Meet Seff the Bartender

photography by Tina Sargeant

Every good bartender shares a set of traits that turn your drink from good to great. Personality, finesse, and expertise certainly affect one’s overall enjoyment of a pour. In Lakeland, one bartender in particular has made a name for himself. Seff, who can be found mixing and shaking at Fresco’s most every night of the week, warmly introduces himself as, “Seff, S-E-F-F.” He is affectionately known as Seff the Bartender within the community of Lakeland and on social media outlets. His infectious personality, abounding knowledge, and commitment to service welcomes customers from near and far. He sat down with The Lakelander to tell us more about the man behind the bar.
The Lakelander: Where did you grow up?

Seff: Los Angeles, originally from Ecuador.

TL: When did you move to Lakeland and why?

Seff: I moved to Lakeland in 2007. I was heading to Vegas to work barback at the Wynn Hotel, but a relationship brought me to Lakeland. It ended a year later, and I just decided to stay.

TL: When did you begin bartending?

Seff: I began bartending long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I was bussing tables, and a manager asked if I wanted to make extra money one night. He asked me to work with Iris, the bartender, someone no one enjoyed working with. She was a pain. For a year, I worked with the coldest person I’d ever met, but she taught me everything I knew about bartending. After that year, I made my first drink and remember her saying, “You can leave now. You’re a bartender.” I had passed. After that, I traveled bartending for years.

TL: After all these years, why do you think bartending stuck?

Seff: I’ve done quite a bit: cars, concrete, construction, house cleaning. But this is the only job that I can be myself. I get to meet new people, and even on a bad day, it’s good. No matter who I’ve worked for, no one has ever told me to be anyone but myself.

TL: What is your favorite part of bartending?

Seff: People know that they can count on you. Counselor, preacher, judge, friend — people need to know that they can trust you and hear from someone outside of their circle. It’s a double-edged sword, though. Relationship wise, it’s difficult to have someone trust you 100%. It’s 90% show and 10% who you are, because if you can’t give a little of yourself, then you’re just an average bartender.

TL: What drink do you love to make for people?

Seff: I always ask, “How do you feel today?” and then make a drink that relates to how they feel. You’ve got to go beyond — it’s about how they feel, not how the bartender feels.

TL: What is your go-to drink?

Seff: Whiskey to wind down, beer on a summer day, stout in the middle of spring, a good glass of wine anytime. It’s not a go-to; it’s what I’m going to.

TL: What’s next for Seff?

Seff: I’m always trying to exceed myself. Bring new drinks and new people to Lakeland. It’s not about where I’m working; it’s about Lakeland. Even on my days off, I try to keep up with others in this industry.

TL: What do you say if a customer tells you their drink isn’t strong enough?

Seff: You laugh, and tell them to go home and make another drink. It’s not just about the drink; it’s about your friends, your surroundings. If you’re drinking to forget something, this isn’t the place. I want to give you something to remember, not to forget.

TL: Tell me something about personal Seff. What is something people don’t get to see or you don’t share often?

Seff: [pauses] I’m proud of my life. People see me outside the bar and who I am is the same. I appreciate my peace and quiet, but I like to have stupid fun and be a kid. If I could, I would longboard all day, eat a whole thing of cotton candy, race a kid down the street, and not be an “adult.” I like being a kid.