Continuing our Mixologist of the Month series, theCITYSCENE had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan Miller, who has been slinging drinks in Pittsburgh for over a decade. Currently found at the recently-opened No Names Pub in Lawrenceville, Miller shares his thoughts on the industry, what’s great about the city, and his – perhaps serendipitous – journey to a career in bartending.
Talk to us about how you got started in the industry.
Well, it really started out as a trial by fire. At my first bartending job, I was trained for one day and went on vacation – then came back to work to find out the guy who trained me had been fired! I had no idea how to even make a cosmo at that point. But I ended up taking over the bar program there and really made it my own. I worked there for 30-40 hours a week for three years while going to school at IUP. It became my little lab where I could experiment with things. With nobody to train me, I could break the rules a little more and be more creative before going on to learn the “correct way” of doing things.
After college, did you know you wanted to stick with bartending?
No, not really – I loved it and had a passion for it, but I was at a crossroads not knowing if I wanted to go the more corporate route or do something else. But I just couldn’t get away from bartending. I loved it so much. My dream job was working at Butcher in the Rye; they were at a totally different level of innovation and experimentation than anyone else in Pittsburgh at the time. I decided I was going to get that job no matter what. I ended up taking jobs at two other bars in the South Side to make ends meet while going to Butcher constantly to ask for an opportunity there.
So did your persistence pay off?
It did! Eventually. I actually was just about to give up. I had logged on to Indeed one night to look for jobs in other industries – it was such an exhausting time in my life working at the other two bars – when an email came through from the bar manager at Butcher. I started the next day and stayed there for several years!
And now you’re at the brand-new No Names Pub in Lawrenceville – what’s the vibe like there?
It’s a really chill atmosphere; the staff are a bunch of friends and we get to interact with and serve our neighbors in Lawrenceville. I live in the neighborhood, and I also work at a coffee shop down the street, so I know a lot of the Lawrenceville community. They say Pittsburgh is the biggest small town in the world and that’s what it feels like here – everyone having a good time at a local spot.
How would you describe the bar program there?
It’s a pub, so it’s naturally meant to be a beer and shots kind of place. But we also have an excellent cocktail menu. They’re all riffs on classics – they’re simpler but they are top-notch quality. I wanted to touch on something familiar but add a spin on it, a new twist that you won’t get anywhere else.
Do you have a personal favorite drink?
I actually stopped drinking about a year ago; I still taste things for flavor of course, but I haven’t had a full drink since then. Tiki drinks, though, were always kind of my jam – like a classic daiquiri. The beauty and simplicity of it; in its classic rendition it is perfectly balanced but it also has enough adaptability that you can riff on it endlessly and make it your own. And with Pittsburgh winters, it’s like a nice little sip of sunshine.
Besides the awesome bar program at No Names, is there anything else you’re working on?
I actually play keyboard and do harmony vocals in a Southern gothic band called Bonnie and the Mere Mortals. If you smash The Cure and Tears for Fears together with Dolly Parton, that’s our sound.
The mention of Dolly certainly has my attention – and Southern gothic is a genre I personally adore. How can I listen to Bonnie and the Mere Mortals?
We’re on all the streaming platforms, and we’re also recording our first live album at Club Cafe on January 28 at 8pm. We really wanted to pay homage to the classic listening room expereince, so tickets are limited. It’s a great opportunity to not only support Pittsburgh’s best listening room, but to also play a part in this new album, and even be on the cover!
Finally, what’s your favorite thing about Pittsburgh?
Definitely the networking. Pittsburgh takes the six degrees of seperation and cuts it down to three; it’s so easy to meet and talk to people here. I’ve had so many synchronicities happen and crazy meetups. I don’t think that happens in many other places. Pittsburgh is unparalleled in that way and you never know who you’re going to meet next. I always say, don’t burn a bridge in the City of Bridges.
Visit Ryan at No Names Pub at 4717 Butler Street, Pittsburgh 15201, nonamespub.com
For more information on Bonnie and the Mere Mortals, head to bonnieandthemeremortals.com