Michael McNiff, Wantagh Inn, Wantagh

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Long Island Pulse: When did you start bartending?
Michael McNiff: I started restocking bottles at a golf club’s bar at around seven or eight. I was a young kid in Castlerea, a small town in County Roscommon in the west of Ireland with about 1,200 people. At 16 I was bartending at one of the local spots, an old timer’s bar. No music, just talking. We only had one television with the volume always off unless there was horse racing or a soccer game. Then you weren’t allowed to talk at all.

Pulse: Is there a difference between bartending here and Ireland?

MM: For sure. Drinking is more of a social thing in Ireland, a family thing. But you need to know your cocktails here. In Ireland, everyone drinks Guinness, Heineken, vodka or whisky. It’s hard to mess that up.

Pulse: What’s your specialty drink?
MM: I love making Irish Eyes: Jameson, green crème de menthe and a bit of heavy cream. Shake it well and strain it into a rocks glass full of ice. Top it off with a cherry. It’s a minty, creamy drink. A favorite of the ladies.

Pulse: You started at Wantagh Inn in 1997?
MM: Yep. I officially came [to the United States] in 1996 and bartended at PJ Moran’s in Manhattan for a year. I’m the main nighttime tend—Wednesday through Sunday. People always ask if I work somewhere else aside from this. I tell ’em, “Yeah, I have another part-time job working 80 hours a week.”

Pulse: Do you still enjoy it?
MM: I love it. You get to meet a lot of good people. You develop friendships—inside and outside the bar. Friendships for life. When you’re seeing customers twice a week for 20, 30 years, you get to know them and their families. Several guys that I met that were once in the police academy, they’re now talking about retiring in a few years. People you’ve introduced at the bar, they hit it off, get married and have kids—now their kids are graduating high school. It’s truly amazing.