The Molly Wellmann Mix: Shoes, Booze, Cats, and History
If you spend any time in bars in Cincinnati, you’ve probably heard of Molly Wellmann. The proud Cincinnatian, bartender, business owner, and former punk-rock girl has a wide smile and a lot of tattoos. She currently owns two bars, Japp’s and Myrtle’s Punch House, but she’s been a fixture on the local cocktail scene for roughly a decade. You may have seen her in local ads, featured in news stories, or heard her on the radio discussing cocktails. We met her at Japp’s before the bar opened one afternoon, where we talked about shoes, booze, cats, and history.
Do you have a job title? What are some job titles you would give yourself?
Oh my god. Well, I’m an owner of this bar. And Myrtle’s. I'm a bartender, number one. First and foremost, I'm always a bartender. I’m a worker. [Laughs and opens the door for a delivery.]
I’m a friend. And a wife, and a daughter. I am a proud Cincinnatian. I'm a historian. I am a huge historian. It’s like, one of my favorite things ever. I'm so passionate about history. It’s the whole reason why I did this. I'm a mixologist. I'm an author, too. I wrote a book. I'm trying to write another book.
What’s the next book?
I don't know yet. It’ll tell me. I'm just doing a lot of research, putting a lot of information together, and as soon as I know… It will come to light when it’s supposed to, just like the other one did. I didn't even know I was doing that for the first book until it happened.
How would you explain the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?
Oh, that's easy. You're always a bartender. No matter what. I can’t stand if somebody calls himself or herself a mixologist and they don't tend the bar… You're always the bartender first. If you're behind that bar, you're a bartender.
One of my biggest pet peeves is if I go to a place and the bartender makes drinks turned around.
The difference is that a mixologist just takes it one step further, where they can tell you about everything on the back of the bar. They have knowledge about classic cocktails, how to put different flavors together. It's just deeper.
So I study cocktails. I’m a cocktailogist. [Laughs.] A scientist of cocktails.
Tell me more. You’re talking about this book and the research. And part of what I was thinking is: I have read a lot where you recommend drinks and recipes. So tell me about the research process. How did that start?
When I do research, I read old cocktail books. If you look at my computer, I have all these open tabs, and they're all pretty much old cocktail books from, like, 100 years ago. And I'll go through – like I just made this stuff called Swedish punsch. It dates back to the 1730s, and it came to America in the 1880s to make different cocktails with, and right now I'm, like, obsessed and finding all these different cocktails to make with Swedish punsch. It's really interesting to see these old things coming back. It's like a treasure hunt with history research.
How do you find the cocktail books?
They’re all over. There's reproductions being made all the time, so it's easy to find them online. Usually with the technology now, I like to have a real book, you know, even if it's a reproduction, for my library. And when I'm doing research, I would like to try to find it online, as well, so I can easily find things.
Do you have more shoes or cocktail books?
God, that’s a hard question. When I moved in with my husband, it was, “I need a place for my shoes, my books, my booze, and my cat.” That's all I care about. I think it pretty much might be equal.
You’ve mentioned leaving the city for a while. Tell me about that path.
I was such a different person back then. It's so funny to think of how I am now compared to where I was then. In the ’90s, I went to San Francisco. And I went because my best friend lived there; she was going to school out there. I went to visit her and she was like, “Why don't you just move here for a while?” And I'm like, “I’ve got nothing holding me in Cincinnati right now.”
And so I ended up staying there for 12 years. I worked in high-end retail. I worked for Chanel. I sold shoes. I worked at the boutique, and then I got promoted to shoe sales manager, which is like a dream, at Chanel. It was incredible. I’d come in every day, and I was really good friends with the head makeup artist at the boutique. Coming from Cincinnati, I was like a little punk rocker girl. He's like, “Don't wear any makeup; just come in here,” and he would do me up. And the director of the boutique, he kind of helped me change my style at that time, too. We went on a little fashion spree. Even though I wore a uniform to work, a Chanel suit, that's where I kind of fell into the pinup style. And those two redid my whole look and my whole outlook on style. I always wanted to be a fashion designer when I was little, and so it was a freakin‘ dream to work at Chanel. Then I ended up working at Prada and did the same thing there.
And then a traumatic thing happened. I had a fiancé, and I lost him. He was killed; he was hit by a car. So it threw me for a loop. And so I quit my job and lived off my savings for a year. A friend of mine signed me up for a metalsmithing class in Oakland. And I was so mad at him. I would cry the whole time. And then when I got there, I was like, “This is great.” And I started smiling. I found something I really loved, and it was the greatest gift ever.
I put myself through school at Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts and became a jeweler. So I went through two years at the jewelry school and then I did a year apprenticeship with the master jeweler there.
I ended up working for this wedding dress designer and made wedding dress embellishments and wedding tiaras and stuff like that. And then I sold dresses on commission on Saturdays and made more money than all the girls combined. I was really good at selling. So I did that, and then I started working at a friend’s restaurant as a food runner. Then I started bartending. And I worked in a nightclub.
[A few odd jobs later, Molly returned to Cincinnati.]
I came back here. I started bartending, and the first job I had was at Chalk Food + Wine in Covington. And that's when I started cocktails.
I’m a friend. And a wife, and a daughter. I am a proud Cincinnatian. I'm a historian.
I am like, a seventh-generation Cincinnatian. My family has been here since the 1850s, both sides, and I really wanted to make sure if I had roots, they were going to be in Cincinnati. That's a huge thing for me. I was going to get married and have kids and to do the whole thing and just be normal. [Laughs.]
But instead, I started bartending, and I don't know. I just really loved what I was doing. I became a bar owner, and I just loved it. I was so happy doing that. I still am happy doing that.
And I met Bee [Tim Gundrum], my husband. We used to hang out in the same circles. And he lived in San Francisco at the same time I did. He was tattooing out there. He's from Cincinnati, too, so we knew of each other for a really long time. And then when I came back here, I would bartend in his shop for art parties and stuff. He came in here [to Japp’s]. One day I was working and he's like, “I'm going to bring my dad in here. He likes history, and I know you like history. You'll talk to him.” And then he came back with his dad the next day and his dad started talking to somebody else. I ended up talking to Bee for hours... And then we started dating.
How long have you been together?
We've been together for five years.
You got married how long ago?
Oh, God, it will be two years. Two years in February.
What are your responsibilities as a bar owner?
How did you learn that?
You don't. You just, it's by experience. I'm not kidding. There's so many things that I'm sure that I am not doing, and it comes at me, and I'm like, “Oh, I probably should do that.”
I really want Japp’s to be this shining crown in Cincinnati. I want it to be a place you have to go if you're in the city, and I’m working so hard do that.
I just bought my partners out in June. And so I’m a full owner, and I have an investor. He helped me get a bookkeeper. I look over every single bill. I sign every check. I do the social media. I have a manager here and over at Myrtle’s. I really want Japp’s to be this shining crown in Cincinnati. I want it to be a place you have to go if you're in the city, and I’m working so hard do that.
You’re at events, you're here, and you seem like you're really invested in the community.
I think it's really important as an entrepreneur: If you invest yourself in a business, you invest yourself in the community. You are part of the community when you open a business. You’re a reason for bringing people to the community.
Do you think there's an element of performance to bartending?
Oh, yeah. It's a theater. One of my biggest pet peeves is if I go to a place and the bartender makes drinks turned around. Like what? You know, I put things a certain way so people can see what we're doing. And sometimes the drink might take a little longer than just putting a gin and tonic together. And people never care because they are so interested. “What am I doing with that frigging egg? That is so cool.” Then I have the opportunity to nerd out on you. You know, “That's Swedish punsch; let me tell you about it.”
What inspires you?
Oh my gosh. Everything! Everything. You know, I get most excited about cocktails. History stuff. Like yesterday, I was hanging out with some history nerd friends. They were here, and we're discussing people from a hundred years ago. We're gossiping about them like they still live.
Tell us about an influential woman in your life.
There’s so many. My mama. My mom and my grandma. My mom, she's the nicest woman. I get sweetness from her, but also that rage, that sassiness. And I know it’s not a woman, but I got influence from my grandpa. He was a salesman. And I am a salesperson. I'm a sales girl – and always have been. I had a connection with him that I loved. You know, I always carry his handkerchief with me.