From burgers and beer to cocktails and oysters, South Bend’s Madison Oyster Bar, 129 N. Main St., offers a bit of something for everyone. Bartender Casey Weidler has a clear passion for his work, whether it is crafting a new or traditional beverage for customers to enjoy. We asked him to give us an inside look at the food, drinks and atmosphere of the venerable downtown establishment.
What is your favorite drink to make for customers? I’ve made a bunch. I am really proud of my bloody Mary’s. I’ve also made a banana bread martini that I’m really proud of, which I can translate to a shot sometimes. It’s three parts Bacardi banana, one part Kahlua and then one and two parts Rumchata. One of my regulars wanted to do something different with a White Russian. I thought, we just got Bacardi banana, I’m going to spice it up. I like to mess around and come up with new shots, mixed drinks. I like to take some of my inspiration from the old-school shots, like the Kamikaze.
What would you do if you were not a bartender? I have been cooking since I was 13, so that was always a big one for me. But, I got an accounting degree and I have considered if I ever want to go back to that. So, probably that.
What is the strangest drink on the menu? The oyster shooters — those ones are always an eye-opener in more ways than one. They are a trip. It’s a deep-shelled oyster in citrus vodka and a dab of cocktail sauce. I get a lot of people that kind of go crazy about it. I wouldn’t say it is popular, but the people that do like it, they get it every time they come.
What’s your favorite food item on the menu? It’s either our pork chops or our burgers. The pork chops are amazing. They are a good value, but they are so good. They’re almost like a comfort food. Our burgers, in my opinion, are the best in town. Nothing beats good bar food.
How would you describe the vibe at Oyster Bar? It’s a place for everybody. It’s in a college town. But with all the hotels around, we get a lot of business people. We get a lot of good bar crowds from everywhere because we are the last stop. That’s what we call ourselves because we are always open late and we have food till late. The industry crowd comes in, other servers and bartenders getting off of work. They will stop and get some food. It’s nice. I like that the most about it – for the local crowd, we are the last stop.
What’s your favorite restaurant or bar in South Bend that is off the beaten path? I like going to The View. It’s great for a late night. I don’t know that I would call it off the beaten path, but I like to go to Tapastrie as well. The bartenders at both those places are the best in town.
What is your least favorite drink to make? Definitely lemon drop shots. I have a couple of guys that come in on the weekend and they will make me make them because they know I don’t like to. They are rimmed with sugar, so it just requires a lot of sugary, sticky stuff. In the middle of a rush … it can definitely kill your momentum. It’s a good shot though. χ
Have you ever witnessed a bad date here? Several. I feel like it is kind of part of the job to do your best to step back and let them do their thing and maybe help pick up the pieces a little.
That’s the thing about alcohol. It can either help or hurt. I have seen it do both. It helps people relax, but it can also make people say too much. I’ve also seen people meet and hit it off. It’s like the people-watching Olympics.
What is the toughest part of being a bartender? Answering this question haha. There are a lot of difficult parts to it. There is the team aspect, keeping them on the same page and keeping them gelling as a crew. Here, we have such a small staff and I love that about this place. It’s always different and changing. I love that about this job [though]. You never know … it sounds like, “Pawn Stars” ‘you never know what’s going to walk through that door,’ but you really don’t.
One day you could have a bar full of your best friends. The next day, you could have a bar full of complete strangers, none of which know each other. I don’t know if I would call that tough, because my favorite part of this job is the people and trying to … talk to them on whatever level they are on.
The hours are definitely tough. It’s a third shift job for sure. I could get out of here at 4 a.m. I could get out of here at 6:30 a.m.