In the dimly lit corner of a bustling bar, where laughter and conversations meld into a harmonious sound as music provides a complementary backing track, there is a quiet observer and curator of life’s stories. Behind the polished wooden counter, the bartender stands as a silent confidant, a mixologist of spirits and emotions, serving up not just drinks, but a gateway to the many tales that unfold within these walls.
Greg Wampler is one of these observers, ensuring the patrons have, to quote Bret Michaels, “Nothin’ but a good time.” Wampler is the 2024 recipient of favorite bartender in Showcase’s annual RAVE awards.
He grew up in Danville but spent years in the Hampton Roads area. Wampler found his way back to his hometown and has settled down with his wife of ten years, Shanna, and their “amazing” 4-year-old son, Miles.
Wampler has been bartending to some extent for around twenty years. “A portion of that time was full-time bartending, but for much of it, I was in restaurant management. Even as a manager, I was always heavily involved in the bar,” he said.
The love of bartending came from watching some of the best in the area. Wampler continued, “I had the pleasure of working with 2 legendary Danville bartenders in my early restaurant years—‘Buckee’ & Preston. The way they rocked out a packed bar while making it look fun & easy was a big inspiration for me.”
Wampler puts a great deal of thought into every drink he makes. But making the perfect martini is his strong point. “I’m pretty skilled at making martinis. Straight up, dry, shaken, stirred, bruised, dirty, layered, garnishes—there are lots of elements that come into play.”
Keeping up to date on spirits has been a key part of Wampler’s success in the hospitality field. “Throughout my restaurant career, I’ve almost always been in charge of ordering liquor, beer, and wine for my establishments,” he said. Extensive research has lent him thorough knowledge in all three areas. “I enjoy whiskey and craft beer, so I’m probably most knowledgeable in those two facets.”
To be a “favorite” bartender, preparation is essential. Being stocked and an organized set-up helps Wampler get ready for an incoming crowd. “I keep what I use most frequently near my service area. Always having bottles, juices, and mixers in the same location and same order creates a muscle memory type of flow, which helps with multitasking.” Even the smallest details matter for speed and efficiency. Wampler added, “Like having all pour-spouts facing the same direction and every beer bottle turned label out.”
Another important trait of a favorite bartender is keeping up with current cocktail trends and drink recipes. Wampler turns to social media to stay in the know. “When I see something useful or interesting, I’ll take a screenshot and put it in a special folder where I can come back to and hopefully implement it behind the bar.”
Being able to multitask is crucial in order not to fall behind when the crowds are thirsty. “It helps to have a good memory, too,” Wampler added. “If the bar’s really busy, I’ll take someone’s order. While I’m making theirs, I’ll take 2 or 3 more orders and execute them in order. If you’re waiting at my bar for a drink and I don’t get your order within a few seconds, I will at least give you a nod or some kind of gesture to let you know I see you and I’ll be right with you.” Another form of multitasking—being ambidextrous—helps to keep the drinks coming.
When not bartending, Wampler goes on adventures with his family. He also is an avid disc golf fan. “I’ve even built a 9-hole course around my house that I’m constantly improving upon.” But his greatest passion is music. “I love going to concerts and music festivals.” He performs part-time, locally and regionally, as a one-man folk and reggae act called “Wamp Show.”
Wampler knows he is fortunate to have two careers that he loves. “In the future, I hope I’m lucky enough to be doing the same thing, and to just keep improving along the way,” he said.
Wampler can be found tending bar at Golden Leaf Bistro, this year’s favorite steak house.