The “How Does a Bartender Work?” Edition

Slate’s Jacob Brogan talks to a bartender who designs a new menu of literary cocktails every week.

Chantal Tseng
Chantal Tseng prepares a poetry-inspired cocktail at Petworth Citizen’s Reading Room.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mickey Capper.

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Chantal Tseng has been working as a bartender for 16 years and has been designing her own cocktails for almost as long. She now operates out of the Reading Room at Petworth Citizen, a small book-lined bar within a larger Washington restaurant. Each week, she develops a new menu of drinks inspired by her recent reading, building experiences around the work of authors such as Graham Greene, Italo Calvino, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa.


We spoke with Tseng as she was preparing to debut her Lewis Carroll–inspired menu. She led us through the process of designing a new cocktail, the work of setting up the bar, the complications of service, and much more.

And in a Slate Plus extra, Tseng reads Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Jabberwocky” before explaining how she makes a sherry cocktail that it inspired. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at

Twitter: @Jacob_Brogan

Podcast production by Mickey Capper.