Florida Keys Business
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Bartending duo greets visitors at Keys' doorstep

KEY LARGO -- Approaching Key Largo from the mainland, motorists on the 18-Mile Stretch have to pass by Gilbert's Resort.

That makes Gilbert's bar and restaurant one of busiest establishments in the Upper Keys, say the two elder bartenders manning Tiki One.

Over the years, Jim Mazelin and Rebecca Lewanski say they have never seen the crowds as big as this season.

And if it's beer they're coming for, it's more likely from the bottle than the tap.

"There's a lot of bottle babies here," Mazelin said.

Together, the two have more than 26 years behind the bar, and neither has plans to leave.

"There's no place I'd rather be working," Mazelin said as he and his cohort looked out over Jewfish Creek. "I've got no reason to want to leave."

The two say they love to serve vacationers from the north, especially when they get to hand a tropical drink like a Rumrunner to someone just escaping the snow.

Lewanski said she sends some people back home with a recipe or two so they can be tropical whenever they wish.

Working in the industry so long, the two have seen a lot of changes. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with new liquors and fads.

"Every year, there's more and more different products," Lewanski said.

She said the popularity of flavored vodkas has altered how people order their drinks. It is also increasingly rare for people to order old standards like a Manhattan, a whiskey drink topped with a cherry.

The craft beer craze also has made its way to the Florida Keys. Mazelin said new regional beers are coming through all the time.

"We have those interested in their local ales," he said.

Lewanski began working at Gilbert's 16 years ago when the property featured just one outdoor bar. Now the company has nearly completed construction of Tiki Four. Next to the tiki huts is a special parking lot for bikers, which has made their location popular among Poker Run charity events.

Aside from introducing visitors to the Keys, they say the seasonal customer is also what makes their job unique from other locations. Over time, the two have committed to memory the preferences of their winter patrons.

Generally, between the two, there is no drink they can't mix. But customers from other parts of the country can sometimes be challenging if their favorite drink has a different name in the south.

"Once we can find out what's in it, we're like that's called 'this or that,'" Mazelin said.

For her part, Lewanski's favorite drink is the Long Island Iced Tea.

"I just love mixing the alcohols together," she said, while mimicking the preparation with her hands.

Mazelin says over his 37-year bartending career he has no favorites; he just wants to make the customer happy.

"I've been bartending longer than some of these bartenders here have been alive," he said.

jgore@keysnews.com

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