With its entrance tucked in between Wild Berry and MaLangTang, Bar 1868 can be difficult to spot. Once inside and down the steps, however, it becomes instantly clear that this bar is worth searching for.
With soft, twinkly lights hanging from the ceiling and smiling bartenders who seem as happy to be there as you are, 1868 can easily make visitors feel at home. It can even be tricky to get cell service, which means talking with friends and playing card games takes precedence.
The environment at 1868 doesn’t just come from its exposed brick walls or neon signs. With every drink served or party sat at a table, the staff brings an extra special touch to the underground bar.
Emily Miller is a graduate student who started working at 1868 her senior year as a Miami undergraduate. Working at 1868 gave her more structure as an undergrad, but now she loves the job for its social aspect.
“It kind of gave me a different sense of responsibility at Miami,” Miller said. “I had my classes and other stuff, but this was something else that I had, too.”
Miller started off as event staff and now works as a bartender.
Her job has changed to minimize contact between staff and customers because of COVID-19. Instead of walking up to the bar to order their drinks, guests now order online. An app then notifies bartenders, and from there, servers deliver them to the table.
“It’s give and take,” Miller said. “It was kind of sad to not be talking to everyone anymore, but it also keeps our end of things more organized.”
The bar staff all live very different lives outside of work but are still able to come together under one roof. Miller has found that, while some people are recommended to the job by friends, most people wander in themselves.
“I’ve met so many people that I normally wouldn’t have met while at Miami,” Miller said. “Everyone kind of comes in on their own, which is nice because it’s not cliquey.”
Senior Lucy Pennell, an art and art education double major, has worked at 1868 for three and a half years. She’s grown closer with other members of the staff and even spends time with them outside of work.
“The nights [of] drag shows are definitely when I got the closest with the rest of the staff, because they’re so fun,” Pennell said.
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The Wednesday night drag shows are Bar 1868’s best accidentally-kept secret. Although there’s a cover fee, the show is a way to experience something like nothing else in Oxford.
“It’s kind of nice that it’s low-key,” Pennell said. “Nobody knows about (the) drag shows, so it’s a good, select group of people.”
Staff of 1868 say bar owner LeeAnn Shoker prioritizes them and understands they are students first and have lives outside work. By fostering relationships built on understanding and trust, the workers have a better experience during their shifts.
Shoker has created a family by offering support to staff members in times of need. The staff said they know they can reach out when they’re sick or having family issues, and Shoker will be there to help.
“She wants the best for all of us,” Pennell said. “I think generally and in life even after school. She wants us all to be good people and successful.”
Some staff have worked their way up from event staff to bartenders and are now managers. Nate Uhlenbrock, a junior sports leadership and management major, became a manager after working at 1868 for three years.
He doesn’t think his change in title has changed his friendships with his co-workers. They may take him more seriously at work, but they can all leave together after a long shift and go right back to normal.
“I have a pretty relaxed relationship with the employees here,” Uhlenbrock said. “They know I'm a college student, I know I’m a college student, we’re all on the same page there. I'm not any different than they are.”
It’s not only management that helps co-workers grow closer together. Pennell feels the stress of handling a busy night and just wanting drunk patrons to go home helps them develop these friendships.
“When the bar gets really busy, pre-COVID especially, you’re just having a hard night and everyone else is in the same boat,” Pennell said. “That sort of makes relationships form a little bit quicker. It makes dynamics a little better when we all have the same common goal.”