A Crash Course In Tending Bar

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - July 19, 2006
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Regan Onikama heads the Bartending Academy
Regan Onikama heads the
Bartending Academy

James Bond, Secret Agent 007, orders his martinis shaken, not stirred. But bartenders can’t be shaken or stirred when they’re handling a bustling roomful of customers and cocktail servers.

To learn the tricks of the trade in two weeks, the Bartending Academy has eight complete bars to teach students the art of mixing drinks.

“Bartending is a lot harder than what it seems,” says Regan Onikama, who has taken over the reins of the 24-year-old Bartending Academy on Beretania from two generations of the Reb’ll family.

“When I first started, they said here’s a book, go and study it,” admits Onikama, who also tended bar at the former Kahala Mandarin. “I had to make the drinks on the fly.”

There’s also a textbook for students. Onikama teaches the morning classes, from 10 a.m. to noon, and his fellow bartender, Pat Michelman, teaches the night classes from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Onikama’s mission with the two week vocational programs is to get the word out about the school through word of mouth, advertising, and public appearances at events.

“Bartending allows you network with a whole lot of people,” he explains. “You’ve got to learn to talk to all types of people on the interpersonal level. It makes you come out of your shell.”

Onikama was tending bar at Sansei Seafood restaurant when he met the academy’s previous owner, Rick Reb’ll. Onikama started teaching night classes in 2002 with the academy. He also worked day jobs in the mortgage industry with Bank of Hawaii, and then with Hawaii Home Loans. Late last year, the Mid-Pac grad started his own mortgage company, Innovative Mortgage Solutions.

“When I’m balancing the two businesses, I try to be as accessible to my clients as possible,” the Kapahulu resident explained. “I try to put my clients at ease. I want them to know I’m one of them. I try to avoid projecting a stuffy banker image.”

One of his challenges, Onikama admits, is getting consistent enrollment numbers for the academy. He has a promotional idea to tackle that problem which may include a back-to-school special.

The University of Hawaii grad, who is getting married in February, says he loves to see the transformation of his students.

“When they get more comfortable, it’s like a lightbulb goes on,” he says. “I love to work.”

For more information, call 942-2223 or log onto www.BartendingAcademyHawaii.com.

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