Photo: Ferris Kaplan
By Helen Mitternight
Megan Deschaine, bar manager at The Macintosh, dreams big. Not even a work-related broken foot can stop her.
Megan hops up on a stool at The Macintosh to chat about life behind the bar and #StrawlessSummer – the campaign she coordinates to reduce the use of straws which often end up in the ocean. She’s gotten pretty adept at getting around, despite the cumbersome boot still swaddling her leg.
“Still another three to four weeks,” she says, gesturing impatiently at the boot. Megan has been out of work since the accident May 7, but that doesn’t mean she’s been inactive.
An educational workshop at Portland Cocktail Week in Oregon a few years ago sparked a desire to change some of the worst of the environmental practices for restaurants and bars. Megan – a self-described “hippy person” – brought that desire back to Charleston last year and worked to educate her fellow food and beverage workers about the need to produce less waste. Working with the local chapter of SurfRider Foundation, the United States Bartenders Guild and others, she introduced #StrawlessSummer, although the movement extends to all seasons.
“The straw is something in the diviest of bars and fanciest of restaurants, and it’s something that people interact with on an everyday basis,” Megan says. “It’s also one of the top five pollutants on beach sweeps.”
We’ve all seen the photos of the turtles ensnared by plastic – and if you haven’t, you should. #StrawlessSummer calls for reducing the number of plastic straws used and replacing them with washable straws or no straws at all.
“It’s not about eliminating straws, it’s about making them optional and not putting them out automatically,” Megan says.
For those who don’t want to give up their straws, the campaign has partnered with Charleston-based Healthy Human to offer discount codes on straws that can be washed and reused as well as wholesale straws for businesses.
The campaign has taken off and, this summer, more than 1,000 restaurants and bars on the East Coast pledged to join.
The campaign is not without detractors. Some straw die-hards have taken to food and beverage Facebook groups to object to the campaign as useless and unnecessary fuss.
“It’s a pain point that some people micro-focus and talk about how straws are not the only pollutant, but the whole point of the campaign is to facilitate a conversation, which even these people are doing. So thank you,” she says.
Megan wants to keep the conversation going about more than straws. Her position as vice president of the Charleston chapter of the bartenders guild helps.
Megan also hopes the conversations push Charleston bartenders into even more creativity. Although she’s a Charleston native, Megan started her career in cocktail bartending right out of college at Rye in Baltimore. She moved back in 2013 to take guardianship of her little sister, who was 16 at the time, and has been a force in the local bartending world ever since. You may have seen her champagne tower on Charleston Wine + Food posters a couple of years ago, her smile as effervescent as the liquid she’s pouring.
Megan loves bartending and she’s learned a few things behind the bar, including how to deal with customers who have been over-served.
“It’s tough. Unless they’re being disrespectful or disruptive, you want to maintain rapport. I don’t want to shame people, especially if it’s my hand that has served you too much,” Megan says. “You want to be kind, tell them they’ve had enough for now, give them water. But it’s tough to know right away. Like if a person’s eyes are dodgy or glassy, or they’re not so stable, they’ve probably had enough. But you don’t know. What if they have a disability that makes them act like that? It helps that I work at The Macintosh where people are trying to have an experience and not get hammered.”
Just as she knows how to be a good bartender, she can teach how to be a better bar customer.
“My pet peeve is when people don’t make eye contact. When you ask somebody how they’re doing and they just say, ‘vodka soda.’ That can hurt. You’re a person, too.”
She loves the romance and drama of concocting drinks to suit someone’s taste, but don’t ask for “dealer’s choice” on a busy weekend night.
“I’m busy, so I’ll just double up on something I’m already making and say, ‘Here, this is my choice for you!’” she says.
Megan may not be a bartender forever, and her time off to nurse her injury has her looking at what she would do if she can’t get back to crafting cocktails.
“I would love to own a bar or bars,” she muses. “I’ve always said I want to open a bar in Summerville, where I grew up. It’s definitely a little bit more blue collar than downtown and maybe 10 years ago, a cocktail bar wouldn’t have made sense. But I think they’re ready now. I love the idea of a neighborhood bar that serves good cocktails. And if I ever open downtown, I would love to open a performance space that has comedy and burlesque. I think there should be more venues for the arts, so I’d provide a little hole in the wall for the artist community.”