Straight Up: Emily Wadham makes sure it's farm-to-bar at Mezze

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WILLIAMSTOWN — You might not always find Emily Wadham behind the bar at Mezze Bistro & Bar; the self-proclaimed "coverage queen" is known to float around the farm-to-table restaurant on busy nights.

"I like to put myself where I'm most needed," said Wadham, the restaurant's manager. "Some nights that's just filling holes." But often, that hole is behind the bar, where Wadham is most likely to be mid-week or Sunday evenings. But if you see her knitting, don't worry, she's still very interested in helping you choose the right cocktail or glass of wine. It's just something she does to help pass the time so as not to appear to be listening in on deep conversations between patrons.

"During lulls, there is only so much you can do behind the bar," she said. "You don't really want to be doing your spring cleaning while having customers enjoying their evening. It's a nice way to keep busy."

Wadham, who has been with the Williamstown establishment for a year and half, doesn't seem to have trouble keeping busy. She first fell in love with the hospitality business at age 14, when she waited tables at Paul and Elizabeth's in Northampton. Since then, she's worked at restaurants and bars — three of which she owned — from Boston to New York City and back to western Massachusetts. These days, she commutes to work from her 300-year-old farmhouse in Worthington, where she lives with her husband and two children, a 9-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter.

Her earthy, chill vibe behind the bar seems right at home in the softly lit bar area at Mezze that overlooks a snowy stream just past the perfectly organized lines of spirit and wine bottles. Wadham is currently in charge of choosing the wines served at the restaurant, matching them best to Mezze Chef Nicholas Moulton's menu, something she loves to do, she said.

"I am infatuated with wine — I do absolutely adore spirits, too," she said. "The last 10 to 15 years have been really awesome to have anything to do with spirits or wine, so that's been a lot fun. ... I'm a big advocate for organic and natural biodynamic growing practices and products; it's been a fun time to be doing that."

Wadham speaks of her work in hospitality in terms of magic.

"I love people, and I feel like there's this magic that happens with hospitality, where you really can make their world just a little more beautiful and there's all these kind of tiny intrinsic ways. ... It might be a fantasy, but I do think there's a place for that, people seek it out and they feel safe in places that are able to provide that."

BARKEEP!

Q: What's the most common drink order you get here?

A: Probably the Manhattan, with Old Fashioned being a close second. In the summertime, we have the Mezze Gimlet. And people love French 75 in summer. ... We have some very fun wine. And just about 100 percent is naturally farmed. We've done that to really try and cohere the ideology of the food, which is farm-to-table, and support the farmers. It makes it a nice pairing.

Q: What's your favorite drink to make?

A: I like making a Negroni. I love the color. I find it very pleasing that it's three equal parts. There's something mathematically succinct about that, that's satisfying. It's delicious, and I feel like people who order a Negroni really want a Negroni. So, there's not a lot of gray area whether they ordered the right drink for themselves.

Q: What's your least favorite drink to make?

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A: I don't think I have a least favorite drink. I used to work at a bar where people ordered a lot of mojitos all the time. I used to dread them, now I don't really anymore. I've grown to enjoy them myself in the summertime. But yeah, if push comes to shove, I'll say a mojito. It's the muddling, and the mint ends up everywhere.

Q: What's in your fridge at home?

A: It's actually a bone of contention with my husband; I always keep this big bottle of Henriot champagne. It takes up quite a bit of space, but I like to think I'm prepared for any celebration at any given moment. I do tend to drink red wine at home, so I have a couple of bottles of that outside of the fridge.

Q: What do people talk to you about the most?

A: People like to talk about their day-to-day lives. ... They don's feel like they need to tell you something exciting or seem cool; people feel like they can decompress about the day. We get a lot of people traveling through or visiting the Berkshires, either as repeat customers or their first time, they do like to share their experiences. Sometimes, people ask us where to go, a lot of times they are asking about our experiences living here, like we're the locals and they want that little vision into what life is like here when you're not just passing through.

Q: What are some common mistakes people make when ordering drinks?

A: I think sometimes people don't ask enough questions. They don't have a lot of experience with spirits or wine, and they have an idea of what they want and feel shy about figuring out what would really make them feel happy. And so, they miss that opportunity. Certainly myself, and everyone else who works here, loves to talk about our offerings and we want to find out what would make you happy. Sometimes, people don't know how to say, "I don't like this, it's too sweet." ... The last thing we want is someone sitting there with a drink they don't care for. Ask more questions.

Q: What do you do when someone comes in and says `make me something'?

A: I ask the dessert question: Are you a fruit dessert or chocolate dessert type person. And some people will say they're not dessert people, they don't like sweet things. Maybe they're more of a pickle-and-chip snack-type person. That is all helpful information in making someone a surprise cocktail. I always love it, it's a moment where you have to take a deep breath and trust your intuition.

Q: What do you like to do when you're off the clock?

A: When I'm not here, I like to be outside. We have a little farm and we try to grow a lot of our own stuff in the summertime. We just put a greenhouse up, so we're having a lot of fun with that. I do lots of crafty things, I knit. I even do that sometimes behind the bar on slow nights.

Q: What are some of your favorite bars in area?

A: I don't get out much. My favorite bar is my home, if I'm not here.

Q: What's your best bar story?

A: A year after my grandfather died — my dad's dad — I had a woman come up to me randomly — I was working at St. Mark's in New York City — and she said, "I'm so sorry, this is so strange, but do you know someone named Norman [Wadham's grandfather's name]?" and he had a whole message for me. She knew all this stuff about him. That was definitely my oddest moment behind the bar. She was sort of embarrassed about it. She hadn't admitted to other people that that was something she was able to do. But I have to say that was the one that shook me the most. She was an absolute stranger off the street. My dead grandfather visiting me through the bar was definitely the strangest.


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