Soft-talking Fred Cusick, 75, has been a bartender all his life and has a clever title picked out for a book about himself.
“If I did write one, and I most likely won’t, it would be called ‘My 50 Years Behind Bars,’ ” cracked the Costa Mesa resident, who once turned down an offer to serve drinks at a party for President Gerald Ford.
As it happened, he had been hired for another party and wanted to honor that commitment.
“When I got to the party, the host told everyone to treat me right because I had turned down the President of the United States,” said Cusick, a favorite bartender for private parties on the Orange County social scene.
He had already worked at functions for Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon.
Despite the celebrities and the rich whom he has served at private parties, Cusick sees little difference between them and customers he has served in the bars and restaurants where he has worked.
“The wealthy are just like other human beings,” he says. “Most of them were not always rich, and they remember that.”
While working in some of the classiest hotels and restaurants in Beverly Hills and Orange County, Cusick was often asked to moonlight at private parties.
“It got to the point where I had so much work moonlighting, I hardly had time for my regular job so I decided to work for myself full time,” he said in an interview in the kitchen of his rented Costa Mesa home.
That was 16 years ago.
His bartendering jobs fit his lifestyle.
“I was a restless boy like my father and my grandfather, and I liked to travel and move around,” he said, noting that he has never owned a home. “It didn’t take me long to find out that a bartender could always find a job.”
Although he has changed jobs many times, “I was never fired from one,” he said. “I was just too restless to stay in one place when I was younger.”
The drinking habits of those imbibing at his workplaces and private parties have changed, with more people asking for wine or vodka drinks.
“Gin and bourbon are out, and people are even drinking less,” he said. “I also don’t make my drinks strong. I believe people are starting to believe in the don’t-drink-and-drive message.
While Cusick likes to make himself a Manhattan or two at home before dinner, “I never drink while I’m working,” he said.
And he doesn’t do much talking.
“I hear a lot, but what goes in one ear goes out the other,” he said. “A bartender with a big mouth can wipe himself out from other jobs.”
The self-employed bartender, who charges a $60 minimum for four hours for private parties, said he has prepared himself for retirement.
“I invested pretty good over the years,” he said.