Dennis Kinney started out bartending at the Holiday Inn in Princeton almost 22 years ago.
The ruggedly handsome mixologist then worked at the Raven in New Hope, where he was the toast of the town for 17 years. “Those were crazy, crazy times and I loved it! They were some of the best times of my life. We always had fun and we wanted for nothing. We were a bunch of kids living it up!” Kinney is still living it up and having a great time as one of the feature bartenders at Stir.
PGN: How long have you been at Stir? DK: I’ve been there since it opened. I’ve known [co-owner] Stacey Vey for 20-plus years. We used to go to Atlantic City and she used to work at the Trump doing PR or something. When she was thinking of opening the bar, she called me. She and Holly are by far the best bosses I’ve ever had.
PGN: So barkeep, what do you drink? DK: [Laughs.] Anything with Patrón!
PGN: What was your first big mistake? DK: Well, when I first started training at The Raven, I was working as a waiter. I was working a brunch shift and I had a table order, some mimosas and other drinks. One woman ordered a hot bloody Mary. I went to the bartender, Hedda, and she showed me how to dress up the mimosas with the oranges, etc. I took the bloody Mary she gave me and walked into the kitchen and stuck it in the microwave. Everyone looked at me and said, “What are you doing?’ I said, “She said she wanted a hot bloody Mary, so I’m heating it up!” It took me years to live that one down.
PGN: Where are you from? DK: Originally from Levittown. I’ve lived in Bucks County pretty much all of my adult life. I’ve moved out a few times, but I always come back.
PGN: Do you live there now? DK: Yes, I have a condo in Warrington, but I spent a good deal of time in South Philadelphia as well. In fact I’m looking for an apartment right now. I love Philly!
PGN: Family? DK: I have two younger brothers: one lives in North Philly and the other lives in Johnstown. My father is still in Bucks with his wife; he was a truck driver. My brothers followed suit. I was the only one who branched out. Imagine that. Looking back, I can’t believe no one saw that I was a bit different.
PGN: So what was an early sign that you were different? DK: I used to love “Charlie’s Angels.” Farrah was all right, but I was obsessed with Jaclyn Smith. There was an episode where her real-life husband at the time, Dennis Cole, had a guest appearance. There was just something about him that I was drawn to, and that was my first inkling that perhaps I liked him as much — or more — than her.
PGN: You can have Dennis but Jaclyn is mine! I loved her voice. I would tape the episodes on a little square tape recorder and listen to them at night. There was one episode where Kelly mentors an autistic kid and tells him a fairly tale. That was my bedtime story for a good part of my adolescence. DK: Oh my God, I’m getting chills, I remember that episode!
PGN: So tell me about “little Dennis.” DK: I was a very quiet, shy little boy. Even through high school I kept to myself. I went to an all-boys Catholic school. It wasn’t until I graduated and came out that I began to blossom. It was such a huge weight lifted that I became a whole other person.
PGN: So you’re the oldest brother. Did you torture your younger siblings? DK: I definitely tortured my middle brother, John. I used to get together with my youngest brother, Pat, and we’d get a big pot of cold water and sneak up on John in the shower. Pat would pull the shower curtain open, and giggling and laughing, we’d douse him with the freezing water. He would scream for my father and I’d get grounded for the day. My baby brother Pat is my best friend.
PGN: How did you come out to the family? DK: It’s kind of bittersweet. I went with some friends after work to the Cartwheel in New Hope. I had a really bad cold and the bartender, Kitty, suggested I have Grand Marnier on the rocks to help with the cold. Well, drinking Grand Marnier at 21 while sick was probably not the best advice. Later that night, a friend of mine got jumped in the parking lot. I went to help him and got pulled in. I got jumped again later that night and was dragged through the parking lot and hurt badly enough to need to go to the hospital. The police were called in and everything. That’s how my father found out I was gay. I didn’t get in that night until 3:30 in the morning and I had stitches and bruises all over and he asked me what happened. I decided to come clean. I’d already told my mother that I was gay a few months earlier. He was great about it. After that incident, the rest of my family found out pretty quickly. It actually turned into a positive thing. I wouldn’t have changed it.
PGN: Do you think the fact that his son was hurt helped your father deal with it better? DK: Yeah, he was blown away by the fact that I was beaten up just because of who I was. I think it helped him fast-track to what was important. Plus I had a great circle of friends. My parents’ house was the house that everyone hung out at. We had a pool and, after hanging out at the bars, we would go to my house and my mother would make everyone breakfast. My dad took it really well and so did my brothers. Everyone was welcome.
PGN: Your first crush? DK: Oh, I hope that he doesn’t read this. OK, Joe Sweeney. He was the homecoming king at my high school. Hot, hot, hot. OK, I definitely knew I was gay after looking at him.
PGN: Last time you laughed so hard a beverage came out of your nose? DK: I was in St. Thomas for my birthday with a bunch of friends. We rented a boat, went out, had drinks and got silly. One of my friends is this guy who is pretty conservative. We were standing around talking and I snuck up behind him and pulled down his swimsuit. I laughed so hard there was beer flying everywhere!
PGN: What’s a trait you’ve inherited from a parent? DK: My father’s odd sense of humor. He can be a cretin sometimes, but I have his sense of humor.
PGN: Favorite line from a movie? DK: “Hit Ouiser!” from “Steel Magnolias.” I love that movie.
PGN: Best gift you ever received? DK: It sounds sappy, but the time I got to spend with my mother. We were very close and I lost her to metastatic lung cancer right before her 50th birthday. She was a proud, courageous, incredible woman. I was in my mid-20s when she died. When she was diagnosed, they gave her three months to live and she hung on for 10 months. It was a remarkable time and we were able to get even closer. I was with her when she passed. She was so brave.
PGN: Any hobbies? DK: Well, I work a full-time job at a real-estate title company, so bartending is kind of my hobby. I’m 43 now and I’ve been doing it since I was 22, so I guess I enjoy it! I love being around people, making people laugh and the whole creative aspect of the job.
PGN: “Star Trek” or “Star Wars”? DK: “Star Trek.” My father was a huge fan.
PGN: Who’s your favorite character? DK: Spock. The outsider, big surprise!
PGN: If you could have a cocktail with anyone, outside of friends or family, who would it be and why? DK: Kathy Griffin. I’m pretty sure it would be a good time. Her show is really funny.
PGN: Do you talk in your sleep? DK: Yes, but let’s not even go there.
PGN: What’s the funniest thing you’ve said? DK: “I’m not gay.”
PGN: You often dream that you are ... DK: ... naked in the freezer section.
PGN: What’s your least favorite word? DK: “Declined.”