developed a knack for crafting custom drinks on the spot.

“I can’t paint, draw, sew, or sculpt, but I can make a drink,” Hiskett said.

Though she is a confident bartender, even creatives struggle with self-doubt and social anxieties. Overcoming this is a process that Hiskett described (without recognizing the pun) as “muddling through it”—a process that is equal parts fake it till you make it and perseverance.

Her desire to improve is what prompted Hiskett to accept a gig at Bodean restaurant in 2014. Working a high-volume club is much different from tending a craft cocktail bar where extended conversations with guests are the norm. The decision didn’t hit home for Hiskett until the long-standing bar manager at Bodean left. She was left with a group of loyal regulars and a wall of sticky-note recipes featuring custom cocktails.

Prior to bartending, Hiskett experienced social anxiety.  Discussing cocktails with patrons was a way to share a mutual interest—and it relieved her anxiety.

“I finally got to be the nerd that I was silently,” said Hiskett.

She updated the Bodean cocktail menu for the first time in years and started experimenting. It was an invaluable experience, but at some point every establishment has a status quo to maintain. Around the time she realized her curiosity was outgrowing the bounds of Bodean’s cocktail program, she was selected to compete in Philbrook Museum of Art’s 2017 MIX cocktail event.

In 2017 she was offered a position at Juniper Restaurant, which is known for its house-infused spirits, something that had been a staple at the clubs where Hiskett worked. She can be found serving craft cocktails at Juniper most Thursdays through Saturdays—or catch her at the upcoming White Party on May 12.

Despite the change in drink styles, the tools remain the same—as does Hiskett’s demeanor.

“At the base of everything I’m still a bartender. I’ve worked in a smoky bar. I’ve thrown people out by myself in the middle of the night. Just because I’m knowledgeable doesn’t mean that I’m going to turn my nose at anything.”

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