Bartenders & Baristas: Westley Nieto at Bikini Lounge
By Wynter Holden
If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’d probably rather staple your genitals or commit seppuku with a letter opener than work the same job for a decade. Bartender and previous Best of Phoenix winner Westley “Wes” Nieto disagrees. She’s been working at downtown Phoenix’s famed Bikini Lounge for almost 20 years -- since the Oasis Hotel across the street where she worked the front desk closed, leaving her jobless -- and she isn’t planning on giving up the gig until the last bottle of gin is pried from her cold, dead hand. Damn. Now that’s dedication. We caught up with this spunky Hawaiian native and mother of eight (again with the dedication, although at least one pregnancy yielded twins) and she shared some of her wisdom while slinging beers and shooting pool with a couple of regulars.
Chow Bella: Wow, twenty years at one job. Any thoughts of moving on?
Westley Nieto: Get a real job? Are you kidding? Nooo way. I like it here because everyone’s so different. You get all walks of life in here – old guys and the bums and the kids. The routine, the job, is the same. But the people that you encounter always change.
CB: What was your first job like?
WN: I was nine when I had my first crappy job. I used to carry hot water for soup in a restaurant in Stockton, California. I got paid twenty-six cents a day. That was big money then!
CB: Nine years old? Why would you start working so young?
WN: I had a big family. There were 16 children. Four boys, the rest girls. (My mom was thrilled, my dad wasn’t too happy.)
CB: What’s your favorite cocktail?
WN: My favorite drink to make is a pineapple upside-down. It’s vanilla vodka, amaretto and pineapple juice, with a little bit of grenadine.
CB: What's your drink of choice?
WN: Amaretto on the rocks with a Coke back. It’s been my favorite since I started drinking, which was…well, drinking age at that time was 19.
CB: Do people often mistake the Bikini Lounge for a strip joint?
WN: All the time. They call up asking us if we’re hiring strippers, er, dancers.
CB: Well, it can’t be that tame. Have you seen any nudity in here?
WN: Yeah, more than I care to. I have people that set up a betting table, and instead of playing for money they do the strip thing. They streak! One guy in particular came flying in from the back – completely naked -- and he runs face first right into the door. All of a sudden in the background you hear, “Hey, Nick, turn the knob.”
CB: Being around here so long, you must know the locals. Give us a story about someone we might know.
WN: Before Trunk Space was open, I had 3carpileup in here – Steve Gompf, Randy Slack. It was our first First Friday and they decided they were going to sit at the door and coax everybody in here. Well, I was the only bartender, so I tell ‘em to stop. There’s too many people! So Randy starts running around picking up dirty dishes and Steve’s asking people if they want a drink.
Only they were charging people at the door and I didn’t know it. They tried to give me all the money and I said “you can’t do that.” This girl comes in at the end of the night and when she asks for another drink, I said told her it was too late, the bar closes at one o’clock. She says, “Can I have my money back?” I’m like, “Sure” and I gave it all to her. The whole pile of money from the front door!