by Austin Giles
On a Wednesday night at the Wild Buffalo, the hysteria of the scene inside reflects upon the name of the music venue itself, the crowd of 200 resembles a stampede as they rotate and push through each other to get to the epicenter of the club, a massive circular bar that houses an isolated tower of gleaming bottles of alcohol. Behind the counter is Braden Peterson, a 25 year old full time bartender who hasn’t stopped moving since his shift started at 11 p.m.
Three other bartenders work alongside Peterson, keeping the crowd at bay by moving quickly enough to get them in, out and on to the next drink order. They must move quickly, as the bar would be overrun if they slowed their pace even slightly. Wednesdays are always busy nights and the lines leading up to the bar are endless.
Peterson sports a black beard and black shirt resembling any classic image of your friendly neighborhood bartender. He always seems cool, calm and collected. He has to keep his composure in such a hectic and fast paced environment; to an outsider it might seem overwhelming, but he’s got it all under control.
The night life of Bellingham is thriving, down town is filled with clubs and bars but not many that have the high volume of patrons coming in like that of The Wild Buffalo –where Braden Peterson is there to accommodate all and make any kind of drink you can think of.
“ A vodka martini will never be out of style,” says Peterson. “Its simple, classy and easy to make.” He’s got a classic taste but doesn’t mind making any drink, as the man in between the booze and the costumer, Peterson abides.
The Wild Buffalo is in the heart of downtown Bellingham on one of its busiest streets. It is surrounded by other bars, stores, coffee shops and restaurants but the Buffalo is the destination of the majority of the night life in Bellingham; if you walk around on a Wednesday night no place is obviously so busy as the Buffalo.
Inside it is a massive sprawling space, spanning over a dance floor, with a full stage and bar. Large paintings hang on exposed brick walls that stretch upward to the high ceilings. Its reggae night and there’s a live DJ playing reggae infused hip-hop. The dance floor is constantly moving and sparse spinning lights flash every now and again lighting up the dark club.
The music stops and the DJ wishes Braden a happy birthday as it has officially turned midnight and Braden turns 25, he puts his hand up, nods to the stage then goes right back to making drinks. “I’ve been bartending ever since I turned 21,” he said. He had an interest in bartending even before that, starting as a bar-back since the age of 18, changing kegs and stocking beer after gaining some experience in the restaurant business.
“Its very similar to serving tables which I had been doing for a long time, bartending is a job in which you have to have experience, if someone completely new to it were thrown back there it would be a disaster”.
Peterson works during nights, an average shift is from the late afternoon to the early morning. “I’ve always been the kind of person that stays up late,” he says. It’s one of the many aspects that Peterson likes about the job, among the flexibility, he says having his days free is great for fitting in other things like snowboarding. He can go up to the mountain before he has to go to work.
“At night the bar is your responsibility,” says Peterson. Closing bartenders must handle the money, lock the doors and clean up before they leave for the night. In a job with many areas of expertise such as security and doormen, they rely heavily upon each other to get their jobs done. If a bartender has cut someone off or kicked someone out then it has to be enforced by his co-workers in other areas of the club, it is up to security to remove them and the door man to keep them out.
“The place wouldn’t survive if we didn’t work together,” says Peterson.
On Wednesday night security is a presence inside of the Wild Buffalo even among the large number of patrons, there is an adequate number of security strolling through out the crowd. No one is getting out of hand, people keep dancing and continuing to elbow their way to the bar. As the crowd converges around and leans over the counter like pecking chickens, they continue to drink and the night goes on.
In a bar as loud as the Buffalo it is apparent that the bartenders have developed a way of talking to each other that is distinct to their kind of work. The only way to communicate is to talk only an inch away from the person’s ear that your talking to.
Peterson leans over close to say something to one of the other bartenders, she hands him a bottle she has close by, it’s the last ingredient Peterson needs in the drink he’s preparing, shortly after he hands it off over the counter then looks back over to the stage.
“I get to constantly see new music as well as bands I’ve been a fan of for a long time,” he says. Its one of the perks of working at a music venue. “In the span of one week we’ll have a bluegrass show followed by a jazz show followed by a rock show followed by a hip-hop show”. Peterson said he doesn’t really listen to the radio and that working at the Buffalo alone has introduced him to a wide variety of music.
Just starting out making drinks Peterson has observed and seeks out to work in other areas of the night life industry.
“Working at the Buffalo got be interested in music promotion, making drinks isn’t enough after awhile, I want to be involved in the music process,” Peterson said. He has started his own promotion company and has booked a few shows in Bellingham, bringing up bands from Seattle among other cities in Washington.
His calm persona is in stark contrast to the hectic environment he works in. As the stampede rushes the bar Braden quickly takes their orders, makes their drinks and is on to the next one.
With all his experience in the restaurant and bar business it is obvious why he seems to have everything under control as he says, “I’ve been doing this for…years and love it.”