Served Blog Banner Girl: Q&A with Sherilyn Lightner of Dillingers Cocktails and Kitchen

By Ron Swarner on October 6, 2014

Every week we swap out the Served banner art above, introducing you to the people who serve food and drinks in the South Sound. This week, meet Sherilyn Lightner.

Server Banner Girl, Oct. 6-12, 2014

Sherilyn Lightner

Sherilyn Lightner runs the bar at Dillingers Cocktails and Kitchen, the Prohibition-era speakeasy in downtown Olympia. She has been bar mistress at Dillingers since it opened Jan. 28 of this year. She was a month away from moving to Portland, Oregon, in search of her next bartending challenge when she was asked to be part of the Dillingers team. It was her first opportunity to open a bar from the ground up, thoughtfully choosing all of the products and compiling the cocktail menu to suit the tone and theme of Dillingers, while offering something different for Olympia.

She began bartending nearly 11 years ago at Mercato Ristorante next to the Olympia Farmers Market. Since then, she has bartended at Waterstreet Café and Acqua Via, both in Olympia, and Juno in Seattle. What began as a job during college has turned into her passion.

Bartending can mean different things to different people. For Lightner, it is an art form, a craft, to be honed and perfected. Part of her journey has included entering competitions. Next year will be her third year competing in Speed Rack, an all-female, nationwide bartending competition that raises money for breast cancer research. The competition is held in eight major cities, including Seattle where Lightner will be competing. Participants go head to head, and are judged on speed and accuracy of four classic cocktails, picked at random, by four judges. According to Lightner, it's humbling, exhilarating and nerve racking.

Why do you serve?

"I love hospitality. If I had the time and the means, I would host intimate dinner parties every night. Serving is my way of doing just that. For a few hours, you are given the opportunity to create an experience for people, and it's a fun challenge to figure out what kind of experience they are looking for. It's an extreme honor to serve others, and be invited into their lives for a moment." 

Who is your favorite server in the South Sound?

"My favorite server in the South Sound is Andrew Buechel at Mercato Ristorante. He is the utmost professional, extremely attentive without being intrusive and he genuinely cares about hospitality. I call him ‘Champion', a nickname that he most definitely earned and deserves." 

What are you most proud to serve?

"I am most proud to serve any drink that a guest truly enjoys. I love broadening horizons, educating people about spirits and cocktails and turning people on to new things, but, ultimately, my job is to craft a drink that suits my guest. Whether that is a vodka and soda, or a Champs-Élysées, if you love it, I'm proud of it." 

What is your current drink of choice?

"I always love whiskey or cognac based cocktails. My ultimate go-to is the Vieux Carre, a blend of Cognac, Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, and Peychauds and Angostura Bitters. It's like a Manhattan's richer, more sophisticated uncle. Or, a lovely glass of green Chartreuse with just a few ice cubes. You can never go wrong with Chartreuse." 

What is your favorite movie?

"Oy. That's a stressful question. I have different favorites based on different genres, or moods. However, if I had to pick ONE favorite, I would have to say Blade Runner. I could watch that film over and over, and never tire of it. SO good."

What don't you serve?

"I won't serve a drink that I can't stand behind. I taste nearly every cocktail I send out, because my name is attached to it. If it's not right, I won't serve it, and I'll keep working on it until it is right." 

What's on your radar at Dillingers?

"I want Dilllingers to continue to offer something different for Olympia. Now that we are established, I want to get into housemade infusions, barrel-aged cocktails, and more Dillingers originals. We will continue with pre-Prohibition and Prohibition-era cocktails as our main focus, but its a lot of fun to experiment, try new things and continue to challenge yourself. 

Meet Sherilyn Lightner: Dillingers Cocktails and Kitchen Chef Denise Alsonso will cook and Bar Mistress Sherilyn Lightner will pour champagne cocktails at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7 at the Bayview School of Cooking. The cost is $55. Reserve your space at 360.754.1448.

LINK: Meet other South Sound servers