Pam Moncrief appeared calm and collected as several dozen excited people gazed at her. The mixologist was standing behind Shipping & Receiving’s long wooden bar and next to Tony Green, who was hosting the third and most recent iteration of his homegrown talk show, Hello, I’m Tony Green. Everyone appeared to be eager to see which adult drink Moncrief was going to unveil that evening.
Moncrief and Green were together for the segment “What’s the Drink?” Moncrief was dressed in an attention-grabbing combo of orange, silver, and black. She took her cue and launched into a description of the evening’s signature cocktail.
“Tonight, we’re going to do something easy peasy,” she said excitedly. “No crazy ingredients. We know it’s Fort Worth, so everyone loves vodka. We’re going to start with kosher salt, three dashes of bitters, and local honey.”
The pinkish-orange cocktail was topped off with Tito’s vodka, a small pile of ice, and a signature feature that has made Moncrief a standout in the local craft cocktail scene.
“Garnish with a cute fan of limes cascading across my glass!” Green said as he described the sliced fruit.
Later that evening, Moncrief continued to wow guests who gathered at her booth outside, POP UP BAR. She assembled dozens of small cups with intricate garnishes lovingly. Moncrief was bent over a nearby table, carefully slicing long slivers of orange that were then folded over a plastic ring before being pinned and placed atop a pink vodka spritzer. The gesture imbued the drinks with a unique ingredient — childlike wonderment. I was just as excited to imbibe the delicious cocktail as I was to unwrap my gift when I was done. I felt like I had been given an adult Cracker Jack box. By the end of the evening, a suspiciously large contingent of us was wearing the large plastic (and admittedly gaudy) rings.
Weeks later, when I recounted that story to Moncrief over beers at a local bar/restaurant, she lit up.
“People appreciating those little moments is a big part of what I work for,” she said. “We’re always creating something new, and presentation is a big part of that. When someone sets a meal, you first eat with your eyes. We want to create that experience in Fort Worth.”
After learning about Moncrief’s long and often rocky journey to arrive where she is today, both personally and professionally, I sensed her earnest desire to connect with people through the medium of cocktails.
“I love to be that moment in someone’s day,” she said. “You have no idea where people are at in their life. [A well-crafted drink] takes you away. Maybe someone is having a shitty day, and this is a day brightener. The way it’s handed to them matters. The power of having an experience. That’s what it’s about.”
Moncrief’s extroverted and confident public persona is the result of years of concerted effort to overcome sometimes debilitating anxiety and bouts of panic attacks. Her formative years were shaped by the rigid social constructs of Southern Baptist theology. Her years studying music at Oklahoma Baptist University only added to the societal expectations of what she was supposed to be and how she was supposed to act.
“There were many years where I felt deep, dark depression, but I couldn’t share that in church,” she confided. “I had to put on a smile.”
In her mid-20s, she broke from the strict tenets and rules that had guided her childhood. She readily admits that she overcompensated with late-night benders that were filled with booze and other indulgences. By the time she reached 30, she had come to a breaking point, physically and psychologically. She voluntarily signed up for a seven-week outpatient program through the Baylor All Saints Behavioral Health program.
“I learned tools to handle and process my anxiety,” she said. “I got off meds. I wanted real change. I learned that you can accomplish anything with the power of your mind.”
Around nine years ago, and after sobering up, Moncrief began tending bar at The Usual, the popular Prohibition-style lounge on the Near Southside. Those years taught her about crafting cocktails and, more importantly, connecting with customers on a genuine level. Usual co-owner Brad Hensarling set the example with his “kind, open, and inquisitive” treatment of guests, Moncrief said, but after nine years, she had desires to marry her bartending acumen with a new business concept. Her first big break came when restauranteur/chef Juan Rodriguez offered Moncrief three days to pair her drinks with his pop-up dinners. Social media being social media, Moncrief’s following has steadily landed her gigs for corporate interests, weddings, and private parties. Moncrief said she has “big plans” for POP UP BAR, but she isn’t ready to announce them quite yet.
“Moncrief Magic” is how Green describes it.
“I was always attracted to” Pam’s cocktails, he said. Her drinks “left you feeling like you had an experience. Pam is otherwise known for her great sense of fashion, so when [I was looking for someone to lead] a segment called ‘What’s the Drink?’ on the show, Pam was a shoe-in.”