Even though it won’t open for another two hours, The Pump’s tiny barroom is already bustling. A burly beer rep is taking inventory and refreshing his stock. The kitchen door is wide open, and cooks wearing bandanas and ball caps make each other laugh while prepping the mise en placefor what should be a very hectic night. The rest of the staff is busy moving tables, stocking their beer coolers and wells. During business hours, the house PA is bumping an eclectic mix of punk, 90’s rap, and old-school funk and soul, but for now the cacophony of chairs screeching across the polished floor and jovial shouting between the workers supplies the background noise.
Meghanne Hensley sits in the vinyl booth closest to the door. The upholstery is a sparkling sea green reminiscent of a bowling ball. The décor is a blend of kitsch with cult film posters lining the walls. Behind the bar, amongst an impressive selection of both well-known and obscure bottles of booze, a collection of toy robots and tchotchkes clutter the shelves.
The Pump has a core of bartenders that are just as diverse as the neighborhood clientele who frequent it. It’s a difficult place to describe: casual, but not a dive; hip, but unpretentious; cheap, yet stacked with quality beers, liquors, and well-made cocktails. The staff is just as dynamic, and works closely together as a supportive team.
It’s the perfect environment for someone like Meghanne, whose bartending philosophy is centered on thecontinual growth of her skills and knowledge. This is the same mindset shared by successful chefs and cooks, so it should be no surprise she has a long history working with food and beverage.
In fact, half of her life has been spent in restaurants and bars. Starting as a hostess in a chain restaurant when she was 16, her initial interest in cooking sprouted into a passion that would guide the rest of her life.
“I started watching Ina Garten, and I was obsessed with her show, so I started cooking recipes from her show and throwing in my own flair, and I was like, ‘I really love doing this,’ and so I ended up going to culinary school. And I still cook all the time, it’s one of my favorite things to do, I just don’t want to do it as an occupation.”
When she graduated from high school, Meghanne attended OSU at Okmulgee for their highly-ranked Culinary Arts program. She continued to work in the industry, but realized that being a chef wasn’t her calling.
“I got overzealous and thought I was going to get into a really good job right off the bat. Didn’t happen, so I kinda moved around, learned how to bartend. I taught myself-I didn’t get a job bartending, just reading recipes. I helped open up a restaurant, started playing around with booze, and ended up writing their entire cocktail menu,” Meghanne says.
“I feel like it came natural to me because I went to culinary school, so I’m able to throw those flavors and stuff together. I think that’s what makes me excel at mixology.” She releases a sarcastic laugh, and says, “I hate using that term.”
“I love every single area of a restaurant and bar, and I’ve worked in every single one of them, from dishwashing to management. I bring my love for cooking to my love of bartending. That’s why I feel like I’m able to create such awesome things.”
A strong culinary background might be uncommon amongst bartenders, but the skills she picked up along the way have guided her approach to creating perfect seasonal cocktails. Even before she started mixing professionally, Meghanne had a knack for making tasty drinks for her friends.
“I remember buying flavored rums-I think it was Bacardi Razz-and thinking I was a genius for mixing it with lemonade and creating this delicious summer cocktail. That was my first time I remember creating a cocktail without using a recipe.”
Now, she helps craft several of the daily specials, which they call The Dirty Harry. Every single day, the bar offers a different, unique cocktail special that gives its bartenders a chance to flex their creativity.
“We’ll go to Urban Tea House to get tea, and Cao Nguyen to get interesting things to create the specials with, try to keep it fun and festive. We also create them around holidays,” she says.
It can be difficult to constantly invent new recipes, but Meghanne has a general routine she follows to generate ideas.
“Sometimes I’ll just stand behind the bar and stare at the bottles for like ten minutes, and not have any clue what the hell I’m gonna do. I just wait for something to click. I’ll sit outside-if it’s rainy, if it’s sunny, if it’s a specific day of the week. Sometimes, we’ll look up national days and see if we can make some kind of drink out of that. I usually start with a base liquor and I’ll sometimes end up making 3 or 4 drinks before I’m happy with it. Sometimes, I know exactly what the hell I want to do, like today. I have 2 cocktails I want to do today.”
One of those cocktails is a jalapeno-pineapple margarita with Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, which is her current favorite mixer. “It’s a spicy chili liquor. It’s a little bit sweet, it’s awesome.”
Between spending her days and nights working at The Pump, playing drums in the garage punk band The Shutdown Shutouts, tending her garden, and spending time with her husband, , Meghanne’s schedule leaves little time for thinking of the future. However, she will be helping with The Pump’s next venture, a bar called The Bunker on 23rd Street, next to the Tower Theater. And at some point in her life, she would be interested in opening her own place.
What would it be like?
“A lot like this. This place is awesome. Something small, fun, quirky, quaint. This place is my favorite bar, and I’m here almost every day. It’s been almost a year and a half and I love it still.”