Anyone who’s taken a boxing class can tell you how much mental and physical discipline it takes to play the sport.

You have to be quick, sharp, nimble and anticipate your opponent’s every move if you want to be successful. Bartenders need to possess a similar skill set if they want to flourish. They have to stay cool under pressure and foresee customers’ needs during busy bouts, all while making precise cocktail measurements and lifting heavy boxes and bottles. A group recognized these similarities back in 2016 and created the Bartender Boxing Organization, which has a mission to promote health and wellness for bartenders through the science of boxing. Potential participants are vetted through an extensive application and interview process and have to complete a rigorous program to ensure safety and success.

Deandra Brunson, boxing gloves up

Deandra Brunson

Photo by Mark Tomaras Photography

For the past few years, the Bartender Boxing Organization and Tequila Cazadores have presented Bar Spar, a program where bartenders can train under professionals for a chance to participate in an amateur ring fight across 10 different cities. As bartenders are gearing up for the first two fall fights of 2019 in Chicago and New York, we caught up with participant Deandra Brunson, the head server at Bathtub Gin and bartender at Miss Lily’s in New York City. She opens up to Chilled about how training for Bar Spar has improved her focus behind the bar and gives advice to bartenders who are interested in joining the program.

How did you first hear about the Bar Spar program and get involved?

Bar Spar was introduced to me by a colleague in the industry, Angela Stevens from Miss Lily’s restaurant in Soho, who was intrigued by my desire to complete a minor boxing challenge as a way of relieving stress while attending school and working late nights full time. Emily Hilton, manager of Bathtub Gin, invited me to Tales of the Cocktail 2019 for an eye-opening perspective of what Bar Spar offers. During my experience there, I was able to view a Bar Spar match firsthand, and at that very moment, I told myself I can fight. This is definitely a bucket list item for me!

Deandra Brunson

Deandra Brunson

Photo by Mark Tomaras Photography

While training for this program, you’re focused on both physical fitness and nutrition. Has concentrating on these disciplines improved your focus behind the bar?

I’ve become extremely disciplined at work. The outcome of my physicality from boxing has become embedded in my mindset, therefore I have strict limitations with the snacks I allow myself to eat. I am mindful of the time of day that I eat, and specifically what carbs I allow myself to intake. Precision has also become an OCD because I no longer taste-test my drinks for accuracy. I believe in the power of execution so that I do not have to tease my palate and break my sobriety.

What has training for boxing taught you about living outside of the ring? How have you applied that to your bartending career?

The most valuable thing I’ve learned from boxing is how to fight for something that can be obtained! I’ve learned how to allow myself to falter to vulnerability, and with doing so, there comes an ease in adaptation. Situations are less unfamiliar and the body in existence is further less uncomfortable. The key is remaining optimistic! Bartenders are generally resilient, so training reclaims the intensity of focusing on repetition and anticipation.

Any advice for other bartenders who are interested in the Bar Spar?

Bar Spar is a challenge, and it has to be desired because the physiological and mental cavity is continuously provoked. In the words of Daryl Gregory, private trainer at Gleason’s Gym, and world champion boxer Heather Heat Hardy, “You have to Expose the Dog in you!”