Crafting a perfect beet cocktail is just one of the bartender's many trades

On Christmas, Fast Company magazine received a present in the form of a viral tweet. Unfortunately, the gift revealed itself to be a lump of coal. Its claim of millennials increasingly “deciding” to freelance was met with intense criticism. Young people are forced to freelance, given the lack of full-time employment, decent salary and benefits, the Twittersphere argued.

Jess Peer, a young bartender at Strongwater Food and Spirits, didn't have time to get into the nuanced economic, social and cultural reasons behind the trend, but confirmed the reality.

“We're a generation of freelancers, which is cool,” she said during a late-December interview at the Franklinton restaurant. “But at the same time, we're all just pulling our hair out.”

A graduate of the Groove U music industry school, Peer is working to balance her interests in singing, writing and entrepreneurship. She is currently working to build an artist collective and record label. So it helps to have a day job at Strongwater, which is located in the center of the Franklinton Arts District and connected to the 400 West Rich studio space.

“We are lucky to share the building with so many awesome, creative people,” Peer said. “It's really nice to have them come down and hear their stories. And a lot of the people that work here are also artists in some sense.”

That artistic flair is demonstrated in the food — the Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich is a current best-seller — and the seasonal cocktail menu, to which Peer contributes.

“I haven't always been the best bartender,” Peer said, referencing an experiment with plum bitters that went awry. “I've failed more often than I've succeeded.”

Her current drink, the Up Beet, is a winner — though a bit of an acquired taste. “I love gin and I love beets,” she said. “Those are both things that not everybody likes. … I'm going to be the old lady in here drinking beet juice and I don't care.”

In addition to perfecting her mixology skills, Peer has begun to take a more active role in Strongwater's marketing and media. “People come down here for Land-Grant and BrewDog,” she said. “Our sign is so tiny, and nobody really knows about us.”

But Strongwater is a valuable member of the tightknit Franklinton community, collaborating with other businesses, sourcing vegetables from local gardens and donating to local organizations. Peer stressed the importance of giving back to the neighborhood in the face of increasing development in the area.

“As things change and grow, my hope for the future of Strongwater is that we stay true to that idea of reinforcing and building the community that already exists here,” she said.