By Brandi Watters, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer
ANDERSON, Ind. — When the real estate market tanked, Rick Portwood turned to the thing he knew best — bartending.
The decision paid off as Portwood was chosen as the best bartender in Madison County in The Herald Bulletin’s Best of Madison County contest.
As a bartender at the Anderson Applebees restaurant, Portwood’s clientele often enjoys a meal while sitting at the bar, Portwood said, causing them to stay longer.
Portwood’s nomination and victory in the best bartending category has a lot to do with those who stay at the bar longer than most, he said.
“I have a really strong base of regulars that I’ve kind of gotten to know.”
Even though money is tight for many across the county, Portwood said his regulars continue to stop by and have a drink, chatting with him multiple times a week.
“The loyalty of some people through all these tough times in town has been incredible.”
Portwood’s manager, Jay Thomas, wasn’t surprised that Portwood won the honor of best bartender.
“Ricky has been one of our bartenders for a long time. He has basically kind of taken over his nights and made his people kind of his family. He’s got a loyal following of people.”
Portwood said he shares the highs and lows of life with his customers, often offering a listening ear to patrons in trouble.
From deaths in the family to days that just won’t end, Portwood has heard it all.
He admits that he often grows fond of his customers.
“A lot of people who come in there, especially the older couples, I have an attachment to them.”
That kind of attachment pays off, he said.
“Sometimes when the restaurant is empty, I have a full bar.”
The customers, Thomas said, seek out Portwood. “He works the same days every week, so they know when he’s here and they come in and see him.”
The loyalty is understandable, Thomas explained.
“If you’re having a rough day, he can always turn your day around.”
Though he’s flattered by the honor and spends his days in the center of a bar surrounded by people, Portwood said he hasn’t told his friends, family or co-workers about his distinction as the county’s best bartender. “I haven’t really told anybody. I’m kind of awkward when it comes to attention.”