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Saturday, December 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Light Snow
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Madison's new breed of bartenders: The Cigar-Smoking Grande Dame, Vanessa Shipley
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Vanessa Shipley
Vanessa Shipley

Where: Maduro
Drink of choice: Mistelles (a relatively obscure class of apéritifs: "I read about them in Playboy")
Conversion experience: Jepson 43 at Maduro

What's shaking: Who gets to work at the place where they had their cocktail epiphany? Vanessa Shipley does. She has worked at Maduro for eleven years and managed the bar for the last 10. A German major at the UW-Madison originally from Cedarburg, she first stepped into Maduro on the recommendation of her roommate, who at the time was a cocktail waitress there. "I wasn't much of a drinker," Shipley recalls of her first magical drink (2 ounces Jepson brandy and .5 ounce Licor 43). "It took me two hours to finish it. But I thought it was amazing, and that's when my education began."

Since then, Shipley has become a fixture of Madison's downtown tippling community. She has been around long enough to see drinking fashion change dramatically. "Four years ago, were people drinking Fernet Branca in Madison?" she asks, referring to the now popular bitter liqueur. "No. The palate has changed. In fact, I can count the number of times I've opened a cranberry juice in the last couple of years," referring to the once popular mixer for vodka and Cosmopolitans.

But Shipley is careful to add that judging customers has no part in bartending. When asked about her trade, she reveals the approach that has made her such an enduring and respected figure, a bartender's bartender: "If you're coming into my bar, I want to make you happy. I take great pleasure in my work. There has not been a day when I do not want to go to work." Then she sagely summarizes her profession: "To me, a bartender is a friendly face in a comfortable environment, an ear if you need it, discipline if you deserve, and an introduction to someone else at the bar if it seems appropriate to make it."

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