Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

The Tendress: Erica Coffee 

Bartender, Society Lounge


Erica Coffee had every intention of becoming a chef. For her junior and senior years of high school, she elected to go to vocational school for cooking. Upon graduation she was accepted into the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, where she earned a degree. Fresh out of culinary school, she landed a job at a nice restaurant in Florida and had taken her first real step toward becoming a chef.

"And that's when I developed a horrible seafood allergy and was forced to move to the front of the house," she explains.

Rather than blow up like an angry pufferfish every day at work, Coffee stuck to this side of the swinging kitchen doors. She's been a bartender ever since—but she says we shouldn't pity her plight.

"My heart belongs behind the line, and I would much prefer to be cooking," she says. "But I also really love the bartending aspect, so I'm kind of stuck in the middle. Both provide me with the opportunity to be creative, and both require long hours on your feet."

Surprisingly, she notes, a good bartender makes more money than most cooks.

Since landing in Cleveland, Coffee has cultivated robust bar business at L'Albatros, Bar Symon, ABC Tavern and Flour. She hopes to do the same at Society Lounge on East Fourth Street, where she just accepted a new job. Each new post brings with it a new set of challenges and opportunities, she explains.

"You have to be able to match your style of personality and your style of bartending with the clientele," she says. "You can't approach customers at a fine dining restaurant like you would at a hangout like ABC. As a bartender, you have to be able to flip that switch."

Ironically, the longer Coffee continues to bartend, the more similar to cooking the job becomes.

"Bartenders are using a lot more farm-to-table ingredients like seasonal fruit purees," she says. "I create cocktails the same way I would put a dish together. It has to have the right balance—not too boozy, not too fruity."

She also likes to use some unconventional ingredients, like the smoked rhubarb and cherries that add depth to a smoky Manhattan.

"I like to make my cocktails just different enough so that customers have to ask about them and so they'll remember them."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Latest in Cleveland People

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 26, 2022

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2022 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation