Best bartender


Matt Yunk, a bartender at Zephyr Pub, won “Best Bartender.”

Grace Davies, Staff Reporter

FIRST: Matt Yunk, Zephyr Pub

Matt Yunk is a Kent bartending veteran. He was hired at the late Kent landmark, the Stone Tavern, as a doorperson which quickly evolved to a full-time bartending role. 

After the Stone Tavern closed in 2016, Yunk moved to Zephyr and hasn’t looked back since. Yunk also started booking shows in 2018, with his first show starring King Buu, Thigh and Birthday Noose. 

Yunk said he has stuck with his career because of the social nature of the job. 

“[It’s the] social nature of it,” he said. “There’s no real public space in Kent that doesn’t have a liquor license after 9:00 p.m. It’s really the only place for people to hang out is at bars. So being a part of that it’s a way to be part of the community. It’s nice to get to know the people who live around you and that’s probably my favorite part about it.”

Zephyr, which neighbors The Loft on W. Main Street, is a first stop on a bar-hopping adventure for party-goers or groups of friends. 

Senior psychology major Finn Mroz-Roakes spent his 21 birthday at the Zephyr enjoying its Vegas Bombs. Even though he proceeded into a bar crawl, he said he found himself returning to Zephyr.

“I think it is the combination of things they have,” he said. “There’s like a middle sit down section. They have a bar downstairs and then upstairs it’s more of like a club bar with a dance floor. […] It’s like three different bars in one, and then they have an outside area, which I really love. It’s definitely the most diverse bar downtown. It’s definitely the most welcoming.”

Along with the climate, Mroz-Roakes said he loves the bar’s menu. 

“The thing I like most about Zephyr is they have specials every week, which, when you’re broke, it’s super nice to still go out and have a good time and save money,” he said. Like for Fake Patty’s last weekend, they had some thin mint shots on special that were fantastic. But, I guess my go-to, I usually get a PBR and whatever their special shot is for that week.”

Senior communication studies major Cassie Vargo said she also enjoys Zephry’s environment.  

“I think like a large part of it during the summer at least,” Vargo said. “The outside part really feels cozy to me. [I like] the three floors. They all have their own atmosphere, and I think that’s really cool because like a lot of the other bars, they’re all just like one vibe and that’s it. If you wanna be social, you could go to the first floor if you want [to] just to sit with some friends on the second floor and then the third floor, when it’s open, it’s dance music and like louder stuff.” 

Vargo said she brings out of town friends to the Zephyr for nights out, usually sipping tea shots or a Bud Light, their usual drinks of choice. 

For people looking for something new to try, Yunk recommended the Pink Starburst shot. 

“As far as the drink thing goes it honestly depends on the person,” he said.  “Everyone has different taste and most people have drank before they turn 21, so they have some idea of what they like already. But a Pink Starburst shot is what I give to everyone on their birthdays and I have never had anyone dislike it.”

Zephyr anchors a variety events, each catering to the multitude of crowds that stomp on through. Both Vargo and Mroz-Roakes attend some of the Zephyr’s regular events, like its drag nights, concerts and emo nights.

Yunk said his largest booking was folk-punk artist Jeffrey Lewis. 

“Jeffrey Lewis was probably the biggest person I’ve booked,” he said. “That was the only show that we had on the third floor and kind of almost charged for it […] It was donation, but like, it was kind of amazing. The entire third floor was packed on a Friday night and it felt pretty special.”

Yunk’s also booked more intimate shows that hold special places in his heart. 

“There’s two [or three]  shows that I did last year that [stick out],” he said. “On my birthday last summer in August I [had] my [band Trash Mountain] play, and I had my friends from Youngtown, [the band] Rebreather and [they] played. Then I booked Daikaiju[…] They [played] on the patio and it was packed and an absolute party.” 

Aside from the booking, Yunk said he has remained a bartender for several years for the community aspect. 

“It’s nice to get to know the people who live around you and that’s probably my favorite part about it, he said. “They’ve treated me well. I love everyone I work with [I like] to be a part of the community and get to know everybody in town.”

SECOND: Adam Poluga, Dominick’s 

 From the outside, Dominick’s has gray walls and a simple white and gold sign above its unimposing door. A person, if inebriated or zoned out, might stumble past it onto the nearby brick street. 

But once a person steps inside those doors, they see a blinking TouchTunes machine, a pool table and a new place to call home. 

Running this place is the responsibility of Adam Poluga, bartender and owner of Dominick’s. 

Poulga, a repeat contender of Best Bartender, has worked at Dominick’s for 27 years and has owned the place for three years. 

Dominick’s Pub’s Adam Poluga got second place in the “Best Bartender.” (Mallory Ratesic)

He said he didn’t buy the place to transform or modify it into something it’s not. Poulga bought it to keep it exactly the way that it is, and he said he enjoys it that way. 

“I just want everybody from all walks of life to feel welcome,” he said. “We’ve been a local bar slash college bar for all these years, and I just want to keep it going that way. I want everybody that comes in, no matter what walk of life you’re from, to feel welcome.”

The job of a bartender encompasses many different parts: unofficial therapist, entertainer, social butterfly. It’s a job of many talents. 

Poulga said he has done these tasks for years, and he has found a group from all of his experience  – friends on both sides of the bar. 

“I’ve been doing this for so long that I know so many people from all walks of life,” he said. “I think that’s what’s really great about it … I’ve made so many friends over the years from all different areas of life, whether they’re students or old, the old townies that have been coming in there for years, I couldn’t list the amount of people that I’ve become friends with and that have meant things to me in my life.” 

Poluga’s skills have spanned the generations of college students that have wandered in, with some children of former patrons coming in after their own legal milestone to have a drink. 

For these newly-21 customers and the others tempted to stop by Dominick’s, Poluga has one recommendation: try a Dom Bomb, which is a secret concoction Poluga did not reveal. 

THIRD (TIED): Mike Haney, Water Street Tavern

Water Street Tavern is one of Kent’s larger bars, spanning from a large indoor main room to a wooden roof patio, filled with square tables with matching benches, as well as a downstairs bar.

Mike Haney, a multiple time Best of Kent bartender winner and Ohio University graduate, has been with the bar for nine years.  

“I would say that it’s something I’ve always had an interest in,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of passions, but I’ve always had a knack for biology and just  a curiosity for it.” 

After traveling around and working with youth groups in the Hocking Hills area, he landed at Water Street. Haney said he fit in with the atmosphere that comes along with college bartending. 

Mike Haney from Water Street Tavern tied for third place in the “Best Bartender” category. (Abigail Griffith)

“I really like being able to work with and meet a lot of different types of people,” he said. ”I love that job for the same reasons I love doing the work I do at Water Street. There’s always a couple groups
[I bond with.] Every year it does change. It’s part of the life of working in the college town is that you get ‘em for a couple years. There’s like a little special bond.”

Haney earned his biology degree in 2015 and has recently returned to Akron’s Stark State for a nursing degree. Despite his schedule, he said he wants to keep bartending to some extent, even if minuscule.

“I guess part of why I’m good at bartending is that my passions are definitely a lot more service minded,” he said. “I’ve come to realize that in some way or another [I] probably [want] bartending to  be some part of my life forever. Even if its, just a pickup gig or [I] come in every once in a while, whatever that may be. I do see some sort of bartending in my life for a long time.”

To any first-timers visiting the Tavern, Haney recommended checking out Water Street Tavern early before the noise drowns out someone’s chance to talk to the bartenders and hear some of the other drinks properly.

THIRD (TIED): Brittney Garner, Barflyy

As evident from lines out the door for Halloween and Fake Paddy’s Day celebrations, Barflyy attracts large groups of people. 

Brittney Garner, who has worked on and off at Barflyy for about three years, has had plenty of contact with these big crowds.  

She attended school in Pennsylvania for business. Ironically, she said she received a real education from her on-the-job experiences. 

“I honestly think that I use way more of my [skills] from  working in a restaurant like bartending and [being a] waitress […], I feel like when I have kids, I’m gonna make them be in the restaurant industry in some way because you just learn so much.”

Brittney Garner, who tied for third place in the “Best Bartender” category, works at Barflyy. (Abigail Griffith)

Garner prefers the company of friends and a shorter work schedule, even if bars can be a little hectic. 

“I work with my best friends,” she said. “It’s also a significant amount of money for only working three days a week. [At my previous job] I’m killing myself working seven days a week … At that point I was just kind of like ‘If I can make X amount of money and only work three days a week, it’s just worth it.”

The people who come into Barflyy make the job worth it, Garner said, even if their conversations end up in tears. 

“I guess when you’re a bartender, sometimes you’re almost like a therapist,” she said. “I have a lot of regulars. They’re younger, obviously college kids. Just there to have fun, party, live their best life, not care at all. [I] probably have 10 that stick out to me that I just love. They’re just kind.”

Grace Davies is a staff reporter. Contact her at [email protected]