Roger Bell has tried all sorts of work, from owning a moving company to booking vacations as a travel agent.
But nothing has been as much fun as his new gig serving drinks at Lounge 714, a gay bar in Ybor City.
Bell, 38, started working there about four months ago. The owners knew him from the Florida Mavericks, a country/western line dance team that practices at the bar every week.
Everyone knows him as Cowboy Roger.
Bell, who moved here from Virginia about two years ago and lives in South Tampa, didn't take long to build a loyal customer base. "People just love him,'' said his boss, Robert Trexler.
Still, Bell was shocked and thrilled to be voted this year's winner of tbt*'s Ultimate Bartender contest. After two wins by women, it was about time a guy took the trophy, he said. Better yet, it went to a guy who's gay and working in GaYbor, a group of gay-friendly businesses in Ybor. During a photo shoot for our Ultimate Bar Guide cover, tbt* spoke with Bell about lending an ear and representing Ybor.
What makes you the ultimate?
The way I see it, and here's your corny quote, it takes four parts to make the perfect bartender. It's one part server. It's one part shrink, one part best friend and one part good alcohol. And, in my bar, you add the fruit.
Do customers often ask you for advice?
All the time. From dating to purchasing a car — anything and everything, we talk about. Our bar is like a Cheers bar. We all know each other. And if we haven't seen each other for a day, we're going to catch up. There's always a lot of drama.
Do you have a PG-13 specialty drink?
Red-headed slut — Jager, cranberry and Chambord.
What does it feel like to be the first guy and the gay guy to win?
I get two titles. It's pretty awesome considering I wasn't expecting it.
How did you come to enter?
Robert, the manager, came around and handed out the tbt* stuff and demanded that we enter it. I was like, "Really? I just got here.'' He was like, "Yeah, we want everyone in the bar to participate.'' No one else did.
What does your title say about Ybor and the GaYbor district?
I think it's another big opportunity for GaYbor as a whole. We're here and apparently we're going to be here for a while. Get used to it. I don't think the public minds, honestly. We've done a lot for Ybor.
How did you get the name Cowboy Roger?
Ever since I've been here, when people say Roger, people say, "Roger who?" Oh, Cowboy Roger. (In Virginia) I was just Roger. Now I'm Cowboy Roger.