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Nate "Rufio" Showers
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Other Features - Featured Bartender

Nate "Rufio" Showers - Rogues Gallery

Interviewed by Angie West
Photos by Jonathan Canny

a photo of Nate

Nathan "Rufio" Showers, long-time bartender and now owner of his own place—Rogues Gallery—is well-known in the industry. This Madison native likes motorcycles, cars, tats, music and art, which can be seen and felt in his bar. For those of us that don’t know Rufio very well, here is his story.

Q. What is your experience (number of years, etc.)?
I believe I started bartending about a month or two before my 21st birthday. I’m now 31 … old, wrinkly balls and shit … ha. So, about ten years.

Q. Favorite drink to serve and why?
I have never really had a favorite drink to make. I guess it depends on the bar I was working at, or the time of day, etc. I like to make some of the more time-consuming drinks like Old Fashioneds and shit like that, but there is a time and a place. When it’s midnight on a Saturday, I love making quick and easy drinks … burn and turn.

Q. Why bartending? How did you choose this profession?
It was kind of a fluke thing actually. I snuck into a bar staff Christmas party and then got caught, and the only way to get out of it was to pretend that I was in there because I was interested in working there. Needless to say, I got the job and was managing the bar a few years later.

Q. If you weren't tending bar, what would you do?
If I wasn’t tending bar, I probably would have taken over my dad’s restaurants. He owned a handful of McDonald’s in the Madison area. I used to manage at a few of them for a long time. Before I moved to Milwaukee, he asked me if I wanted to take them over and it was tempting, but I had my heart set on the bar biz. I did learn a ton about business from working at McDonald’s though, and also a ton from my dad throughout the years of him being my boss. He is a pretty business-savvy dude.

Q. What do you do on your night(s) off (what is your ideal night off)?
These days there aren’t a lot of nights off, seeing as I am a brand-new business owner. So, nowadays I kinda have two ideal nights off; one being I like to just relax and do shit around my house when I get free time and kick it with my dog, Elwood. But I also like to go out and have some beers with friends, since I rarely get to do that anymore. I like to go to chill corner bars that have good music and good ‘tenders and just hang out with the people I went out with and enjoy some good drunken conversation and ribbing.

Q. Biggest pet peeves?
I guess my biggest pet peeve is rude people. Just cause we are working at a bar and making your drinks doesn’t mean we are your slave—they ended that shit for a reason—it’s not right! And part of the rude thing, “the customer is always right” doesn’t apply at bars most of the time, so don’t give me that line so you can get more booze in your drink, or get a free drink, or not have to pay your tab. If you can’t afford to drink at a bar, then stay the fuck at home. I don’t mean to be a crotchety old angry dude, but it’s always the rude people that don’t have money for drinks, or expect free shit, etc. You don’t ask for free food at McDonald’s, or for free jeans at the Buckle, so why the hell should I give you a free drink because you have spent $4 at the bar? Beat it! Ugh, gotta get off this subject; I get too stressed out. But it’s really not that bad. I have made some of the best friends and some of the best customers a bartender/owner could ask for.

Q. Craziest night/story behind a bar?
My most recent two were the last Bangarang Halloween party—”the Boo-ngarang,” if you will … that was such a dumb name. The Halloween party was one of the rowdiest and craziest nights I have ever worked in my ten-year career. Everyone was dressed up in amazing costumes and having a blast. The place was to-the-gills capacity times four ... Rick James was dancing on a stool sprinkling cocaine on the crowd ... It was pretty epic and went off without a hitch. It’s rare that you get a crowd that size and that drunk and rowdy without having some sort of trouble, which is why I always love any shift working the Bangarang. It’s kind of a family of 300 people now. *Shameless Plug Alert: For those of you that don’t know what the Bangarang is, it is a SIN party we have been doing on Monday nights for almost five years. Awesome DJs, half price everything … just a good fucking party. The Bangarang has recently moved to Rogues Gallery for its new home every Monday.

Q. Your philosophy behind the bar and advice to other bartenders?
I don’t know? I never really give advice ‘cause I think bartenders all kind have to develop their own style and way of doing things. That’s one of the reasons I love this job so much. So many people are doing the same job, but no two people do it alike, and in the end you get, for the most part, the same result. The biggest advice I can give is never be too good to promote yourself and your bar. I may or may not be known as the mass-text whore and the Facebook whore, but it works. Let people know where you are working and what is going on in your bar, like drink specials, DJs, etc. Every time I go out, I would love to check out a new spot or a dope new DJ or something, and I wish people would text me and tell me where they are working or what’s going on at their bar. People like to be on the “in” and they want to know what’s going on and why they should come to see you over the other hundred bartenders in their Facebook timeline, so sell them on yours and your bar’s!

Q. What are your plans for the future?
Plans for the future? Hm ... Well right now, I am gearing up for the huge patio bar buildout at Rogues Gallery coming up over the next few weeks. I am working with Flux Design again on that, and this is gonna be the mother of all patio bars! I plan on doing some serious ragers in that space this summer… DJs, bands, kiddie pools, etc … After that, I think a vacation is much needed for me, and then I wanna get the bar running a little more smoothly and automatic. After that, maybe start looking for the future Rogues Gallery 2.0? Haha, someday maybe, but we are a long ways off from that.

Q. What is your bar known for? What sets your bar apart from the others in your area?
I think Rogues Gallery is known for being the “skull” spot or, “the bar with the cool light bulbs”. Haha … I still don’t think one night has gone by where someone hasn’t asked me about the light bulbs yet. All I can say is they are cool, yes, but expensive as hell.

The main thing that sets Rogues apart from others in my area is probably the music and the live art. A lot of bars around here aren’t really doing the DJ thing, and I do a lot of the DJ thing. I feel pretty lucky to be booking Milwaukee’s and Chicago’s best in my spot week in and week out; it’s pretty easy to show people a good time when you have these guys on the audio tip for you. The live art thing is probably the biggest comment I get from people, like, “What are they doing?” “Why is he just painting right there?” and my answer is always, “Why not?” I have never been a fan of TVs on at a bar…bars are for conversing, not for a group of four all staring at the TV watching Sportscenter for the eighth time in a row. The live art gives you something to watch and talk about with your people, and you can watch a whole piece of art come to life. My man Why B got me into live art years ago and I been hooked ever since!


Q. We have to ask: How did you end up with the nickname "Rufio?"
I used to have a red and black mohawk for years, and my twin brother Jerrod coined me the nickname at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally a few years back and it just kinda stuck.

Q. What drink would you say you're known for?
I wouldn’t say I am known for any drinks that I have made up. I don’t wanna take credit for starting the Stoli Peach Red Bull Bomb craze, but it’s pretty insane how much Stoli Peach and Red Bull my li’l bar goes through.

a photo of Nate Showers