Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ‘Post Picks’ special issue where The Post profiles some of Athens’ most notable people and businesses. Read the rest of the stories here.
In a dimly-lit bar booth, Chris Dodd sips his vodka tonic with lime. He spilled a little bit on himself and apologizes. When asked if any regular customers are present, Dodd says, “I know everybody in here.”
Dodd is a bartender and manager at The Union Bar & Grill, 18 W. Union St, and, according to the readers of The Post, the best bartender in Athens.
It is unsurprising that Athens residents selected him — Dodd is deeply ingrained in Athens, which he called “a little liberal oasis in Ohio.” He fell in love with the community 10 years ago, when he enrolled at Ohio University.
Since he first came to Athens, Dodd has worked at a number of popular Athens businesses, including The Union, where he has worked for more than five years. Dodd was a barista at Donkey Coffee and Espresso from 2010 until earlier this year. He has also worked on and off at Haffa’s Records. Each job has a different atmosphere to it, Dodd said.
Dodd described his job at Haffa’s as “hangout time” where he was able to focus on music, a stark contrast to working at Donkey Coffee.
“Donkey is … very fast-paced, to the point where I don’t really get to communicate with everybody as much as I wanted to,” Dodd said. “You get to know regulars there, but it’s always these brief interactions.”
The brevity of those interactions is contrasted by bartending at The Union, Dodd said.
“While The Union can get busy, there’s a lot more space and time to create meaningful relationships with people,” he said.
One of the people that Dodd has gotten to know best is Andrew Lampela. Lampela, a regular at The Union for more than 20 years, is one of the owners of Haffa’s and has known Dodd for about six years.
“He’s one of the best weirdos,” Lampela said of Dodd.
For Dodd and other employees at The Union, the relationships they have formed were both strained and strengthened after the massive fire that severely damaged several businesses, including The Union, in November 2014.
“It was pretty crazy,” Dodd said. “It was a very surreal experience, I think, for all of us.”
Dodd said he awoke the morning after the fire, unaware of what happened, to a cascade of text messages.
“I had trouble getting out of bed for about three hours,” he said. “It made me nauseous.”
Dodd said he feared for the relationships and memories he had built at The Union.
“I was afraid for a second,” he said. “Because of what this bar encapsulates for me, it was like I was losing all of that.”
Dodd initially was also worried about how he would make ends meet — until a GoFundMe page in support of the affected employees raised over $12,000 in 24 hours. The GoFundMe eventually raised just shy of $50,000.
“That was an amazing, beautiful thing,” Dodd said. “I’m very grateful for that. That allowed me to pay my rent.”
Even without The Union, Dodd continued to bartend, working at both Tony’s Tavern and Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery. Dodd said he was eager to continue working in the people-centered business he enjoys so
“I enjoy the social environment that The Union provides,” he said. “I feel like it’s a safe space.”
Dodd is modest about having been named best bartender in Athens.
“I totally wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I’m very flattered … it’s cool, it’s awesome.”
Lampela chuckled upon learning that his friend had been named best bartender.
“He spends more time telling you about the guitar riff playing than getting your drink,” he said.
Lampela soon proposed a toast: “To the best bartender in town — To Dodd.”