Meet the Freakin’ Frog’s freakin’ great bartender
Jack Belden is an organic fit at Las Vegas’ illustrious bar
Thu, Oct 21, 2010 (midnight)
Photo: Leila Navidi
A group of young men walks into the Freakin’ Frog and stands indecisively just in front of the bar, staring up the stairs of the adjacent Whiskey Attic. They’re here for a tasting, a bachelor party, a reunion or some such outing, and they’re doing that group-think, non-action thing. They’re stalling until the guest of honor arrives, and for now at least, they’re empty-handed. “Have a beer while you wait!” calls Jack Belden, the bearded, ponytailed bartender. When they don’t respond or acknowledge his suggestion, Belden smiles, shrugs and turns back to the crowded bar stools—his people, a beer in front of every one.
If you like beer, you’ve probably found yourself at the Freakin’ Frog, and if you’ve been to the Frog, you’ve likely met Belden, the lumbering biker bartender who runs the show Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. until midnight. A massive man with thick, sausage-like fingers and a long, white beard, Belden presides over the bar like an all-weather Santa Claus. He might not have St. Nick’s booming “ho, ho, ho,” but Belden has something every bit as good as a fur-trimmed sack bulging with toys: beer. And lots of it.
“If it’s on tap, I’ve tried it,” Belden says of the Frog’s massive selection of ales, stouts and pilsners. He hasn’t worked his way through all of the 700-plus bottles stored in the bar’s fridge—some are out of his price range, he explains—but if you need a recommendation, and many do, he’ll likely find something to suit your tastes. For me on this particular night, it’s a beer by Lagunitas, an experimental dark IPA called the Fusion 2. When Belden recommends it, the voice that emerges from his oversized frame is surprisingly quiet. Even sitting right in front of him, I have to lean over the bar to hear that my first request is sold out. A poster for the Fusion 2 on a nearby fridge reads, “Beer speaks. People mumble.”
In some places, Belden would get lost amid the loud music and screaming patrons, but at the Freakin’ Frog his calm permeates the entire space. Pouring beers, flipping burgers and making regular trips to the Frog’s hallowed fridge, Belden is the centerpiece at the local hangout, his friendly, peaceful vibe setting the tone whether the band up front is playing smooth jazz or punk rock. It’s a skill that goes beyond his size. “I’ve done this most of my adult life,” he says of working behind a bar. “I can teach you to make a drink, but I can’t teach you to be a bartender.”
Belden and his wife moved to Las Vegas from Phoenix in 2007, and at first, he had trouble finding work. “I don’t look good in a short skirt and a tank top,” he chuckles. “That’s almost a prerequisite for working the bar in Las Vegas.” When Belden met Frog owner Adam Carmer, he told him, “I’m not looking for my next job; I’m looking for my last job.” Pretty soon he was working at now-defunct barbecue joint Adam’s Ribs. When the restaurant closed its doors, Belden began pouring brews at Freakin’ Frog. Though he’s been there only a year and a half, it’s hard to imagine him anywhere but behind the Frog’s long bar, joking with regulars and doling out beer advice to the people who sit before his taps.
And if someone comes in who doesn’t want a small-batch IPA or an ale imported from the oldest brewery on the planet? “Go with what you like. We have Corona, we have Heineken ’cause people like it. That’s what we’re here for,” Belden says matter-of-factly.
Just don’t try to order anything with a wedge of pineapple on top. “I say, it’s not a good place for a strawberry daiquiri.”