Desmond van Rensburg of Daphne’s in Edmonds says bartenders need to like people, and be patient, yet firm. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Desmond van Rensburg of Daphne’s in Edmonds says bartenders need to like people, and be patient, yet firm. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

This big personality tends a tiny Edmonds bar

Desmond van Rensburg says people skills are as vital as mixology knowledge.

Desmond van Rensburg is a bartender at Daphnes in Edmonds. At 250 square feet, it is most likely Snohomish County’s smallest bar. He was asked to discuss what it’s really like to be a bartender there.

How long have you worked there?

I’ve been there nine years at the end of May. I’m well-known down there because of my people skills. Everyone knows me. That’s my claim to fame there. I love my job. I have a great time. It’s a wonderful clientele.

It’s such a small space. How did the bar get started?

Other bar owners figured they could never make any money there. Now they regret it to this day.

Who is the bar named for?

After a young lady who worked for the owner, who has a bar in New York named The Pencil Factory. She was the lead bartender there. He liked the name, so he named the bar after her.

Who are the owners?

Brian Taylor and Louise Favier. His passion is building bars with no TV so people talk. They’re the nicest, most wonderful people. I love those two as much as my family. They are there for me.

Where did you work before?

In my 20s, I worked for Nordstrom. In my 30s, I got into the bar business and worked at Daniel’s Broiler on Lake Union and Benjamins. The Reservoir Bar and Grill (in Seattle), I was there for a long time.

What brought you to Daphnes?

I’ve lived in Edmonds for so long. I came down one day looking for a job…. The first place I walked into (was Daphnes). I spoke to the guy and he says, “Do not move.” He called Louise (Favier). She took me for coffee. She said, “You’re the kind of guy we want here.” It’s the best move I’ve ever made in the bar business.

Why is it so much fun for you?

It’s the size, where I do my best work people-wise. It’s the clientele that comes in there and its location. Everything about that establishment — the owners just letting me be me. This place is like being on a show every night. I just love going to work. I’ve told them: “You better be prepared, I’m going to be serving drinks when I’m 85 years old.”

What days do you work?

Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

If you were a drink, what would it be?

Some tropical fun drink like a Mai Tai. Full of fun. That’s who I am.

When did you know you wanted to be a bartender?

Well, because I’ve always been so hyper, if you witness how I operate. At Nordstrom, in the early ’80s, I was the best seller. The management would tell me to calm down. I had a guy that would come in, and he had a bar. He said, “You would be so good as a bartender.” This was 30 years ago. I’m 62 now.

What kind of bartender are you?

I cannot care how busy I am. You are as important as anyone else. So I acknowledge immediately (when people walk in) and take care of them. No seats? If it’s a woman, I’ll say to a gentleman: “Is there any way you could stand?” That’s how we are in that little tiny bar. Space is tight.

What’s your favorite drink to mix?

The Corpse Reviver. It’s a drink everyone loves. Gin and Lillet (a French aperitif) Cointreau, a touch of sweetener with fresh lemon juice, shaken. Then you put on a brandy-soaked cherry.

What’s the most unusual drink request you’ve been asked about?

There are bartenders who can make 200 drinks. I can make 30 drinks, but I make them really well. A professional mixologist knows more about drinks than I do. What sets me apart is how you treat people. Eighty percent of being a bartender is people skills. You could have no people skills and know how to make 140 drinks. It doesn’t matter. People are there to have fun. They want to enjoy their time.

Have you ever had to cut people off or tell them to leave?

Oh yeah. At most bars it happens way more. Every now and then, I’ll cut them off. I say, “Hey, I just want to speak to you for a second.” I tell them how much I care about them and how they don’t want to get themselves in trouble drinking and driving. I say, “That’s enough for the night.” You don’t do it in front of people. It’s embarrassing.

If you could serve a celebrity, who would it be?

Paul Newman. I’d do anything to meet him, but he’s gone. He was married for so long. He took a vow and kept it. A gentleman. Another one: Johan Cruyff, a Dutch superstar soccer player, a guy I idolized growing up in South Africa.

What do you pour yourself at the end of a shift?

I do not drink.

What’s one thing you tell others about bartending?

Either you’re good at something, or you’re not. When it comes to bartending, you better like people, better be patient, but firm, you better have people skills. They say, “How can you do this?” I look at them and say, “I don’t know how emergency room nurses do it.” So that’s the advice I would give to be a bartender: Be kind, be firm. It sounds really, really easy when I say it, but it’s a lot harder doing it.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

If you go

Daphne’s Bar is next to the Edmonds Theater at 415½ Main St. Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight daily.

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