Write at Home


By Edwin Decker
Photo by Janelle Maas

(Published in the January 2010 issue)

As you probably know, a lot of people in the service industry are aspiring actors, artists and authors, but bartender Zack Karabashliev doesn’t have to aspire anymore. Now he inspires.

Born and raised in Bulgaria, Karabashliev is a renowned author and playwright in his home country. His debut novel, 18% Gray (written and published in his native language in 2008), is a bestseller and recipient of Bulgaria’s Flower of the Readers award. In 2009, his plays Reverb and Sunday Evening also won prestigious awards.

In short, Zack Karabashliev is one award-winning mofo. In fact, this interview had to be conducted via email, because he was back in his homeland, receiving their Book of the Year award for his collection of short stories called, The Brief History of the Aeroplane.

“I graduated with a Masters in Bulgarian Literature,” Karabashliev writes in his email, “but making a living from that was not an option in the ‘90s in Bulgaria, so I worked all kinds of odd jobs, including DJ in night clubs, being on the radio, construction, news photographer, etc.”

In 1997, Karabashliev scored a U.S. green card via the lottery system from the American Embassy in Bulgaria, and then moved to Ohio-with a mere 107 words in his English vocabulary. Once in the U.S., he studied English in the morning, worked at McDonald’s in the evening and took the graveyard shift as a security officer at an Anheuser-Busch plant.

After 10 years of that, he landed a job bartending at the Sheraton Suites in Columbus, Ohio, and has been with the company ever since. Today, he lives in La Jolla with his wife and daughter, writing by day and bartending at the Sky Lobby Lounge at Sheraton Suites San Diego at Symphony Hall by night.

“Good bartending isn’t just about pouring drinks,” says Karabashliev. “It’s about what you do when you’re not pouring drinks,” which is the bartending equivalent of Frippertronics (musician Robert Fripp’s recording technique based on the theory that the space between the notes are as important as the notes themselves).

A bartender who can blow your mind without even pouring you a drink-now that’s something to write home about. Check out

Biggest tip: An insider-trading tip.

Coolest celebrity encounter:

The lead singer from Mercy Playground sang I Smell Sex and Candy to my wife, on the phone, at 3 a.m. I bought him a martini for that.

Favorite drink to make: Dirty Martini.

Least favorite drink to make: Are you kidding me? Mojito.

Most annoying customer: The person who asks, “Do you have Margaritas?” I don’t have Margaritas, dude. I make them.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I’m not growing up-that’s the problem.
Take it from me...I’m a bartender

Dear Ed,
When I try to smuggle booze into a bar, how do I get free Cokes to mix it with? Should I give the old designateddriver line?”
-Adrian the Cheapass

Hey, Cheapass,
The days of free desi-drinks are over. If you ask the bartender for your free designated driver beverage, he’ll throw you a glare that could cure the Devil of the hiccups.

In most bars these days, free soft drinks are up to the discretion of the bartender. Your best bet is to pay for the first one and tip big.

For instance, if the Coke is two bucks, give him a fiver and tell him to keep the change. And for God’s sake, don’t call attention to it. Just shut up and let the tip do the talking. After that, you’ll probably get the rest of your soft drinks for free, and the bartender won’t be inclined to scrutinize you as a suspected bootlegger, because he knows people who sneak booze into bars are usually too cheap to tip in the first place.

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