Z Lounge on East Carson Street is one of those bars people like to tout as evidence of culture on the South Side. With chic, minimalist décor and DJs spinning nightly, it's legions away from its college-bar neighbors chock-full of 21-year-olds getting their drinking sea legs. And a crucial part of the atmosphere there is Ova Shofa, 36, voted Best Bartender by City Paper readers.
His martinis are immaculate, unless you want them dirty. His rapport with customers is easy and immediate. And he's pretty much a total babe.
"He's the best," says Z Lounge regular Anthony Izzi, enjoying a beer poured by Shofa while teasing the bartender about the girl who tried to kiss him at the bar a while back. "His looks, his clothes, his charisma -- he's just a great guy. Very sophisticated."
"He is the kind of guy who can make a thousand dollars in a couple hours and spend it all in the next couple hours, buying Puma shoes, Diesel jeans and Thai food," says Izzi's girlfriend, Aya Matsuo.
"He's fun to work with," says Stacy Fitzgerald, another bartender at Z Lounge. "It's his personality, and he puts a little something special in every drink."
Fancy pseudo-martinis are favorites at Z Lounge: They come in flavors like white chocolate, espresso, mocha mint and chocolate-covered cherry. Labor-intensive mojitos are one of Shofa's favorites to mix, and he says his are the best in the city. When he's on the other side of the bar, he'll go for vodka with OJ and pineapple juice or shots of Jägermeister.
Shofa comes to Pittsburgh from Indonesia by way of Philly and Oklahoma, following his studies in accounting and international business. The South Side resident first worked at Z Lounge as a doorman, checking IDs and keeping the peace.
"I'm a yinzer now," he says in a decidedly non-Pittsburgh accent. "I love Pittsburgh."
After his stint at the Z Lounge door, Shofa worked at Moda, the upscale clothing store in Shadyside, where he eventually became manager. Most of his clothes, he says, come from there: He rocks an effortless and laid-back chic, in a skinny blue hoodie, silver watch and bracelet, and shaggy haircut Izzi gave him. He's modeled in Local Motion fashion shows, and keeps a copy of Maniac magazine behind the bar, featuring him in a photo shoot on the hottest bartenders in the city.
"It's good to approach people if you look nice," he says. "You're selling this feeling."
And it goes both ways, Shofa says. He says he likes to read customers as they enter the bar. "I just like a really open person," he says. "You can tell from the first time a person sits down."
While he has a laugh describing the worst lubricated misbehaviors he's seen at the bar -- a couple that insisted on having sex in the back room, or the girl "from the dinosaur era" who preferred to pee not in the toilet but, well, everywhere else -- such tales also seem to pain him a little.
He recalls chasing the Pee Queen around the bar, trying to get her to cover up, have some water and get into a cab. Kicking out the kickin' it couple after they refused to put their clothes back on doesn't sound like much fun either: "I said, 'I love you, you're good customers, but you've gotta go, you're disrespecting me. Anyone could come in here.'"
When he's not in the bar serving drinks -- which he's been known to do even on his nights off -- Shofa can be found at Dee's Café or Dish, or at home watching TV with his girlfriend. But mostly, he likes to hang at the bar. He's got the highest score on the Megatouch machine, he points out.
"It's fun," he says. "You meet new people every day. Drunk people can be fun."