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“Time to let ‘the kids’ take over”
The Brass Rail’s general manager Judy Dubuisson retires after 20 years (and yeah, she’s seen some stuff)
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
There used to be a saying: “Behind every successful man, there’s a good woman.”
Something like that, at least. The saying is probably still around, and though it’s considered sexist these days, the principal still holds true — behind the person leading the way is someone just as valuable, someone who keeps the machinery running smoothly on a day-to-day basis, tackles the details, and knows all the shortcuts.
In the case of our friends at the Brass Rail, that person is general manager and bartender Judy Dubuisson, who retires this month after 20 years at (and behind) the bar.
And after 20 years behind the bar… yeah, she’s seen some stuff. “Bartending is not as easy job,” Dubuisson says. “You’ve got to be a babysitter, a secretary, a counselor… A customer comes in and they’re grouchy, you just have to agree and bitch right along with them.”
Yet as far as the Brass Rail having a reputation as a rough place, Dubisson says she really doesn’t see it. “Don’t believe that for a minute,” she says. “I’ve heard that, but for the volume of people we get in there, it’s the least place that has a problem. I know a lot of people in town, a lot of bartenders, and I haven’t had the experiences they have had.”
“Of course, I’ve had some rough moments, but you’ve got to catch it before it escalates,” she continues. “Sure, people come in as friends, start drinking, they get loud, a little louder, and that’s when you’ve got to watch them. But I don’t have problems, and when I do, I’m pretty firm.”
Don Hoy owned the Brass Rail when Dubuisson began working there as a bartender 20 years ago. Back then, she says, it was sort of a cop bar; police would go there for a drink when they were off duty. She became general manager under the next owner, Paul Beerman. “At that time I was working nights, and there was another lady named Fay. She did everything. When she quit, I just sort of picked it up and fell into it.”
Beerman’s other business was real estate, which took up a lot of his attention, so Dubuisson pretty much had full run of the Brass Rail. Her four or five years behind the bar there and her stint as a waitress before that had given her some idea of the business, but she didn’t know everything. “There was quite a bit of stuff that I had no clue that people did,” she says. “Like I didn’t know how often to re-stock the drinks. We also had the Cherrymasters at the time (long gone now), and I had to learn to take care of those… but I learned by my own mistakes.”
When John Commorato and Corey Rader took over the Brass Rail a few years ago and started to feature bands regularly, Dubuisson says it was a big change for her. “It was overwhelming. I guess that’s the word,” she says. It’s not necessarily the music — Dubuisson has raised nine children of her own, and can handle all kinds of music (though she’s not a big fan of the heavy metal stuff).
And it’s definitely not the 20-something/30-something clientele that starts coming in the Brass Rail later in the evening; she says “the kids,” as she calls them (and she also calls Commorato and Rader “the kids”) probably gave the Brass Rail a new lease on life after the smoking ban was enacted in 2007.
But she started to wonder: can I go through another transition? The new owners made it easy for her. “John and Corey caught on quick,” she says. “Corey’s a total businessman, which is great. They’re both really good at what they do.”
Still, now that that transition is a few years old, Dubuisson says it’s just time to move on. “It bothers me to think about it,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot there, and had a lot of fun, and had the opportunity to meet a lot of people I never would have met. But it’s time for me to move on and let the kids take over.”
But “the kids” have their misgivings about Dubuisson’s departure. “As prepared as I thought I was buying into The Brass Rail three and half years ago, I don't think I would've kept it together without Judy's help,” says Corey Rader. “Deep down I really hope she pulls a Michael Jordan and comes out of retirement because it just won't be the same place without her.”
For a retirement party send-off, Commorato and Rader are bringing back one of Dubuisson’s favorite artists who has played at the venue — “outlaw county” musician Bob Wayne. “There were two I really liked,” Dubuisson says. “One was T-Model Ford. He’s a blues guy. But I really liked Bob Wayne. He’s awesome. He’s a good singer, very versatile musician, very good at whatever he’s doing. Plus he’s pleasant to talk to. He’s just a good guy. Really mild-mannered. Well, he is to me.”
I ask Dubuisson if she has any words of wisdom for anyone taking over the position, something they might not find in the “bar manager’s handbook.” Her advice: “As far as customers go, be nice but be firm. People will still like you. It’s always worked for me. Some people, you just can’t tell them anything — they get to drinking and they get irate. That’s when you have to let them know that it’s time for them to leave. And be attentive, always watch. That would be the biggest thing.”
Judy’s Retirement Party w/ Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies happens on November 13 at The Brass Rail.