From a young age, Melissa “Inky” Kim has always been fascinated with processes and mixtures.
“I began playing behind the bar and pairing drinks for family gatherings once I was old enough to see over it,” said Kim, whose grandparents founded Main Beverage Co. in 1961, which her family has owned and operated in Owosso for the last 56 years.
Kim spent more time with adults than she did with kids while growing up as an only child in the small town of Chesaning.
Destined to become a successful bartender, Kim began her career at Club Triangle in Flint.
“I was just barely 21 when I first worked in the club as security,” Kim recalled. “After just six to nine months, a spot behind the bar opened up and I jumped in for the next three years.”
After that, Kim worked as a bartender and general manager at the Chrome Cat, Lansing’s lesbian bar, until it closed in 2011.
By then, Kim was known as “Inky” for being so heavily modified and tattooed.
“I was about 24 when I began work as a graphic designer for my family’s beer distributor so the two kind of went hand in hand – inked skin, working with inks,” she said. “I would later in life get the blue ghost, Inky (from Pac-Man), tattooed on my shoulder with crossbones.”
Kim has settled in as the head bartender at Spiral, an LGBTQ nightclub located in Old Town Lansing where she mixes up her signature cocktail, the Hellcat. In 2010, this particular drink won her the local Cocktail Wars competition. For six weeks, 32 contestants battled it out in numerous area bars.
“I played a bit with the ingredients and ended up taking the Bacardi 151 out of it and using it on the stem of the martini glass to light it on fire to caramelize the blue raspberry sugar rim,” she said.
This kind of creativity won her a spot in the semifinals of the 2017 USBG Make it Exotico Competition sponsored by Exotico Tequila. She submitted a recipe that contained bitters, which she said isn’t normally found in tequila drinks.
Unfortunately, Kim would have to decline this opportunity to take advantage of another one. She was accepted into the Cocktail Apprentice Program, which gives up-and-coming bartenders a chance to learn from masters of the craft during the 15th Annual Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans July 18-23.
Each year, 40 bartenders from around the globe are selected to accommodate the nearly 20,000 people that attend the festival to mingle with fellow drink-lovers, network and taste some of the best drinks mixed by the world’s most prestigious bartenders. Kim will be a part of the group mixing tens of thousands of cocktails in exchange for the best training the industry has to offer. The non-profit New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society produces the festival.
“I am beyond excited and eager to learn alongside industry leaders, mentors and peers to bring back a little of that southern hospitality and knowledge back to the Midwest,” said Kim on her Facebook page.
Kim said her favorite part about bartending is meeting new people.
“Everyone has a story and it seems bartenders have the best job to hear people tell them,” she said. “Most people just want their voice heard in life, and being a bartender, you sort of become an unpaid therapist sometimes.”
Kim has become well-known for mixing unique ingredients to create cocktails that most people think do not pair well together, until they try it.
“I have customers who like to challenge me and instead of ordering drinks by name or liquor, they trust me to make a specialty drink by only picking a color. It’s a pretty great feeling when you can see the joy on someone’s face when you hand them a beverage they fully enjoy but didn’t have any expectations of,” she said.
This adds to the fun and mystery of what Kim does.
“I like never knowing what the night might hold. Working in the service industry you see all sorts of crazy things the average person doesn’t get to see,” she said.
Kim’s good friend Renee LeBlanc said that Kim deserves the success that’s coming her way.
“She has genuine compassion for people and she has a big heart with a good soul,” said LeBlanc. “People naturally gravitate towards her. Well, those who aren’t put off by her tattoos.”
Melissa “Inky” Kim’s Signature Cocktail
-1oz Blue Curacao
-1oz Stoli Razz
-1/2oz Red Bull
-Splash lime juice top with orange juice
-Shake & strain into pint glass with fresh ice.
-Blue raspberry sugar rim on pint glass with orange/lime slice garnish