The Madison Bar & Grill (1316 Washington Street) is the rare sort of establishment in Hoboken which you can consider “a bar,” given its Friday and Saturday dance parties, yet it would also have a “Sunday Jazz Brunch” and top-notch cuisine in the dining room. In turn, the Madison Bar & Grill is classy with high-end décor and creative cocktails, while also being the sort of place where one can also go for a few beers and a burger.
However, as bartender Allison Friedman informed me during our Q&A, it is not the sort of place in which patrons ought to yell “I’m in love with the coco.”
hMAG: At what point in time did you realize, “Hey, I want to be a bartender?”
Allison Friedman: Let’s be serious here, it wasn’t a childhood dream. I had heard from a friend about how much fun it was and how much money could be made, so at 18, during a short break from college, I enrolled in bartending school. One of the best decisions I have made.
H: Did you ever have a bartender mentor?
A: My current bar manager and fellow bartender, Jesse Weeks, has taught me a lot about actual bartending. Creating drinks and making people laugh has always come easily to me, however, Jesse has taught me the importance of keeping my calm in tense situations. I used to take everything too personally, but he would remind me that most of the customers causing problems were drunk and that I was overreacting. It has helped me to become such a better bartender because customer service is the biggest part of this industry. Too many bartenders act entitled to the tip. If I do my job well and make sure my customer is satisfied, that’s when I deserve the money I make.
H: What do you think is the biggest misconception about bartenders, or even bartending?
A: I think people generally hear the term “bartender” and associate it with “party girl/guy,” promiscuous behavior, alcoholism, or being too lazy to find “a real job” (laughs). It’s a shame that there’s such a negative subtext around such a brilliant job. People need to stop shaming those who choose the service industry as a job/career choice. There should be a level of respect that accompanies the person who makes sure you responsibly have a good time every weekend. Don’t forget, we give up much of our social lives/weekends and almost every holiday so that everyone else can enjoy their lives in our establishments.
H: What is your favorite part about being a bartender?
A: I am one of those people that adores everything about bartending. Anyone who knows me is aware of my genuine love of this position. I also work in a stellar environment, which makes my life much easier. I love the creativity in making new cocktails, the exposure to many new products on the market, constantly networking, meeting interesting people, listening to awesome music, working with an amazing group of co-workers, but most of all, I love that I can provide an experience for others. Plenty of people walk into a bar not knowing what to expect, but many of them stay because the bartenders are cool and the drinks are great. I love that.
H: How would you describe the Madison Bar & Grill to someone who has never been there?
A: It’s an iconic Hoboken bar and restaurant where good people meet for delicious drinks, great food, and friendly faces. It’s also the place to be if you want to be part of a fun dance party on Friday and Saturday nights or meet new people. The Madison is a wonderful place to become a regular. We have lots of them for a reason!
H: When you’re not at your bar, where do you like spending time in Hoboken?
A: My couch. My bed. My couch again. On the days I do find myself out and about, I adore drinks and small plates at the Cuban. I love hanging out at Bin 14, the staff is amazing, and I like to see if my friends at Cork City have anything new on tap, which they always do.
H: What was the first restaurant or bar you ever experienced in Hoboken?
A: My best friend moved to Hoboken before me, and the first place she took me to was the Madison. I promise I’m not making this up! We walked in on a Friday or Saturday night and I remember thinking, “Well, this is a fun spot!” It was crowded, but everyone was dancing and having a blast. Now, six years later, the Madison is my second home.
H: Other than yourself, who is your favorite bartender?
A: This is an absolute tie for me. Darrin Hall, one of my co-workers, is the most beloved, talented, and hilarious bartender I have ever met. I’m honored to be able to work with him every weekend. He is truly a crowd favorite. Outside of the Madison, my friend Fran Gray (formerly of Sullivan’s) spent many a Sunday night talking shop with me. He’s a great guy and a great bartender in general. He knows how to make you feel at home.
H: Beyond your work as a bartender, what do you wish more people knew about you?
A: I’m an educated woman. I went to a great college where I studied creative writing. After that, I went to culinary school to pursue pastry and baking. Though nothing brings me as much satisfaction as bartending, and that’s why I do it. I get to be creative daily, and it genuinely fills me with joy. I think that’s a rather important fact about myself.
H: What do you like to do when you’re not behind the bar?
A: Sleep. I sleep a lot. When I’m not sleeping or catching up on my shows, I like to spend time with my friends/family/beau, bake, cook, clean, write, and hang out with my cats. Yes, I have two of them, and my Instagram may or may not be flooded with kitty pictures. Oh, well!
H: Finally, any last words for the kids?
A: Yeah! If all of you could stop screaming “I’m in love with the coco” in my face, that’d be really great. Other than that, I’ll see you Friday or Saturday night at the best dance party in town, the Madison Bar & Grill, obviously! Much love, drink (somewhat) responsibly, and be nice to your bartenders. We’re real people, too!