(Lucky’s Last Chance)
By Leo Dillinger
Photography by Alexa Nahas Photography
What separates ordinary bartenders from the extraordinary? Is it the perfect pour of a craft beer or a flawlessly constructed cocktail? For Chris Pelusi of Lucky’s Last Chance, it all comes down to patron engagement.
Chris immediately gets his customers’ attention as soon as they enter the bar. And if his physical presence doesn’t capture the customer at first, his larger-than-life personality is bound to get the job done. From greeting new customers with a warm welcome to messing around with his regulars, Chris is truly worth the price of admission.
“Something I always teach our new bartenders is ‘Eyes Up Bartending,’” Chris said. “Whenever you go to a bar and your server’s eyes are down, they’re not focusing on the customers. It’s just about acknowledging your customer and letting them know you know they are there, even if you’re busy. That’s definitely how you get a repeat customer.”
Chris started his bartending career eight years ago, one year before Yunkers Pub changed hands to become Lucky’s Last Chance. At the time, Chris had just left his role as a drummer in a traveling band and was looking to take on a couple of nights each week to earn some supplemental income.
Once Lucky’s Last Chance owner, Chris Barnes, and his partners bought the business and began the transition, they decided to keep Chris on the team. Since then, Chris has served thousands of customers, eventually became a manager, and has grown with the business ever since.
“To me, what makes Chris so great is that he’s able to relate to everyone who walks through that door. He treats them like family walking into his house,” owner Chris Barnes said. “We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today without having Chris on our team. He really sets the tone for everyone on the staff.”
One of the greatest challenges for any food business is the loss of regulars due to everyday circumstances. Some move away from the area. Others get married and start having kids. Some start new diets. This is why Chris Pelusi and the rest of the Lucky’s Last Chance crew always seek to accommodate new customers in an effort to make them potential regulars. For Chris, this means making solid recommendations from the bar’s food and drink menus.
Because he handles the beer and spirit buying for Lucky’s Last Chance, Chris gets the insider knowledge on different products from account representatives. This helps him talk to customers in an educated way about particular beers and cocktails. Chris said if you ask the right questions and determine their needs, the customers eventually answer what they want to drink for themselves.
And if you ask for food recommendations, Chris will tell you his personal (and cheesy) favorites on each part of the menu without hesitation: Incomparable Bacon Cheddar Burger, Cheese Amigos Fries, Jalapeno Cheese Tots, Cajun Chicken Mak & Cheese, and Sausage Gravy & Biscuits for brunch.
“The easiest part of the job is definitely the customer interaction, even when there are new customers who’ve never been here before,” Chris said. “It’s very easy for us to win them over. I try not to take the job too seriously because we’re not saving the world or anything. We’re just selling hamburgers and beer.”
Two questions that I just had to ask Manayunk’s Best Bartender were 1.) If you could make a drink for one celebrity, who would it be? and 2.) What is your favorite drink to make/drink? As expected, Chris’s answers reflected his jocular personality.
His first answer was that he’d “make” a Yuengling Lager bottle for one of his favorite neighborhood bartenders, Joe from Manayunk Tavern (whom Chris actually voted for in this category). As for the second question, Chris’s favorite drink is one of America’s oldest cocktails with a pre-Civil War New Orleans origin: The Sazerac.
“It’s definitely my favorite cocktail to make and it’s definitely my favorite cocktail to drink,” Chris said. “It’s also how I gauge a bar when I go out. If they shake my Sazerac or shake my Manhattan, I’m going to have an issue with it. Am I going to drink it and not tip them? Of course I’m going to drink it and tip them. But repeat business will be held to a higher regard.”
Chris likes to think that Lucky’s Last Chance emulates the bigger picture by playing an active role in the community. The staff not only wants Lucky’s Last Chance to be successful, but they want to see the rest of the neighborhood succeed, which is why they support other local businesses like Manayunk Tavern, Taqueria Feliz, Cresson Inn, and Bourbon Blue. Chris also mentioned the importance of giving back to the community by hosting fundraisers and events for local nonprofits including PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society), North Light Community Center, and more.
After eight years of working behind the bar at 4421 Main Street, I had to ask Chris if he had any plans on leaving. Upon hearing the question, he smiled and straightforwardly stated, “I would’ve left eight years ago if I didn’t like it. I like who I work for and I like who I work with. It’s as simple as that.”