Updating one’s compass: New Year’s advice from some of Reno’s finest barkeeps

At the start of every year, I like to look back at the previous year and take inventory of the person I was—and the relationship that person has with the person I want to be.  

This year, I presented this exercise to a few beverage-industry insiders to see what advice they would give their younger bartender selves. I also asked them what their younger selves would think about the people they’ve become. Their advice was inspiring and thoughtful for any person looking to better themselves—and start their year with their glass half full. 

John Blomquist 

Co-owner, Pizen and Wine Mobile Thirst Parlor 


“My advice to my younger bartender self would probably be to slow down,” Blomquist said. “I was so eager to try everything. I thought that by learning everything, I would be a better bartender, but I think now that by the time I moved on to the third, fourth and fifth recipe that I wanted to master, the lessons of the first one were lost.”  

In his mad dash to learn more, Blomquist would have slowed his pace and focused some of his attention on the business elements that make a successful bar.  

What would young John would think of himself today? “He would probably say, ‘Man! We’ve done a lot of cool stuff! I can’t wait!’ And I would look at him and say, ‘Boy, you’re exhausting. Pump the brakes, kid.’” 

Ilona Smith-Martinez 

General manager, Honey Bar 

Reno Public Market, 299 E. Plumb Lane, Reno 


Smith-Martinez told me in her usual bright, joyful tone, “Now that I am not drinking, I know I let alcohol run my life for a long time. I could not go to an event without needing a shot. I would tell my younger self to have a cocktail; take a sip; and enjoy the people and the experience.”  

It is easy to correlate what we are doing with who we are. For much of the bar industry, it’s easy to let alcohol be your personality.  

“Be present in the moment,” Smith-Martinez said. “I don’t know if it’s that I’m old now, but I sometimes wish I had that time back. I look back, and my whole life was alcohol—which is fine, because I love the industry. Still, there were moments that I didn’t get to savor.”  

Smith-Martinez is one of Reno’s most award-winning bar personalities, so when she shared with me what her younger self would think of her today, I was surprised: “My former self was never proud of herself, and I am so proud of who I am today. Before, I would wake up in the morning and be not exactly proud of myself. Now, I wake up and come to work, and I’m proud of my staff. I’m proud of the work they do, and I am proud of myself as a leader.” 

Mark Nesbitt 

Manager, Chapel Tavern 

1099 S. Virginia St., Reno 


“I still feel like a younger bartender despite doing this full-time for over six years now,” Nesbitt said. “When I started, I hit the ground running, feeling like I had so much to learn to keep up with everyone around me. I read as many books as possible, watched other bartenders as much as possible, took notes, practiced and tasted. Now, several years later, I’m still reading, watching, tasting and taking notes.” 

To Nesbitt, this job, like life, is about constant growth, knowledge and skill development. 

“I’d tell my younger self to keep pushing, learning and listening—and not expect to stop,” he said. “He would probably tell me to trim my beard and go ride my bike more.” 

It is an excellent practice to take some time for reflection so you can move forward with an updated compass. So, cheers to a new year full of mindful movements, being present in the moment, and constant learning.