He’s an openly gay Catholic bartender who’s recovering from alcoholism.
“What you see is what you get – I’m not ashamed of that,” 47-year-old Owen “Bo” Gorey said during an interview at Kentucky Coffeetree Café last week.
“I’m just so happy to be alive right now … and I don’t take any second for granted.”
Bo, which stands for “baby Owen,” has been a staple of downtown Frankfort since he moved here from nearby Paris in the early 1990s. Since then, he’s worked at the Y, Coffeetree, Melanie’s Café and Catering, and Serafini, where he’s served countless legislators and lobbyists.
“Oh, if you could be a fly on the wall,” he teases with a smile. “There’s a lot of wheeling and dealing.”
While he’s tight-lipped about late-night conversations among legislators, Bo doesn’t shy away from talking about his own issues. That’s because his life isn’t as complicated as it may seem, he says.
“Life’s still life, people are still people … but all I can do is put a smile on my face … and say, ‘Let me just get through this day and be the best person that I can be.’
A QUALITY DRINK
Bo first got behind the bar when he moved to Frankfort in 1991 and started working as a bartender at the former Tumbleweed restaurant, where Garcia’s now stands. Since then, he’s also bartended for the Dragon Pub and Serafini, which is perhaps his most famous gig.
A painting of Bo behind the bar hangs on a wall in Serafini, next to a plaque from the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce naming Bo the best bartender of 2002.
It’s a job he’s happy to do, since all it requires is an open ear and a smile, he says.
“All you have to ask is, ‘How was your day?’” Bo says. “A lot of people here are from out of town, they come and sit at the bar, not knowing a soul, and you just ask that simple question, and they respond.
“… You’re the good doctor, you’re the therapist, you’re all those things. You just have to be a good listener, basically.”
Many of those he listens to come from the Capitol. But Bo is careful not to address them by their legislative titles, because once they sit down for a drink, they’re just like everybody else.
“A lot of times, they come to the bar and they don’t want to talk about politics – we already know how their day went, we’ve been watching it on TV,” Bo says.
“They know they can come in and see a friendly face who’s not political … someone who they can walk up to who says, ‘Hey’ and their first name, not ‘senator’ … because maybe they don’t feel like being a senator at 9 o’clock at night.”
Not that he hasn’t listened in on a few political conversations. Bo admits there are times when “it’s gotten heated in there,” but, like a true therapist, he keeps his patient’s discussions under wraps.
Besides, it’s not about whom he’s serving – he cares more about what’s going in the glass.
“I like pouring a good martini, making a good Old Fashioned … I take pride in the fact that these bourbons are from right here in Frankfort,” Bo says. “It’s just like a good food … I appreciate (these drinks) … there’s a little love that goes into it.”
Bo says it’s that love that, given the circumstances, allows him to continue serving.
SHOTS FOR THE MASSES
From 2003-2008, Bo worked as a bartender for the Dragon. It was a different scene than Serafini, where most would spend the night sipping on a martini or two. But at the Dragon, Bo spent most of his time pouring “shots for the masses.”
“I got caught up in the whole 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning, drinking every night thing,” Bo says. “It really got the best of me, and I just had to nip it in the bud.”
He went to Beta, an alcohol treatment program, in 2008, and he’s been sober ever since.
It was an interesting change for Bo, who, for most of his life, was surrounded by “big drinkers.”
“I grew up in an Irish Catholic family … every house in my family, you’d walk in and there’s the bar, and you’d have a cocktail,” Bo says. “That’s just what you did. I didn’t know any different, until it became a problem.”
But entering rehab and becoming sober was the best decision he’s ever made, Bo says. Now, he’s a whole new person.
“I was forced to look at myself for the first time in 40 years … and make peace with a lot of things,” Bo says. “Things that you would harbor inside your head … you just have to let these things go.”
One of those things was the way others perceived his sexuality. Bo says he’s not ashamed of being gay, but as a Catholic, he was told to think otherwise.
“My religion taught me that I was going to hell,” Bo says. “So at 8 years old, I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Through rehab, Bo learned to accept himself, and actually became more spiritual as a result. He started praying, and said “slowly but surely,” things started improving for him.
He successfully overcame alcoholism, and now he depends on God to “guide him through his day.”
He still identifies himself as Catholic, despite what others in the church think about his sexuality. But he says rehab taught him not to take that personally.
“I learned that I’m a beautiful person … that God’s not going to judge me because I’m gay,” Bo says. “… All I can do is be the best person I can try to be.
“I’ll let somebody else judge that.”
Now that he’s in recovery, Bo doesn’t bartend as much as he used to. Not that he’s afraid of relapse – he treats alcohol more like an allergy than a temptation, he says.
He’s switched gears and moved more toward the food scene. In the mornings, he helps out at Melanie’s in the kitchen or on the floor. At night, he heads to Serafini, where he spends most of his time serving or back in the kitchen watching the chefs prepare that day’s specials.
“I’m a closet foodie,” he says with a laugh. “It’s fun to see what they come up with and what they create that day.”
After he quit drinking, Bo turned to cooking for therapy. Nights he used to spend drinking and pouring shots are now reserved for perusing recipes and whipping up meals in the kitchen.
“It became a stress reliever,” Bo says. “I can get in there and be creative. I don’t have to talk to anybody … and it’s just fun.
“No kidding, it’ll be midnight and we’ll be cooking,” he adds with a laugh.
Occasionally, Bo still bartends. During the Wednesday night dinner rush at Serafini, Bo stepped back behind the bar several times to make drinks for some of his tables.
That’s because for Bo, it’s never a problem to make a drink for his friends. Nearly everyone that walked into the restaurant that evening greeted Bo by name or with a pat on the back.
“Everyone knows Bo,” says Marti Booth, one of Bo’s customer’s Wednesday night. “He’s a tradition.”
It’s the people and their appreciation for a good martini or a nicely poured Kentucky bourbon that keeps Bo from not giving up on bartending forever.
“Most of the people I’ve met were probably in the bar scene,” Bo says. “You find some really good people when you simply smile and you’re genuinely interested in how their day went.
“A smile goes a long way.”