Behind the ornate bar at Mo’s House in Haynie’s Corner, senior bartender John Raleigh expertly shakes two cocktails. Pouring each into a chilled glass, he garnishes one with a meticulously cut lemon twist and the other with orange, all without missing a beat of conversation with guests.
“I’m not a big fan of the term mixologist,” Raleigh says. “I’m a bartender. We’re all bartenders if we’re behind a bar, and that goes for even a coffee barista. It’s whether or not you know your products and handle them well.”
Nicknamed “PaPaw” by coworkers, the 38-year-old has bartended for 16 years. From bar backing at KC’s Marina Pointe in 2005 to 12 years as a bartender at Sportsman’s Grille & Billiards, the Henderson, Kentucky, native has served almost half of Evansville.
But bartending once had a very different role in Raleigh’s life.
Graduating from Henderson County High School in 2001, Raleigh bartended to pay for his schooling at the University of Southern Indiana, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art in 2011.
In 2017, Moriah Rose, owner of Mo’s House and one of Raleigh’s former youth group members, was opening a cocktail bar and wanted Raleigh on the team.
“Talking to (Mo), I really understood that I could make a career out of this,” he says. “Now, these cocktails have become my artwork.”
With knowledge from an eight-week course through the Academy of Wine and Spirits, Raleigh offers personalized drinking experiences at Mo’s by sharing his expertise with new customers and utilizing his art background for drink creation.
“People ask me all the time what my favorite drink is, whereas I tell them I like finding out what your favorite drink is that you don’t know about yet,” he says. “That’s a big part of what I enjoy about this job.”