Bartender of the Millennium Billy Steel, Mesa Grill's bartender/bar manager, has been at Mesa Grill since it opened nine years ago. Originally from Trenton, New Jersey, Billy went to Rider College in Trenton and majored in English, but he always had a passion for bartending. When he wasn't studying for exams, you could find him in the neighborhood bars observing the crowds and drinking in the atmosphere. "I've always enjoyed the craft of bartending," he says. "There's a proper way to make a drink, to stir a drink, and to pour a drink that must be learned. These days, bartenders just make it up or do it their own way." Billy learned how to mix his drinks the proper way at the "21 Club" in NYC. "'The 'Club' was one of the greatest jobs I've ever had because I was taught to bartend like an apprentice - similar to the way a chef is taught. The bartenders were a group of older guys who kept you in the kitchen learning how to bartend for six months before they would even consider letting you near the bar. All of them took it very seriously. They would come to work every day dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase that held their bar equipment. You still see a few bartenders around like that, but not many. I think all bartenders should go through that kind of training, but unfortunately that is not the case anymore." After spending five years at "21," he moved on to the Hudson River Club in the World Financial Center. "It was a fun place but I got tired of the Wall Street scene. Not that I have anything against the financial set, but there was no diversity. Everybody looked the same and talked about the same things." That's when he decided to move uptown to Mesa Grill. "I have met a lot of great people here - more than any other place I ever worked through the years. I love the variety of people who come in: artists, actors, businessmen, tourists and neighborhood people." What has kept Billy at Mesa Grill for so long? The answer is simple. "It's been a great working environment, not to mention a wonderful learning experience. For example, when I began working at Mesa Grill, my tequila knowledge was extremely limited. I now know where and how tequila is made and what differentiates the good from the not so good. There are so many different characteristics, classifications, and quality levels. Without a doubt, Mesa Grill has one of the largest selections of tequila in New York." When asked about the worst part of his job, Billy says it's when people come in in a bad mood and don't enjoy the experience of being at the bar. "They're mad because they have to go to the bar while they're waiting for a table. This is a fun place! I try to get them into a good mood. Usually it works but sometimes, well, let's just say there's only so much you can do as a bartender." When not tending bar, Billy pursues his first love, acting. He has acted in everything from Shakespeare to a screwball comedy written by S.J. Perelman that he just finished in the West Village. His next project is a brand-new play in midtown. It's a comedy in which he plays a wacky bartender-type character. Is it a coincidence or could it be art imitating life? Billy says he has always liked acting, but he has no illusions about becoming the next Tom Cruise. It's strictly for fun. If you're wondering what his favorite drink is, it's the Mesa Margarita. Billy likes his margaritas made with a good tequila like Chinaco, a splash of Cointreau, and fresh lime juice served very cold, straight up (without salt, which he feels masks the flavor of the tequila). His favorite drink to make for others? A martini served straight up, with vermouth. No matter how busy it gets, it's never too busy for Billy. He welcomes the crowds and says he can handle it. So the next time you're at Mesa Grill for dinner, come in a little early, have a seat at the bar, and let Billy mix up one of his "proper" drinks for you.