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The secret diary of a Bad Bartender - hospo, artist and trailblazer Blue Valentine tells all

With a twisted smile at the rough ride of bar work, Bad Bartender is an act of solidarity in one of the hardest industries in the world. Creator-founder Blue Valentine talks about her time behind the bar and the inspiration she’s drawn from it.

Image courtesy of Bad Bartender

Sometimes, all you want at work is a bit of honesty, right? And it’s never truer than in the hospitality industry. It’s not all laughs, parties and hanging with the cool kids; it’s bloody hard work.

You’re dealing with crazy hours, patrons being gross and tough, stressful situations - all while everyone around you is having a great time I may hasten to add.

It’s almost too much to cope with.

But then along comes someone like Blue Valentine, whose frankness, perspective and irreverence lift the curtain for us all to have a peep at just how tough hospo life can be.

It also lets everyone in the industry know they’re not alone when they’ve had a bad night, and allows them to look it in the eye and laugh.

Blue’s designs and clothing range have taken the Aussie bar scene by storm, telling it just how it is with dark humour and ridiculously cool artwork.

We caught up with Blue - whose usual beat is Lefty’s Music Hall in Brisbane - to find out where her magic comes from.

Our awesome Nip of Courage ‘Drink Aussie Spirits’ hoodies have a commissioned artwork by Blue on the back, with a couple of angels taking their share. Get your hoodie here.

Blue Valentine - creator of Bad Bartender

1. What do you love about being a bartender?

I love the fast paced environment, being on my feet and running around a venue; the live music, the teamwork, the knockoffs.

2. Which came first - your artwork or bartending? Why did you start them?

My parents are both creatives so I’ve been brought up in a pretty artsy environment since I was a kid.

Drawing itself I only started a couple of years ago through designing my tattoos, which merged into designing t-shirts during covid for fun.

Bartending I started when I was 16; it was a government deal where if you worked, you could take a day off school, so I jumped at that opportunity as I hated school.

3. Do you have a favourite cocktail to start the night - or one you love making?

I’m going through an unhealthy obsession with penicillins. I’m just a sour bitch.

4. What do you wish you could say to patrons?

I keep thinking of things and then I realise I do often blurt out what I want to say. I try to avoid swearing at patrons as it’s frowned upon.

5. What can’t you put on a shirt that you really want to?

Order your drink and f*ck off :)

6. Which was your first Bad Bartender design - and do you have a favourite now?

My first design was the ‘You’re Prettier When You Smile’.

Don’t get me wrong, you can get 5+ patrons a week using that exhausted line, but there was this one regular in particular that used to sit at the end of the bar and just say: “smile, smile, smile,” while I was washing cocktail shakers in a sink? Like why the f*ck would I smile at a drain?!!?!?!

I was so excited to get this t-shirt printed, wear it to work and show him.

My favourite now is the “I’m Not Flirting, I’m Paid To Tolerate You”. It definitely gets the most laughs and I just love the last line.

7. Which of your Bad Bartender designs resonates with fellow hospos?

I wasn’t expecting the ‘Crying in The Coldroom’ design to be such a hit. I genuinely thought people wouldn’t want a shirt that would embrace having a mental breakdown in a fridge.

There’s even a guy who got it tattooed on him.

Image courtesy of Bad Bartender

8. I see you’ve got some pretty rad ink - did you design any of these or just let the tattoo artist do their thing?

Thank you. I did design them myself. I drew out how I wanted each sleeve to look, but then took my designs to a tattooist where they rectified and made them a lot better.

I’m heavily influenced by 1950s pin-up culture. Most pinups would stick to one sub-category of pin-up style (tiki, goth, fetish - the list goes on). I would say my style consists of about eight sub-categories.

I looked at my body as a whole and have essentially dedicated each limb to a subcategory: (western, circus, military, diner, rockabilly, sailor, burlesque, heartbreak hotel) I’ve got more to add on my back and front.

Image courtesy of Bad Bartender

9. What impact have you noticed with the Aussie craft spirits industry on bars and cocktail culture?

It’s become so much more popular over the years. It’s really cool to work with products you know are locally sourced, especially if they’re actually really yum.

I’ve also noticed a lot of bartenders really embracing Australian native bush flavours in their cocktails, which is sick.

10. What things do patrons do that warm your heart (apart from tipping properly) that you wish would happen more often?

I had this one regular at one of my old jobs, an adorable old man who looked like Santa Claus. He used to come in every Friday at around 5pm, drank XXXX Gold, he gave me a nickname: Little Egypt - because my eyeliner reminded him of the girl in Elvis’ song.

I think he was a watchmaker. He came in just before Christmas and he gave me a watch as a present. He was just so genuinely lovely and the most enjoyable customer I’ve probably ever had.

Check out more of Blue’s designs here, and pick up you own ‘Drink Aussie Spirits’ hoodie - only available here at the Nip of Courage store.


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