"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
It's a friendly crowd that hangs out at the Town Pump at 3 p.m. on a weekday. All of them regulars, six or seven in number lined up at the bar with Bud Lights and packs of cigarettes sitting out in front of them. (They have to go outside to smoke these days.) They're not the chattiest bunch — who knows what they have in common outside of their affection for the Rebsamen dive where they're wheeling away this particular Thursday afternoon — but regardless of what they have to say to each other, there's always at least one person to talk to: bartender Loryn Smith. The best bartender in Little Rock, in fact, according to readers of the Arkansas Times. She knows each of her customers by name, and has their drink ready by the time they've made it from the front door to the barstool.
One man walks in, and without hesitation she pulls a beer from the ice chest. "PBR?" She asks, as she pops it open.
He screws his eyes up, looks at the can she puts in front of him. "Nah," he tells her, shaking his head. There's a moment of silence, and then they both break into laughter. Of course he's having a PBR.
Smith, 25, and a native of McGehee, was hired at the Town Pump a year and half ago as a server. She started bartending a few months later. Before that she worked at a Starbucks, and before that she studied communications at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. Eventually, she says, she wants to get a master's degree and become a college professor. It's not hard to imagine her in front of a class — she has the fluidity of speech that often characterizes the best profs — but for the moment, her affability is put to a different use. Short, always smiling, she never stops moving with her bartender's busyness. Talkative but not overbearing, she has something to say to everyone, and replaces drinks without having to be asked.
"There are slow days where there are only a few people at the bar," she explains to me. "So I talk to them and try to be nice. I can't just stand here and twiddle my thumbs."
She's the sort of person who could make friends anywhere, and of course a bartender can't get away without making a few acquaintances on the job. Another man comes in the door, and with barely a nod of the head she knows what he wants — a White Russian. Before she moved to Little Rock three years ago, she says, she would never have pictured herself behind a bar. But her father owns a liquor store, and working at Starbucks familiarized her with the basics of mixology. Bartending seemed like a natural step. White Russian on the table, she starts asking who wants a Jell-O shot.
"I'm the queen of Jell-O shots," she laughs, sliding one across the bar in my direction. "They're always a big hit on karaoke night. I usually make about 200 at a time."
I look from the drink I already have to the unsolicited shot, red for the Razorbacks. It's 3:30 p.m. and I think, why the hell not?
No wonder the regulars like her. The Town Pump itself is no remarkable dive, with its wood paneling and neon signs and ESPN on every TV, but with Smith helping to pour the drinks, it's earned its fair share of Toast of the Town nods. Her rapport with the clientele is effortless, and she tells me it's not that often that an asshole walks in. She's humbled to be named best bartender, but a lot of credit goes to her coworkers, without whom, she admits, she could easily be a grouch instead of the friendliest girl in the room. Putting away a clean glass, she's pouring me another beer before I have the chance to say no.
The conversation moves from football on the TV to horror stories of being too liquored up, and then to a regular who hasn't arrived yet.
"He's on the wagon again," someone informs Smith.
"I heard his old lady threw one down on him," she answers, checking cans to make sure nobody's running low.
"Went back to the reservation to clean up," comes another possibility.
Turning to me, Smith says, "In case you can't tell, the Town Pump is sort of like Cheers."
I can tell. As I get up to leave, she suggests another round of Jell-O shots. Nobody protests.
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